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March 30, 2006

The Art of Driving Your Competition Crazy

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“The purpose of competition is not to beat someone down, but to bring out the best in every player.” Walter Wheeler

One of the signs of boom--or at least a boomlet--is that companies start wanting to drive their competition crazy. This occurs when “survival” is no longer an issue and optimization or maximization can become a corporate goal. However, the desire to do things to the competition can lead a company astray--or drive it to even greater heights.

Companies go astray when defeating the competition becomes more important than taking care of customers. When companies become obsessed with the pursuit of excellence, by contrast, they often reach new levels of greatness. Here's how to avoid the former and achieve the latter.

1. Know thyself. Before you can drive your competition crazy, you have to understand what your company stands for. Otherwise, you'll only succeed in driving yourself crazy. For example, Apple stands for cool technology. It will never represent a CIO's safe bet, an “enterprise software company,” or service and support. If it decided it wanted to drive Microsoft crazy by sucking up to CIOs, it would drive itself crazy--that is, if it didn't perish trying.

2. Know thy customer. The second step is to truly understand what your customer wants from you--and, for that matter, what it doesn't want from you. One thing that your customer seldom wants to do is to help you drive your competition crazy. That's in your head, not your customer's. One more thing: a good company listens to what a customer says it wants. A great company anticipates what a customer needs--even before she knows she wants it.

3. Know thy enemy. The third step is to truly understand your competition. You cannot drive your competition crazy unless you understand their strengths and weaknesses. You should become your competition's customer by buying their products and services. I never truly understood what it was like to be a customer of Microsoft until I bought a Sony Vaio and used Windows. Sure, I had read many comparisons and competitive analyses, but they were nothing compared to hands-on usage.

4. Focus on the customer. Here's what most people find surprising: the best way to drive your competition crazy is not to do anything to it. Rather, the best way is for you to succeed because your success, more than any action, will drive your competition crazy. And the way you become successful is not by figuring out what you can do to the competition but for the customer.

You succeed at doing things for the customer by using the knowledge that you've gained in the first three steps: understanding what you do, what your customer wants and needs, and what your competition doesn't do. At the intersection of these three factors lies the holy grail of driving your competition crazy. For most companies, the key to driving the competition crazy is out-innovating, out-servicing, or out-pricing it.

5. Turn customers into evangelists. There are few things that drive a competitor more crazy than an unpaid, thunderlizard group of customers who become evangelists for a company. I covered this topic in detail in The Art of Evangelism, but the gist is this: create a great product or service, put it out there (“let a hundred flowers blossom”), see who falls in love with it, open up your arms to them (they will come running to you), and then take care of them. It's that simple.

6. Make good by doing good. Doing good has its own, very sufficient rewards, but sometimes you can make good and do good at the same time. For example, if you own a chain of hardware stores, you can help rebuild a community after a natural disaster. You're bound to get a lot of publicity and create bonds with the community--this will drive your competition crazy. And you'll be doing something good!

7. Turn the competition into allies. One way to get rid of your competition is to drive it out of business. I suppose this might be attractive to you, but a better way is to turn your competition into allies. My favorite author of children's books is Tomie DePaola. My favorite DePaola book is The Knight and the Dragon. This is the story of a knight and a dragon who train to slay each other. They are smashingly unsuccessful at doing battle and eventually decide to go into business together. Using the dragon's firebreathing ability and the knight's salesmanship, they create the K & D Bar-B-Q. For example, if a Home Depot opens up next to your hardware store, let it sell the gas barbecues, and you refill people's propane tanks.

8. Play with their minds. If you're doing all this positive, good stuff, then it's okay to have some fun with your competition--that is, to intentionally play with their minds. Here are some examples to inspire you:

  • During the Korean War, the U. S. Army Office of Strategic Services left a supply of condoms for the Communist Chinese to find. The condoms were specially manufactured in an extra-large size. The label on the boxes, however, said, “Made in the USA Size Medium.”
  • Hannibal once had his soldiers tie bundles of brush to the horns of cattle. At night, his soldiers lit the brushwood on fire, and Hannibal's Roman enemies thought that thousands of soldiers were marching towards them.
  • A pizza company that was entering the Denver market for the first time ran a promotion offering two pizzas for the price of one if customers brought in the torn-out yellow pages ad of its competition.
  • A national hardware store chain opened up right next to a longtime community hardware store. After a period of depression and panic, the store owner came up with a very clever ploy. He put up a sign on the front of his store that said, “Main Entrance.”

If you like this topic, let me know, and I'll try to write a posting about how to avoid being driven crazy.

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Comments

Guy,
Thanks - We used part of your post to help our Sports Club being more competitive and competitor/customer-friendly. Great work Guy!

This is good stuff. I recognize some of these tricks... from when my competition used them against me. I'd definitely like more.

Know your enemy as well as you know yourself and you will always be victorious. - Sun Tzu

I'm always very happy to see someone plying the customer card!

It's as with every sport: keep your eyes on the ball!

Keep up the good work.

Great post, Sounds like the "Play with their minds" section is all about innovative ways of marketing. I'd also love to see what you have to say about how to avoid being driven crazy.

You can either lead today or follow tomorrow.

We have had considerable success with a particular product because it is much simpler and has far fewer features than the competition's product. What drives them nuts is that our price is way higher then theirs. Why is this working? Because our customers actually want a product that is simpler and has far fewer features.

Our first three rules of business? Listen to the customer. Listen to the customer. Listen to the customer.

Great post Guy! Many thanks.

I'm reminded of the time we noticed a lot of Web traffic from our main competitor. Turns out they had just launched a new intranet site, with links to our Web site on it, and it was generating excessive traffic. One friday afternoon, we rerouted all the click-thrus from that site to our "Jobs" page.

#8 reminds me to make sure, in nthe internet marketing arena, that marketers realize that your competition is the best place to look to have them sell your product, as your affiliate.

Think about it. they have customers that want products in your niche. They have customers, as in PROVEN buyers, use your competition to sell more of your product.

When people are interested in a niche, they don't just buy ONE product, they buy EVERY product that niche has.

First off, interesting post. I like the idea that competition is self-destructive. When you treat the market as a zero-sum game (for one to win, the other has to lose), nothing new is created. It's the companies that seek to go beyond the gladiatorial arena, that define a whole new playing field, that are successful (shades of the blue ocean strategy, but anyway).

I do find it interesting that you say, focus on what the customer wants, not what you want, and then one post later, you ask what your readers want so that you can get into the technorati top ten. Why should I, as a reader, care about your technorati ranking? Take your own advice: Focus on producing good content that is interesting to customers (readers), and the rest will sort itself out.

MORE, MORE , MORE

Really enjoy the clever ways to dethrone a competitor.

Thanks for the great posts.

thanks for the summary ;)

http://www.estripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=23595>
"Take off your Burqas"
An Apache Unit spends four months in Afghanistan making no contact with the enemy. They know the enemy is in the area but they will not engage. So what's a soldier to do? A little schoolyard ribbing seems to have been all that was required. Of course, then the Taliban came out and got their butts kicked but that was the whole point anyway.
Originally posted at http://smittie.smittieandcompany.com/2004/08/

Aloha

Great post and not wishing to trivialise it [much], but where did the condom myth come from? I heard the same thing about the Australians and the Kiwis!

Once again great post... I especially like the point No.5 which is strategic to me - viral marketing is one of the key to success.

But it also means that the other points have to be fulfilled in order to "evangelize" them.

Great post once again ;-)

Thanks Guy. This is your best post to date, with the most practical suggestions.

I've always thought the business is war analogy was crazy - as if killing the enemy = success. Ditto the sports analogy. The best analogy in my mind is seduction. Hope I'm not out of line to link to my post about it.
http://thesmallbusinesscoach.com/blog/2006/03/20/business-is-like-sex-not-sports-or-war/

Embrace your competition. Take them to lunch. Business will increase if you work with not against. There's more than enough work for all.

Great post. Steve Ballmer ought to read it a few hundred times.

Great stuff. Don't forget sending your, um, "best" customers to your competition. If you can keep a straight face, the customer will love you, hate them, and the competitor will appreciate the gesture (but still be driven nuts by the nutcase you sent them).

More, please.

Awesome. Definitely post on how to avoid being driven crazy. It is way too easy these days to be taken around the block by competition. Not just in business either.

Fantastic. You're dead-on, as always.

More! How about something on 'coopetition' as a way of helping to neutralize the competitors? Do you have any examples in this vein, Guy? We are using this as a focus in our business launch. As it was written in the I Ching: "The sage competes with noone, so noone can compete with him." One other highly recommended book is Blue Ocean Strategy, which looks at ways to make your competition irrelevant.

CD

Guy, thanks for your comment, I've fixed my post.

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