PHOTO: Nathália Rosa | unsplash
I’ve thought a lot about competition.
My cousin Emily started an e-commerce business in 2019 to give away pet products. She has done an incredible job with product selection, branding, and advertising – all of which is reflected in her sales growth and the partnerships she has secured. She called me last week. A competitor showed up who had copied her branding (logo, colors, font, packaging), promotions and many of her products. The branding is a breach, but it was not gone far enough to initiate a legal challenge.
For the past week, Emily has quickly worked her way through anger, frustration, depression, acceptance, and back into anger again. She is ready to fight now. I have no doubt that it will be successful. She is enthusiastic about her company and product strategy, is enormously talented, and is working on a vision and plan that will keep her well ahead of her copycat competitor. This ultimately becomes a slip in the road and a story to tell as the company grows and matures.
PHOTO: Source: Reddit
Emily’s story is known to everyone in the B2C world. Most B2C brands dominate the competition on several levels: product, packaging, distribution, price, advertising, etc. In the B2B environment, things are different. Ask a B2B company for an overview of their competition and 99% of the time you will get either a chart of product feature comparisons or, if they are in a leadership position, a Gartner Magic Quadrant or Forrester Wave showing it in a positive light.
While it is important that your product compares well with competitive offerings, you are missing out on the opportunity to differentiate and differentiate your business and products in many other ways when that is all you are focusing on in terms of competition .
Brands: Are You Practicing These Basics of Competitiveness?
Product and pricing
You don’t have to have the most features and the cheapest products to win. You need to have the right features for your target audience and a price that is in line with your product offering in the context of your competition.
That being said, the hardest part of a new B2B company is to determine the prices for its product. There is a lot of trial and error trying to figure out what the market is going to carry, especially if you are the first to market to a new category. If you rate yourself higher than your competition, it can be a risk. The trick is to understand that nothing is permanent. You can always adjust prices until you find your sweet spot. In a recent pricing discussion with a group of SaaS CEOs, it became clear that we had all started with prices that were too low.
Related article: The Truth About Competitive Analysis
Brand look and feel
B2B companies waste a lot of valuable time trying to find the perfect logo and company name. They are so creative that they turn inward and disregard their competitive landscape. I have a few simple rules:
- Company Name. You need to be able to say it, spell it, and get the domain and social handles – it’s that simple. There is one exception: it needs to stand out from your competition. You would think this is obvious, but if so, why are so many companies making mistakes in this area? Just today we had a ridiculous conversation in a partnership meeting and in the course of the conversation three companies from the same product category came up and their names all started with “brand” – the conversation quickly became completely confused.
- Choose a good color palette. If all of your competitors have blue logos, choose something different. Choose a palette, not just a single color, for maximum flexibility in your marketing materials.
- Keep your logo simple and associate it with your brand name whenever possible. And if your logo isn’t square, you’ll need a square variant to support your social media activities. It costs time and money to socialize a brand icon and brand name separately. This might be a good idea in a B2C environment (e.g. Nike Swoosh), but it probably isn’t worth your time in a B2B environment. In this case, we offer users the option of dragging and dropping logos of marketing tech companies into our tech stack configurator. When we first started the final visualization, it was a group of logos. We quickly realized that we also had to provide the company name, as nobody, and I mean nobody, recognized all the logos of the products they used.
The key to competition: Make sure your logo is sufficiently different from your competitors and that it is scalable. It must be legible when added to a slide next to your competitor’s logos or a conference or exhibition program. The sponsorship you paid for is worthless if your logo is scaled down enough to no longer be recognizable. I learned this the hard way early in my career when I inherited a beautiful but completely useless logo.
For an extreme example, take a look at this excerpt from a previous edition of Scott Brinker’s MarTech Landscape. In the lower left corner of Business Intelligence, notice how difficult it is to read the rust-colored square logo compared to other logos. Second, look at the similarity of the logos of the cloud companies. I would argue that none of these logos serve the competitive interests of their companies.
Related article: 5 rebranding lessons from a CMO who’s been there
Positioning is one area where competitive reactions go wrong. Many companies believe that the best way to differentiate is to separate yourself into a category of your own or not to mention their category at all in their company and product positioning. This approach makes it really difficult for potential buyers to find you. We catalog a lot of technology in my company and it’s a constant struggle to interpret the vendors’ company and product overviews. Here is a classic example: The “Platform from Vendor X” combines emotional and cultural intelligence to enable brands and agencies to anticipate threats and opportunities and to react quickly and true to scale from moment to moment on the market in multiple publishers and contexts. “My questions for you: 1) Can you use this description to find out what does this product do? 2) How would you categorize this product? 3) Do you think someone will write an RFP that uses this description to identify the product?” he calls?
It is really very simple. Own your space. If you have a good product and value proposition, don’t be afraid to compete for business. The best positioning and product statements begin with “Platform X is a Y” and then describe how this product or company is different. Here’s a good example: Postal Virtual Events is a virtual event scheduling platform where customers can book talent from hundreds of options, manage the invitation and registration process, and trigger event kits to be sent automatically for attendees. Direct mail, gifts, corporate swag, and memorable virtual events can all come together in one place to help sellers and marketers get out of the noise of saturated digital channels.
Related article: From B2B Funnel to Tornado: How to Tame the Path of the New Cloud Services Buyer
Go beyond the basics
In my marketing consulting days, when working with a client looking to start a business or product, the first thing I would do was spend a few days researching their competitors’ marketing strategy. I looked up press releases to see how they positioned themselves, the frequency of announcements and social posts, as well as the other channels they used to get attention and lead. This tedious manual labor has been invaluable in devising a competitive strategy. In one situation I found that all players (all billion dollar companies) were in the habit of announcing products well in advance of product availability (sometimes up to 3 years) in order to freeze the market. Since we knew that the competition with the marketing budgets of these very large companies would be a challenge as a startup, we decided to consider product availability as the central point of differentiation. When we started the company, we told the world not to expect any product announcements from us until the products go through beta and go into production. The strategy worked incredibly well and we were quickly perceived as a viable competitor.
You don’t have to manually uncover this information today. A variety of technology tools are available to help you discover the information you need about your competitors. You can find them here:
In addition to the basics of competition, delve deep into your competitor’s marketing strategy to uncover opportunities for differentiation by targeting segments of the market they don’t talk to, using marketing tactics and channels they don’t talk to, and experimenting with a different frequency of communication.
Since we all place more value on digital interaction with our customers and prospects, customer experience and engagement programs offer an additional opportunity to develop a differentiation from the competition. Can you do a better job than your competitors with your online support? Is there a way to engage with active prospects and customers in a more active way? I got rid of them all once [email protected] Email addresses and replacing them with real names – just to be clear real names, not real people. This fundamentally changed the tone of the messages from our prospects and gave us the opportunity to build relationships right at the beginning of the customer journey.
Defining your competitive strategy should be fun. It takes analysis, strategy, and creativity – and when you succeed it feels great. Go out and conquer! (And if you live in the UK and need to send a gift to your animal-loving friend, I recommend checking out Pet Hamper. That would make Emily very happy.)
Anita Brearton is the Founder / CEO and Co-CMO of CabinetM, a marketing technology discovery and management platform that enables marketing teams to manage the technology and find the technology they need. Anita is a longtime tech start-up marketer and has been fortunate enough to drive marketing programs in the early stages of a startup through to an IPO and acquisition.