Many marketers look to market leaders for examples on what to do. The thinking is: if I can replicate what the largest and most successful incumbents in my market are doing, I’ll be just as successful as they are. While there are times when best practices are useful, there are many times when they are not enough. More often than not, a copycat marketing strategy will not replicate competitors’ success.
There are a number of times when marketing best practices are insufficient. These include (but are certainly not limited to):
- When incumbents have a brand advantage that biases customers in favor of your incumbent. All else being equal, if your competitors have a brand advantage they will continue to outcompete you.
- When there are a large number of incumbents and no one or two competitors that dominate. You certainly can’t dominate your market by following in the footsteps of other companies who don’t dominate either.
- If the product or service you are selling is not sufficiently differentiated from competition. All else being equal, scientists will prefer to stick with what they know.
- When the marketing practices of your competitors are misinformed or – for whatever reason – just not that good.
In these instances, you need to go beyond best practices. You have to choose which elements of your marketing program are of the greatest strategic importance and surpass competitors in order to gain advantage and capture market share. But how do you know what to focus on?
The answer should be rooted in two things: customer value, and differentiation. Differentiation is somewhat obvious – we can’t create advantage by doing the same thing as our competitors, so those things cannot be the focus unless you know you can do them substantially better and there would be some barrier to your competitors replicating your success. Unlocking customer value is often far more obscure of a goal. To do so, adopt a customer-centric viewpoint and consider what needs they have that lie beyond the realm of commercial products and services. Uncover needs that are related to your business and your offerings and align with your values, then create branded solutions which address them. (For more information on that topic, see this post.) Once you understand how you can create value for customers that goes beyond products, the possible natures of the delivery of that value will become relatively obvious. (More on value that isn’t intrinsically linked to your products here and here.)
Unless you have a vastly superior product or brand value, best practices can get you no further than your top competitors. To surpass them, become a market leader, and truly dominate your markets, you need to do things differently.