Tuesday 2¢: Inspired to be average? Start with your competitor’s website

This Tuesday 2¢ is inspired by Robert Rose, Ann Handley, Youngme Moon and LinkedIn’s B2B Institute, but the message is simple, let’s remember, as marketers, it’s our job to be different.

As Ann Handley reminded us during the rather wonderful Robert Rose Weekly Wrap podcast, our job as marketers is to create differentiation. To be different.

I’ve also been reading this report from LinkedIn (free – not even email registration) – 5 Principles Of Growth In B2B Marketing – in which the authors have dug into this and various other B2B marketing topics and trends.

In the opening opinion piece at the start of the paper they state:

The most profitable ideas are contrarian ideas. The value of contrarian thinking is well understood in the world of finance, but much less well understood in the world of marketing.

If your marketing strategy is based on consensus opinion — even if that consensus opinion is right — then you are destined to be average. If your competitors are doing exactly what you are doing, then you have no advantage, by definition. To find the upside, in life and in business, you need to be doing what no one else is doing. And you need to be right when everyone else is wrong.

About half a dozen years ago the very same aforementioned (you don’t get to use the word aforementioned very often) Robert Rose recommended to me the book Different by Youngme Moon, written in 2010. The back cover of my well-thumbed copy, says:

“What if working like crazy to beat the competition did exactly the opposite – made you mediocre and more like the competition”

So, why is it that time and time again when we do anything ever, we start with our competitor’s website? Whatever the question we ask: What does xyz corp do? And jump on Google.

I’ve worked in companies and with clients that are obsessed with the taillights of their competitors. And OK, I admit, I’m guilty of it, only yesterday, as I look to improve my one-page company website (appropingo) to express a bit more of what my little agency does, I pointed my Google search machine at others in my industry.

It’s hard to resist, as you surround yourself in the comfort that someone knows better than you. If big xyz corp do it this way, they seem successful, let’s say and do that.

If you work for a big company it’s a strategy to not get fired, if you work for yourself or for a small company, looking like them is your seat at the table.

That’s the challenge. To be different enough.

Yes, we need to keep a beady eye on what our competitors are doing, we need to be relevant to the here and now of where the market is, what a potential client is used to seeing from potential suppliers, so they recognize that we are like them.

In the short term we need to do that, but, that does not build a long-term brand, as you have nothing to define yourself by. Looking like everyone else you will be competing on price and features, as there is nothing for the buyer to emotionally choose between. And we all know where that leads.

As I’ve discussed on my company blog, I have a little game for you:

  • Cut and paste some copy from your website, remove formatting, product mentions (etc)
  • Paste into a slide, then do the same for your three top competitors.
  • Do the same for visual language
  • Show your leadership team and ask them to spot the difference.
  • Can they feel their company’s differentiation, culture and identity in the text and images to know which one was theirs?

I did this, they couldn’t.

Competitive research should be part of the process, but it’s just a start or an adjacent process to the business of figuring your brand story.

Building a brand is a long-term thing, but the rewards are there, if your version of different in your market resonates, it will define the market. Yours will be the taillights that your competitors will want to emulate, the website that when their boss asks them a question they turn to to find out how you do it or say it.

And, as a bonus, yours will be the company the best people in your industry will want to work for.

That’s my Tuesday 2¢, as Groove Armada said:

“If everyone looks the same, we’d get tired of looking at each other”

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