Who is our competition?

When you start a business or have an existing business it is important to assess the competitive landscape so you have a strong sense as to who is targeting the same customers as you, what resources they have at their disposal and the bases on which they intend to compete i.e. product features, service quality, price, focus etc.

Beyond just the obvious, are you aware of who your competitors are?

Your competitors are not always who you think they are. For example, if you are a manufacturer of popcorn products, your direct competitors are probably other brands of popcorn in the market. But what about, peanuts, snack mixes, or potato chips? Coke view tap water as competition.

A company must narrow its choices and decide which industry, product or service categories, brands, geographic areas, channels of distribution, etc., to compete in. Without this knowledge and analysis, your marketing programs will not be effective and efficient, particularly if you have a very limited budget.

Knowing who your competitors are, and what they are offering, can help you to make your products, services and marketing stand out. It will enable you to set your prices competitively and help you to respond to rival marketing campaigns with your own initiatives.

Customer service can often provide the difference between businesses that operate in a very competitive market. Renew your efforts in these areas to exploit the deficiencies you've discovered in your competitors.

But don't be complacent about your current strengths. Your current offerings may still need improving and your competitors may also be assessing you. They may adopt and enhance your good ideas.

Experience has taught that making thoughtful improvements to existing products is a consistently profitable way to innovate. An effective way to come up with ideas is to start by surveying the market in a familiar industry and asking: What's missing?

The question to ask is: How can the products already out on the market be made better? Here are three ways to help you out-design your competition:

Examine the dominant brands. Determine what the benefit of each competing product is and get a sense of each producer by visiting their website. Who are they marketing their products to? What message is their brand trying to convey? What promises do they make to their customers? Are there any obvious holes? Use your creativity to envision alternative, superior solutions to the problem their products attempt to solve.

Take a good look at packaging. Don't underestimate the power of delivery. Packaging is an incredibly important extension of your brand, as it forms a consumer's initial impression.

What aren't customers getting? It sounds so obvious, but many entrepreneurs don't take the initiative to find out what consumers want and like. Visit retail stores in person to observe how people interact with the products. What are consumers saying about the products they buy and use?

Innovations can come from anywhere. But when you choose to capitalize on existing demand by out-designing the competition, you up your chances of success.

Henry Ford said - “The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.”