Just another Carbon Copy

Competition is pretty much a given in the cut and thrust of politics but how does competitive behaviour in the world of enterprise affect you and the success of your business…

Anxiety

Yesterday’s headline was all about the leaking of confidential documents from the shadow cabinet and the Abbott government analysis that it reveals a “catastrophic” rift in the Labor party’s upper ranks, demonstrating a plot to destabilise leader Bill Shorten. It would seem that Labor is a bit shaken by the leak of this confidential climate paper, with Shorten and senior Labor MPs playing down the consequences and rejecting suggestions that the plan amounted to a “carbon tax”.

The leak denied Labor the chance to craft the public message on one of its most politically sensitive policy areas, and this is probably the most relevant point in relation to business. It is easiest to create competitive advantage when you are on the front foot.

If you are a carbon copy or a “me too” of your competitors you may think that you have very little to differentiate yourself with in the marketplace. A common default that is seen all too often is to create an impression that your service is better than your competitions. You will turn up on time, you will always return phone calls, you clean up after yourself or don’t wear work boots indoors. Now while that all may be true it should be a starting point not an exception that good customer service is given and is should not be the way you market yourself.

As in politics, it does happen from time to time that our competition deliberately sets out to white-ant our reputation and set themselves apart in the market. This is not the norm and if your focus is on how you establish a competitive advantage it is less likely that they will be able to do that anyway.   Politics is a dirty game they say and in the broader area of the economy – the real world, we are more focused on running our own business than someone else’s.

So what is the key to being successful if your product or service is at face value “the same as everyone else’s”.   The first thing is to embrace competition, while it is true that supply and demand can create high prices, it is also true that competition raises the profile of a product or service as consumers become more conscious of them and buyer resistance becomes reduced. The starting point of great customer service becomes the norm from this competition and again sets the benchmark for satisfaction in your sector. Competition is not a bad thing, it is the key for delivery of value to consumers and if you understand that you can win in this environment.

Two good examples are my local RSL and the plumber that I use; in the last couple of years the State branch of the RSL has started selling merchandise for ANZAC Day throughout newsagents as has Woolworths on behalf of Legacy. The campaign by Woolworths ending up hurting them after intervention from the Department of Veterans Affairs and that was unfortunate. But what was the impact of this competition on a little Sub-Branch who relies on badge selling each year as their only source of income…

Well the immediate reaction was disappointment until I pointed out that competition is beneficial to a market and that if we improved our offer then we would actually benefit not be hurt by it. Our merchandising officer shared this sentiment and she bought a much wider range and our sales increased and have stayed up about 30% year on year.

The plumber that I use has established a competitive advantage for himself in what to many of us appears to be a carbon copy tradesmen industry. He only services the local area and only does emergency and repair work. He is not a jack-of-all-trades doing whatever work is offered to him, he doesn’t do builder installations or renovations, he only does repairs, he is always close by. Every customer knows that if he gets a call where an immediate response is required he will leave your job and attend to it. We all know that if we are in that emergency we can rely on him and that if he leaves a job he will be back shortly to complete it. The peace of mind knowing you have someone to depend on is his competitive advantage that we all appreciate.

There are many ways to create an advantage for yourself in the marketplace, great customer service is the starting point.

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