Strategic planning starts by understanding how your product or service differs from what’s already available in the marketplace. To pinpoint true differentiators, study what competitors sell without letting your biases interfere.
Passionate leaders may delude themselves into thinking, “We don’t really have any competitors” or “What we offer is faster and cheaper than anything else out there.”
A smarter approach involves scrutinizing how rivals perform and acknowledging what they do well. Then you can compare what you offer and describe in precise terms how your product or service stands out. Follow these steps to sharpen your strategic analysis:
√ Learn from industry experts. Gather reports from researchers who specialize in tracking your market. They may work for firms that produce white papers or other relevant data you can use to spot trends or see openings to differentiate what you sell from your competitors.
√ Observe how rivals brand themselves. Take a cold, hard look at how competitors choose to portray their wares to different segments of the public. Review their social media initiatives, media coverage and advertising campaigns. Ask yourself why they’re investing in certain messages and what types of customers they’re pursuing.
√ Prepare an elevator speech that summarizes how your product or service trumps rivals’ offerings. Rehearse a succinct and winning answer to the question, “Why do you win business in a bakeoff against your biggest competitor?”
— Adapted from “Do you really know the competition?,” Julie Karbo, www.odwyerpr.com.