We hear a great deal from politicians about competition. They say competition is a driver of capitalism; competition provokes innovation. To get one over on my competitors I must be cleverer. I have to be more powerful, if I have more money I can take greater risks and outgun them.
In practice, this false worldview does not play out so much in armed warfare, where armaments are business cards, flyers and social media posts, as fear. Fear of competition leads to stasis, you draw back from engaging in your market for fear of offending more powerful or experienced competitors.
Experienced business people know capitalism is rooted in collaboration. Let’s start starry-eyed and then look at some issues. It is easier to promote someone else’s business than it is your own. Apart from thick-skinned individuals, most people find it easier to be generous than overtly confrontational. Pooling knowledge leads to strategies that raise awareness of the need for your products and the range of solutions on offer. This is a purpose of business networking, even though we sometimes lose sight of it.
The downside of collaboration is where businesses form cartels and work against the interests of their market. Perhaps the most dangerous example is lobbying politians. If you invest cash in lobbying, you can support cartels of interested parties. Huge business interests bend political discourse through social media. It may be one person’s investment, until you look closely and ask where they got the funds they invested.
Big business collaborates because they know collaboration works. They compete in tacitly agreed ways. The principle applies to small businesses too but they inhabit a different world, where opportunities for mischief are scaled down.
Business is a force for good, especially at the local level, where they aim to produce something of value. Whatever market you target, you find many other businesses competing for the attention of the same people.
Why should a prospect choose you and not one of the others? There are three main ways to gain separation. Once clear about what makes you distinctive, your position helps you collaborate for mutual benefit with others in similar markets.
The problem you solve is the most important positioning element. How you describe the problem, its effects and the changes that happen when it is solved, matters. Stories demonstrate the problem is real, how to know whether you have it, that it can be solved and why your solution is best for some people.
Your market determines the problem and understanding of the problem comes from study of your market. If you notice a problem behind the problem, you demonstrate understanding of the issues your market faces. But always your stories demonstrate understanding.
Here you impose constraints on your market. You might offer services primarily to women or to men. Your market might be a particular age-group or locality.
You make choices for reasons of preference or convenience or to narrow your market. Aim for the minimum viable market; that is the smallest number of people who can generate enough customers to make your business viable.
Using demographics helps because you are in control. Say you choose to market to women only. You could decide that men are not ruled out. This might mean you design your marketing solely for women but consider any men who express interest. They are your secondary market.
Or it could be you choose women only. At a later date as you grow in confidence, you are free to decide to extend your market to men. They’re your rules!
The final dimension is your worldview. What might appeal to your market? You could let it be known which way you voted for the EU referendum. Maybe you don’t want to serve those who voted the other way. Perhaps you want to convey a specific worldview that attracts a particular type of customer. If the referendum is irrelevant, then don’t say anything about it.
Given 2 or more businesses with similar problems and demographics, how does a prospect choose between them? Customers don’t always choose on experience or competence because businesses are often hard to tell apart on these factors. Customers are drawn to someone they feel they will get on with. Who at least understands their worldview.
The point is not to be like everyone else. Your offer may be similar to many other peoples’. You could redesign it but if you are successful, others will copy you. If you are innovative in positioning, you have an advantage because others cannot be you.
By narrowing your market, you make space for others to position themselves relative to you. Once all are confident in their positions, opportunities for collaboration by promoting understanding of a shared problem or available solutions become possible.
One common error, is to position on pricing. This triggers the dreaded race to the bottom.