Stop Trying To Be Better Than the Competition

stand outAnd start figuring out how you can be different than your competition.

So many business owners or would be start-ups sit around this time of year trying to figure out how they can be better than the competition – better product, better service, better features, and, the real killer, better price. Heck, some even strive to be “best” in class. What they should be doing is figuring out how they can simply be different than the competition.

I’m not against lofty goals – the problem is creating a better product or service is hard. Prospects often won’t take the time to understand the subtle differences that make your product or service better and you might spend all your time and energy trying to educate them on better when all they want to know is the price. If you’ve even wondered why prospects are choosing your competitors over your obviously superior offering, you may have just a hint of appreciation for what I’m saying here.

Better than the competition is the enemy of different than the competition, and different is where the money is! Instead of trying to be better or exactly like, build a strategy around a simple way that your company is different from the pack. Again, this is sometimes a place where companies will say, “well, we are different we have a better product, or we offer better service.” Really, and do your competitors all suggest they offer crappy service?

We can debate the countless intricate ways that companies can use to create a strategy of difference, but it all pretty much boils down to:
1) Better product
2) Better process
3) Better relationships

In my opinion focusing all of your strategic thinking, goal setting and actions on building a better process or better relationships is the surest and maybe simplest way to create a true competitive advantage that someone might care about. Would you rather lean on your 5% better product or price or on something so totally outrageous and innovative that people can’t stop talking about it?

Creating your own special way to treat customers, creating an experience that’s unique, or creating a totally new and frictionless way for people to get a result is how you stand out from the pack, it’s how you create a difference that can’t be easily copied, and it’s how innovation comes to small business.

Instead of spending your precious R&D time on product features, spend it on creating branded intellectual property, a distinct way of marketing, or on developing people and culture inside your organization that enables you to be seen as different.

I’ll leave you with two powerful questions to pose to your organization to help you get started.
1) What are we doing that our competitors are not?
2) What are we doing just like our competitors that we could change for good?

Image credit: Laenulfean

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  • michaelgibson

    I am starting to believe the publicwhenthey tellme there is no difference in service or products anymore. They are telling me there is a difference in how people engage them and that is where the difference comes in.

  • Jeannie Walters

    Love the quote “better is the enemy of real strategy.” For a big business example, look at Burger King. When they finally embraced being the “other player” they created a real identity and success. It's no fun to be chasing the whole time. It's a lot more fun to be part of the creation of something! Thanks – great post!

  • Jeannie Walters

    Love the quote “better is the enemy of real strategy.” For a big business example, look at Burger King. When they finally embraced being the “other player” they created a real identity and success. It's no fun to be chasing the whole time. It's a lot more fun to be part of the creation of something! Thanks – great post!

  • ducttape

    Great example and even though it's s big company the idea should not be lost on even the smallest company

  • ducttape

    I think that's pretty much what I was trying get to in this post. In some ways it doesn't matter what we think, it's what our prospect perceive that makes the difference.

  • Veronica Wei Sopher

    The “organic Batter Blaster” is a good recent example. Cans of refrigerated, pressurized pancake batter, placed next to the eggs and packaged hash browns at the grocery store. :)

  • Adine

    It's so important to listen to your customers and prospects. They give you the real world perspective that we inside the company often fail to have. It doesn't matter if we think we are better; THEY need to think we are better. Great idea to focus on differentiators other than product features.

  • ducttape


  • ducttape

    It's so hard to do this in reality as we have to fall in love with our stuff first in order to be any good at selling it.

  • sherfelad

    So true! I wrote about this before! stop imitating and start innovating… people are to focused on success and are not focused enough on excellence!… Love it!

  • michaelgibson

    <html><body><span style=”font-family:Verdana; color:#000000; font-size:10pt;”><div>That was what I received from your post, I was hoping I was on the right track.  I was thinking that was the message being sent by nearly all of the buyers out there.  Now my job is to figure out some of the best ways to help my business community get the idea and implement it.  And receive a paycheck for the help.</div><div>Michael

    <div >

  • Deborah Richmond

    I find a little work on your niche is a good way to differentiate yourself. Not just a web designer, but a web designer who specializes in sites for the insurance industry and knows exactly what they need.

  • johnshields

    John, very insightful post! As you said, better to provide unique experiences than trying to be “better” in areas that may not make much difference to your customers.

    I've linked to your post from my blog too :-)

  • Donald Cunninfham

    Hey John, great post! I actually blogged about this same topic a few weeks ago.

    I agree 100% with your point that you must focus on being different rather than being better. I believe the key is to consistently challenge your industry’s underlying assumptions. Just look at Wal-Mart; instead of focusing on defeating the competition, Wal-Mart focused on making the competition irrelevant by offering a new value proposition, and thereby creating a new market space. By going to small town America, Wal-Mart was targeting a newer and larger customer base than other mass retailers (who focused on highly populated areas). By challenging the underlying assumptions, Wal-Mart was able to innovatively create value for both the company and customers.

  • Sales Rescue Team

    I have heard some folks call this a “Blue Ocean” strategy, which I'm sure you've heard of — find that place where you can have and own your own piece of untouched ocean. If you don't swim, choose another metaphor.

    I like this John. Thanks.

  • Tara

    This is such a great post. How refreshing it would be for the employees to have the opportunity to be part of what differentiates the company from its competitors. And how refreshing from the view of the client/consumer as well to have organizations selling their unique client services experience and focus on intellectual property.

  • Zabubli

    Well said! It's really just going back to basics, having a USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Unless you happen to be in a market where your product is the only product, which is usually not the case anymore these days, then you really have to focus on how you can be “different” from your competitors, not “better”. Dare to be different, and you will actually become better automatically in the long run. Get caught up trying to be better, and you will never be different. Nice post!

  • JohnPohl

    Full-time musician and part-time business man nailed it when he said this about positioning a brand or business: “The idea isn't to make people think you're the best at what you do; it's to make people think you're the only one who does what you do.”

  • ducttape

    I think that's a great way to put it John – I'll have to borrow that little statement – so who said it?

  • contentfactor

    Great discussion, which ties into the meaning of “thought leadership,” and what separates the leaders from the wannabes.

    A caution:
    @Zabubli, regarding the back-to-basics USP, and
    @JohnPohl regarding making people think you're the only ones who do what you do

    Marketers and executives alike *hear* these words, but still think *product* instead of *message.* It is easy to stay trapped in the notion that all innovation goes back to the offering, not in how to position it or communicate it.

    Our blog has a post about “violating expectations” which fits here:

    I'm also reminded of the excellent book “Made to Stick.”

  • JohnPohl

    Oops–I inadvertently left that part out! It was–are you ready for this?–Jerry Garcia.

    Keep on “Truckin'”, John!

  • Zabubli

    @contentfactor, regarding “Marketers and executives alike *hear* these words, but still think *product* instead of *message.*”.

    I couldn't have said it better myself. That is the problem. We just really need to get out of that mentality and for once, keep making the picture BIGGER and bigger (and bigger). If you do it that way, you will get to a “big picture” scenario where your product or service won't be a product or service anymore — it'll be an emotion, a passion, a MESSAGE.

  • bkjrecruiter

    1) Better product YES!
    2) Better process YES!
    3) Better relationships YES!

    Exceptional Post…. cut/copied into my evernote file!
    Best, Brian-

  • nanross

    I'm glad you have discuss this topic. Differentiating ourselves from the competition and how your converse with your audience helps you stand out from the crowd.

  • Stephen Eugene Adams

    A long time ago, I decided to stop following my competitors and to start following my customers and market. It is so hard to do the same thing as everyone else in your industry while at the same time, trying to differentiate yourself. I don't want to succeed because I marketed better than my competition, I want to succeed because I made my customers not even think about my competitors.

  • donrom

    Also, it's never too late to change your product or service to be different from your competition. Just go back to thinking about what is the need that your business fills. Then decide on alternate ways of accomplishing that. Once you find a way to set yourself apart from similar businesses, conusmers will have to make a choice and hopefully you will gain market share.

  • giammarcoschisani

    Differentiation is the basis of business strategy. If you trying beating the competition in only operational effectiveness (e.g. price to customer), you and your competitors will end up in a rat race that nobody can win. This is basic, but still so many companies out there get this wrong!

  • Cassie Rice

    Totally agree! One of the most basic principles you learn in business/marketing is to have a brand identity and differentiate yourself from your competitors. Figure out a way to be different that is pleasing to a specific segment of potential users of the product/service.

  • john_gallagher

    Good stuff, John. Wise advice for any industry.

  • kayedennan

    So true about being different. I just read another blog about new business owners scared of their ideas being copied and the competition they will get. My comment was “how many years do you want to sell the same thing anyway?” Be innovative and always be looking ahead to the next product as well as the one you are marketing right now

  • ducttape

    Plus, there really aren't that many new ideas left, it's brilliant execution of ideas that wins the day

  • Phil Kelly

    Great article John. I definitely agree that emphasizing on being different rather than better is the key to a great competition. After all, everyone pretty much claims to be better than the other. So better than the competition is quite overused and has gotten to the point where tone is boring.

    In my opinion, I don't think customers are interested to hear that your firm is better than the other, they more interested to know 'what is it about your service that is different, and how does it facilitate them reach their goals'. so yes, having a robust strategy to communicate how different your service is, is efficient than 'im better than…

  • maverick00010

    Interesting! I learn so much about affiliate marketing, thanks.

  • Aaron Houssian

    That sounds a lot like Blue Ocean strategy to me. Don't try to be the best in class, make you own class, and you are by default the best in it, and even when the competition comes (and it will) you will have a huge lead.

  • Joy Johnson

    I've read this several times now and I just flat out disagreed until this morning. I'm always concerned with creating something of value and to me that means something new – different – original. I've always thought that if you can't be that, you're just a poor quality replica and nobody needs that. However, it goes with the “say it a different way” idea. Everyone's brain is wired differently, I know mine is wired very differently. Perhaps it really is as simple as understanding that presenting the same thing in a different way is serving up something “different” to those who perceive that difference – and they will probably number high enough to sustain one, no matter what level that requires.

  • Scott

    John, I agree with you 100%. Success is all about differentiating yourself from the crowd. But like you say, it's not about pointing out the little features that make your product better than your competition.

    It's about knowing your niche market. It's about answering their questions and fulfilling their specific needs. This approach takes time and effort but is certainly worth it.

  • PaintingDenver

    John, Great article helping show how to stand out from the crowd, being one's own self.
    What we are doing others are not, Leading the Painting Industry again as a whole, along with Home Improvement for that matter, having the Nation's 1st. Online Payment Form built into a web site (for that industry of Home Improvement).

    Notice I said Leading again, as we were the Originators of the term “Eco Paint” incorporating into name back in 1993. Long before Green Earth Friendly Paints became available to the retail market. Acronym ECO meant Economical as wells as Ecological back then, as it still does today, keeping both meanings at the forefront of our company philosophy. As of course providing Best service and pricing everybody will say. lol
    Finally, in the last year, realizing it is not necessary to have url as company name, but keyword domains. Now almost monopolizing Yahoo and Bing in our local for several keyword domain websites getting top 1st. page rankings world wide, of course having our Flagship site where everything points to.
    Look forward reading your next article!~Cal