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Frenemies

Frenemies

How to take on your competitors

How to take on your competitors

MAKING IT WORK PODCAST

Season 1 | Episode 8

Competitors can be crucial motivation in getting your business to the next level. But what do you do when once friendly competition turns into knock offs and misleading marketing?

Whether you're first-to-market or an industry disruptor, our panel of entrepreneurs discuss what it's like when the big boys start taking note of your success and try to replicate it.

So, should you watch your competitors like a hawk or just keep doing what you're doing?

Listen now

SHOW NOTES

It’s a crowded marketplace. How do you stay ahead of the competition?

Whether your product offering is truly unique or part of a well-established industry area, sooner or later you’re going to have to deal with the reality of competition. This is generally perceived as a good thing – from a consumer viewpoint, at least. Having a choice between two donut shops is better than one, after all.

Businesses, understandably, take a different view. Startups, in particular, can have a rough time of it, particularly when that competition takes the form of huge chains with more leeway in their margins, or unscrupulous operators who blatantly steal ideas or IP (intellectual property). Which isn’t to say that they view competition as a negative…

 

Healthy or unhealthy?

“I welcome competition. And there's a very specific reason for it,” says Dana Donofree. “When I launched AnaOno, I was the first lingerie line for women with breast reconstruction. And that actually was not good for me. It was a detriment and not a plus.” Dana was stunned to find that potential investors took the stance that if there was an actual need for her product, someone else would already be doing it. Which has all changed, of course. “When competition enters my landscape, I welcome it because I can go out now and talk to my investors and say, I was right. I was just early. And now I'm the leader of the pack.”


“If you don't have competition and none comes… you're probably not gonna be around for much longer!”


Rahim Diallo of Ginjan Bros, a company bringing a tasty African ginger drink to the USA also welcomes competition. “It’s a natural component of capitalism. If you're doing anything great, you will always have competition. If you don't have competition and none comes… you're probably not gonna be around for much longer!”

 

Standing out from the crowd

If your ‘something great’ is different enough, that alone will keep the competition at bay – at least for a while. But that can be true even if you’re competing in an established market segment as Diana Ganz has found with her wedding attire company SuitShop (formerly The Groomsman Suit). “Being an online option that only does men's wedding wear, reliably and affordably to own – there actually isn't anybody that's doing that.” It’s a big differentiator in a marketplace dominated by a rental model. “We're disrupting the tuxedo rental space by offering an option that's about the same price that men just get to keep.”

What about a drink though? It would be straightforward for a multinational to replicate Rahim’s product – but as Rahim says, “It's about a lot more than just the ginger drink.” Certainly, that’s a big part of it, but he’s selling more than just a backstory or sourcing the ingredients from Africa. It’s about opening up channels to western markets. “If you're a small farmer in rural Cameroon or Guinea and you want to sell to a small chain of supermarkets in Amsterdam, how do you go about doing that? This is a global supply chain we've built.” It makes for a compelling story, and it brings a level of authenticity that can’t be manufactured overnight.

Keeping a focus on originality is also the tenet of hair stimulant business Edge Entity, founded by Aquila Augusta. “Last thing you want to do is be doing the same thing that people are used to seeing every day.” Aquila’s brand differentiates itself in a number of ways, such as the smell of the products – a big difference from the medicinal smells that dominate the majority of products on the market (“The biggest compliment I get is how pleasant the smells of my products are…”) – but also her unwavering stance on authenticity. Rather than going down the typical Instagram route of featuring a model with perfect hair holding a jar of product, “…I want to see raw, unedited results. People are scared to show the ugly because it's ugly. But guess what? The customer wants to see that their hair can go from this to this.”

 

Marketing from learning, learning from marketing

Whilst Aquila’s approach might cause the average marketing manager to spray coffee over their monitor, the numbers speak for themselves: it’s working. But she admits that she’s constantly assessing and learning from the marketing strategies of her rivals as well. As is Diana and her business partner Jeanne – although it can be something of a rabbit hole. “I think where we look to other brands,” says Diana, “Is some of the experiential things or on social media: what are the campaigns that we're seeing, giveaways and that sort of thing.” But they’re slow to just emulate what they’re seeing. “A lot of our own trends are kind of guided by our customers.”

And customers – and their choices – are exactly what drives competition, as Dana is highly aware. “You are under the gun for new styles, new trends, new colors, all of these things… and if you choose wrong it can really hurt you a lot.” She feels that the key to successful marketing and standing out from your rivals is to ensure that your customers not only like you – they have to love you. Which brings its own element of pressure: “That's emotional on top of just running a business. Do you believe in me? Do you love what you're seeing? Fashion puts itself into a very quirky corner because of those other elements that are needed in order to sell your clothing.”

The entrepreneurs

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Dana Donofree

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Rahim Diallo

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Jeanne Foley & Diana Ganz

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Aqila Augusta

Coping with copying

The flip side to that coin is that if your customers do love what you’re doing, you might find that your competitors may just want to carve themselves a slice of that love – particularly if they’re a huge operator. But Diane and Jeanne aren’t worried. They feel that these companies are more likely to look to partnering rather than cloning.

“Instead of building their own brand, they're buying other brands.” It’s certainly something they’ve looked at. “We've made it to be sizable enough where it's gonna be very hard for us to be disrupted by somebody new. A bigger brand is not going to authentically be able to create a younger, fresher brand that people relate to, as well as they would if they just bought it.”

At the other end of the scale, there are the imitators. It’s one thing when someone takes cues from your product, but quite another when they lift your IP wholesale. Or even just use your marketing to set up a scam site, as Aquila well knows.

“Oh my God, so many different pages – replicating my brand, advertising on Instagram and saying that they have Edge Entity products for sale… entire websites ‘selling’ Edge Entity products.” Some of these sites are operating in territories where Aquila doesn’t have a presence, which can be damaging to the brand when people place orders in good faith and receive nothing in return. “They'll come to me: I purchased from your website and I'm like, what website did you purchase from? And they'll show me. And it’s fake. It's so frustrating.”

 

Keep your frenemies close

Aquila is far from the only business owner who finds that imitation is the most insincere form of flattery. In an ideal world, there’s space for everyone to get a fair share of the profits – but we don’t live in an ideal world. Keeping tabs on your rivals and jumping on the opportunities might feel like a 24/7 task, but it’s one that needs doing.

“They became very complacent,” says Dana, “And because they were so focused on one product, one consumer, one body type as the world and as society was changing and as women's treatment options were changing, they didn't focus on it. And I was there to focus on their lost opportunities.”

But what if your competition is, as Aquila puts it, “pretty much anybody in the beauty industry”? It’s a case of being more nimble. “I look to those higher-end brands and those brands that are well known as a blueprint. I don't do exactly what they do, I find the faults in what they're doing – and I try to do it better.”

Or you could just take a page out of Rahim’s book, and disregard the competition altogether. “We don't research our competitors, we research our customers. We're too busy to be worried about what someone else is doing!”

Listen to the episode

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