Are you playing your competitor’s game?

Shutterstock_44328211 I'm not good at sitting idle.  So if I am stuck waiting for some reason, I get antsy.  To kill that time, I'll fire up my smart phone and play a game (or two) of Hearts.  In the game, by default I am player south.  (4 players sitting around a table, each designated by a direction.) 

My arch nemesis is player north.  He is the shrewdest of the computerized players and if anyone is going to beat me, it's him.  (Stay with me, I promise there is a marketing message in here!)

I have played Hearts (usually with real people so don't feel too sorry for me!) for many years and I'm pretty good.  I have a sound strategy that has been time tested so I rarely need to vary from it.  But…the fact that north is good and is my most worthy opponent throws me off that track.

I find that I play differently when I am overly-conscious of trying to beat him in particular.  And in fact, the more I purposely change the way I play to thwart him….the more I lose. If I stay disciplined enough to play my own game my own way — I rarely lose.

(Did you notice the marketing message I snuck in there?)

We all run the same risk in running our businesses and planning our marketing.  Way too many businesses invest too much time and energy worrying about what their competitor is doing.  Then, they change their own game plan to chase after the other guy — emulating or trying to outdo.

It's a game you are destined to lose.  One of three things is going to happen.

  • Your competitor is doing something in their sweet spot and you can't really compete so you look second rate.
  • Everyone recognizes that you're reacting/copying your competitor and you look like a 'me too" brand.
  • You spend so much of your time and money executing their tactics that you never have the resources to do what you know will advance your business.

The only way to win marketshare, customers' love and brand dominance is to do it your way.  All the time.  Regardless of what the competition is doing.  Reacting to the other guy rarely plays out in your favor.

Look at the recent TV commercial war between Verizon and AT&T.  (watch their commercials by clicking on their names) Who do you think is winning?  AT&T looks like they're whining and making excuses.  Why?  Because Verizon sucked them into their game.

Should you know what your competition is up to?  Yes.  But only if you can then be disciplined enough to stay your own course.  If you can't resist playing their game…you're actually better off staying in the dark.

Always play your game.  That's the only way companies like Apple, Zappos and Southwest Airlines won.  Same goes for you.

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12 comments on “Are you playing your competitor’s game?

  1. great post. It’s a tough choice when companies find themselves in this competitive situation.

    As you say, changing from what you are good at to play the competitors game is rarely successful. On the other hand, ignoring competitors while they reinvent your category, make your products irrelevant and otherwise eat your lunch is not right either.

    When I worked at Nestle on its coffee business we were aware early one that Starbucks was a big deal and was going to have an impact on our business. However, we didn’t react because Nestle doesn’t “do” retail. That didn’t work out so well for us.

    You can’t keep doing things the same way you’ve always done them if what you’re doing has been made irrelevant by competitive activity. Difficult as it may be, you have to change or risk extinction.

    That said, you can waste a lot of time and money reacting to every single initiative from your competitor. Companies need to be selectively paranoid and work out when a competitive move can be ignored and when it can’t.

  2. Dennis says:

    Very valid. In fact I have been advocating that the whole planning process is shot – because of this obsessive focus on the competition – and consequently question whether traditional business planning is of ANY value…

  3. Jake says:

    Wow, great post drew.

    This is my first time visiting technorati and seeing your blog definitely makes a very great impression.

    I am also in sales and marketing business in my country and I can really relate to what you are saying.

    I remember before when I work for a ice cream company (we where competing with Nestle Ice Cream Philippines then), our company tried to copy almost every marketing strategy that our biggest competitor had even to the point of copying the strong kind of Ice cream brands they had.
    Until now that company is still number behind Nestle since they still follow the same strategy up to now.
    I think it is still best to “stick to your guns” when in a very competitive business. It is always essential and often cost efficient if we do our own research and spend our money there.

    Thanks for this valuable post. By the way how can I receive your regular post? I just started a blog about Sales Tips and Mentoring (for the Philippine setting) and I impressed with your post and would like to quote your blog in my blog.
    My blog is

    Thanks again.

  4. John S says:

    I think a healthy balance needs to be found. For example, if your social media marketing campaign isn’t working and isn’t producing the results you want, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with analyzing what your competitors are doing and then pulling general ideas from them – not exactly mimicking, but just seeing if any of their methods might apply to your company.

  5. Martin,

    No argument from me. I’m not suggesting you ignore your competition or shifting market. But many business owners have this knee jerk reaction — whatever their competitor is doing…now they have to do too.

    And it is suicide.

    I really think the middle ground is where most people need to land. Observe and monitor — but in terms of your own execution — play your own game. Yes, a very small percentage of moves that the competitor makes warrant a strategy change on your part as well. But the percentage should be tiny — not 95%.


  6. Dennis,

    I agree and vehemently disagree. How’s that! You are very right — when planning is based on what the competitor is doing, it’s a wasted and expensive effort.

    But if planning is based on where the company wants to be and what the consumers are doing — I contend that planning of that nature is critical to a business’ success today.

    With finite resources (which we all have) we can’t afford to make too many mistakes. Looking at the big picture and then setting a course to get there is the best way to avoid mis-steps, in my opinion.


  7. Girlie (really, that’s your given name?),

    Fear is at the root of most business evils, I think. This was true before the recession but is absolutely paralyzingly true now that we’re 2 years into tough times.

    You’re right, it is sad. But, it is also the norm. Which perhaps makes it even sadder.


  8. Too many people and businesses trying to be like too many other people and businesses.

    I see our competitors following us in all of our social media efforts and asked the question, should i be flattered or fearful… the answer from my Facebook friends was a resounding, “Flattered”

    Great post.


  9. Tom Haskell says:

    This article was interesting for a couple of reasons:

    1) The AT&T ad is whining and our family’s least favorite ad. Do you have any data on its effectiveness or ineffectiveness? The truth is we’re tired of both the Verizon and AT&T ad campaigns and to use a bad pun in this case, wish they’d both map out a new stratagy.

    2) Computerized hearts is one of my addictions, too, and have a 60% success ratio with about 40 games played. The fact that the computer has us playing South — do you suppose it creates Confederate sympathies?

    More seriously, the message that it’s best to concentrate on an authentic positive message than try to outdo the competition is a good one.

  10. Neil says:

    Hi Drew,

    What would you suggest as a to-do-list to stay on top of your competitors?



  11. spa nyc says:

    Positive attitude is the key to success in life and any business , fear doubt and negative thoughts will only bring you down, read Think and Grow Rich – the best, Love your post Drew

  12. Too many people and businesses trying to be like too many other people and businesses.

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