Is the fox in your hen house? What to do when competitors spy

Fox Since 1999, McLellan Marketing Group has produced a weekly e-newsletter.  (Content different from the blog, btw).  People can sign up automatically from our website. Which means that our competitors can sign up and "spy" on what we send out to our prospects.  I sent out the newsletter last night and got a couple "out of the office" auto e-mails from some of the other agency owners in the market. ;-}

We also host a free monthly branding breakfast — to educate business owners and marketing pros about branding.  We have competitors show up to those too.  And mingle among our prospects and clients.  (I figure if we really want to teach the world about branding, we should probably teach the other agencies how to do it too!)

It’s easy to get paranoid.  To worry that the fox is in the hen house, so to speak.  And maybe you will chalk it up to arrogance on my part — but we never worry about it.

In fact, we’ve even collaborated with one agency in town, REL.  They are good thinkers, understand branding and are very creative.  Why wouldn’t I want to hang around with people like that?

Why don’t we worry about those foxes near our hen house?  I have complete faith that our brand is genuine and that no one can duplicate that.  If we take good care of our clients and we truly walk our talk — they’re not going anywhere.  People can try to duplicate, replicate and imitate.  But they can’t be us. (And the smart ones wouldn’t bother trying.)

On the flip side, if you want to spy on your competition, there’s plenty of tools out there. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with knowing what the other guys are up to.  That’s just good business.  But be careful that you don’t compromise your brand by shape shifting every time one of your competitors does something smart.

Be you.  And don’t worry.  The others may try to be you, but they can’t really pull it off.  Why not just invite them in? 

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18 comments on “Is the fox in your hen house? What to do when competitors spy

  1. CK says:

    Keep you friends close and your enemies closer, baby. Very savvy that they show up to your breakfasts and that you invite them in.

    Good on you ;-). Shows you’re confident (and ballsy).

  2. Adam Steen says:

    I agree with you, Drew. One of my favorite things is seeing our “competitors” accessing our material and attempting to speak on it as if it was their own. It doesn’t bother me at all. It validates our recognition of the marketplace.

    Great post!

  3. Good post Drew. When we created our new website, I went to other Iowa agency websites and looked at thier source code to see what key words they used so we could hit on some they didn’t have. Is that wrong?

  4. Competition is one of those things I think about a lot. Not because I’m obsessed with them, but when you’re first starting out and trying to launch a new business you definitely look over your shoulder and around the block.

    Lately, I’ve had the “holy smokes” reaction to competition – you see something and panic (I use strong words in my blog post about it.) Then you realize they’re not really competition, you’re just on edge.

  5. Lewis Green says:

    Drew,

    Except at times such as these, we seldom if ever use the word competitors, and we certainly don’t think of them as foxes or as one of your commentors said–enemies. And we occasionally refer clients to other marketing firms, and just a few hours ago another marketing firm referred a client to us.

    This is a different world. One in which respect and dignity are highly valued. When I was at Starbucks, a start-up coffee comany unaffiliated with us sent their executives to our coffee tasting room to learn the art of tasting–at Starbucks invitation.

    My philosophy is this: It isn’t about my business, it’s about my customers, my employees and my community. If I can’t help them, maybe the McLellan Marketing Group can. If you do a good job, we both look good.

    My final thought: If other marketing firms have to read our stuff to improve their capabilities and offerings, they are the ones needing to worry, not I. On the other hand, if another marketing firm reads our stuff and learns how do do something better and gets an idea they can use to help a client, that’s a good thing. After all, I read your blog and you read mine and we are in the same business. It is about sharing, making each other better and helping our clients.

  6. Mark True says:

    Drew;

    Thanks for the mention.

    It’s always a pleasure bouncing ideas off of you and others that speak the same language. Doesn’t the Bible say something about iron sharpening iron?

    And if we can learn something that can be applied to our different, inviting and relevant brand, we help our client. And there’s nothing to fear because nobody else can duplicate that brand.

    When we really think about that, there are no competitors, just distractions. And if our clients are distracted, it’s our own fault.

    Mark

  7. Douglas Karr says:

    Ironically, I just had an email exchange with a competitor’s CEO last night. I truly believe you can’t run as fast when you keep looking behind you. If you can’t figure out what your clients needs are or what prospects are looking for, you’re in trouble!

    I’d rather build a great relationship with my competition and figure out strengths and weaknesses. Why not even push an unhappy client to a competitor if they’re going to be more successful there? Doesn’t that make both of you look good?

    I just don’t have time to worry about the competition.

  8. John says:

    I also agree. It’s useless for us to be paranoid about it. No matter how hard you hide your ideas, most of them still needs to be revealed in order to be judged.

  9. Irene says:

    True. We shouldn’t be paranoid if there is someone spying on us. It’s all part of business and we have to dealing with it in a professional way.

  10. CK —

    Many traditional agencies really don’t understand branding. They too equate it with a new logo or theme line for the year. So I figure…if we teach them, that means their clients have a better experience. And branding doesn’t get tarnished as something that doesn’t work.

    I’m good with that outcome!

    Drew

  11. Adam,

    An excellent point. We don’t imitate something that we think won’t work.

    It’s a compliment and that alone says something to our prospects. If our competitors want to steal from us…we must be doing something right.

    Drew

  12. Mike,

    I’m curious — did you find any surprising holes? Or were most of the key words you had thought of already used?

    Drew

  13. Ben,

    When I first started my own agency, some 13 years ago, I worried about the other guys. And then, over time I realized they weren’t going away. And if they did, others would take their place.

    So I could either go nuts or believe in what we were doing and stay our course. So far, it’s working.

    Drew

  14. Lewis,

    Agreed, there is little to be gained by having a heightened sense of competition.

    If we’re taking good care of our clients…they’ll stay on board. If not, hopefully someone else can help them.

    Do you find yourself pitching for business very often? I will admit, in those situations, I do think of our competition as that — competition.

    Not in a War Games sort of way but in a college rivalry sort of way.

    Drew

  15. Mark,

    “When we really think about that, there are no competitors, just distractions. And if our clients are distracted, it’s our own fault.”

    You are dead on there. I’ve always said that if someone steals one of our clients its because they weren’t getting what they needed from us.

    Sometimes clients out grow us. Or we outgrow clients. But if we tend well to their needs (and in fairness, they to ours) no one should be able to undo that relationship.

    Drew

  16. Doug,

    I firmly believe we’re not the right fit for everyone. And if the fit isn’t right, we do no one any favors by taking the business.

    As you suggest — far better to refer them to someone who is a better fit.

    Drew

  17. John,

    Exactly — sooner or later you are going to have to let the cat out of the bag. But if you do it openly, the odds of someone stealing from you are greatly reduced.

    Drew

  18. Irene,

    I think it’s good business sense to create safeguards to protect your clients’ and your intellectual property. But I also think it can be taken to an absurd extreme.

    Every business needs to find, as you suggest, a good happy medium.

    Drew

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