Competition or collaboration? And what the answer means for your content
I think while there’s loads of time spent pointing out everything wrong with the world in ‘modern times’, we don’t give what’s right with it even the slightest chance.
Here, in reverse order, are 5 things that I can think of that motivate me to say: I’d never trade ‘modern times’ in, no matter what the hardship, or how hard Twitter is making my eyes roll that day.
5. The interwebs.
3. Being able to make a living off my couch.
2. How easy research and communication is.
Collaboration has to be my favourite thing about the world today.
I love the fact that we now are truly a ‘knowledge-based economy’. And with that comes the fact that simple things are no longer a state secret. Everyone has the power to DIY their lives to whatever extent they wanted.
And so many small businesses + so much technology exist to help you do just that.
Here, let me paint a picture to make that clearer.
You wake up and head to your kitchen. Your freshly brewed cup of coffee awaits. (No really, pre programmed coffee machines will change your life. Swift aside: you only fully realize that when yours breaks 😫) That’s possible because someone understood the human experience and decided the mental health required to face the day comes from being able to suck up a whole cup of coffee before having to operate machinery. They already made machines. So they made one more. A smart one that made you coffee on it’s own (as long as you tell it how).
You have your home cleaned by the uber-for-housekeeping awesomness of a service that someone in your neighbourhood set up; while you head off the to the independent coffee shop nearby to meet remote members of your team. All this made possible by startups and small businesses that understood a market need, saw that nobody else fulfilled it they way they could, and just made it happen.
You head home in the evening, and take in the box of fresh, local produce that you have delivered once a week to support local farming, the planet, and your commitment to the god-of-eCommerce. Because if something can come to you and benefit the universe at the same time, why the fuck not?! That’s the insight the produce delivery boxes prob use, and a good one too, no? So many followed the first one, making the model work for them, creating a variety of different options for us as customers to look at, regardless of the type and tone of service we favour. It’s marketing at it’s most delicious.
Perhaps you had a couple of calls along the day, one with your virtual assistant and one with the small digital agency that helps run your web presence.
Underlining all of this is the tech – from your email, to your smart controls at home, to project management and scheduling and so much more – made easier by apps, and devices, and voice options.
All of that sounds familiar, right? It’s some snippets straight out of my life, but also parallel experiences that many of peer set have. Even the ones that work at the big-name, 9-5 jobs deal with the same exposure to smaller businesses and tech that runs almost all our lives now.
Now here’s what you’re not seeing.
Fair warning: it sounds like the over simplified, 20-second version, of a high-budget Hollywood movie plot, but stick with me; the point is worth it.
Your VA? Her husband is one of the farmers that supplies produce to the company you order your weekly box from. The people who manage your web presence? They are do the fulfilment for a large digital agency for a chunk of the digital work for the delivery service that brings you your produce.
And the coffee machine makers? They also make machines that help wash some of the produce that comes in your weekly box.
My point is that all our lives are inextricably linked. Maybe not in the simplistic way I describe in this illustration, but they are linked nonetheless.
It’s the world-wide-web in more ways that one.
That is the best thing that’s happened to us as small businesses. The success we have is directly proportional to the networks we nurture. And I don’t mean the aggressive-networking-of-yore. Where you either hang around like a wallflower because you don’t have it in you to schmooze (like me) or you’re incredibly good at it so you win and monopolize/interrupt several conversations, having a good time as you go (like some people). I can’t decide which of those types I dislike more. More importantly, I’m not sure either of them has much real success.
Hence the more nuanced networking 2.0. Also known as collaboration. Here you help each other because you want to. And you learn as you go. Need your website overhauled? You’ll shout out to your people and they’ll come back with a bunch of names. Not just any names. ‘Well kept secret’ names. It’s what I like to call us small-seeming-but-heavyweight businesses. We get our successes and our names out because people work with us, like what they see, and pass our names along. While some of us are paying for SEO and other hard-hitting resources, many of us get by on hacks. (Also why I have #ContentHacks btw – a series of tips in video and other formats to help you get more out of your content presence.)
Well-kept-secret-names are worth a lot. Because these are the businesses that care a whole fucking lot. Because when they fuck up, the stakes are high – there’s no large corporate to fall back on or employee insurance to tide them over. Their life changes if their business fails. Everything their dream is paying for stops getting paid for. Sucks! So I like to believe that makes them fuck up a whole lot less. Simplistic but true.
That’s where the sense of community comes from. We each look for the forces that complement us. We look at people in collaborative terms, not in competitive terms. How can what I do help you, and, what you do help me.
It’s a village.
And we raise our little business babies in the villages of our choice and we keep it unsullied and integrity-filled.
The beauty of it scales. I’m living proof. I built my business on hacks and word of mouth. (Read more about that story here.) So collaboration for the win! Always!
In this environment of collaboration, therefore, it doesn’t surprise me a whole lot that people don’t think of competitors.
I mean when you ask the question ‘who are your competitors?’, anyone who’s able to give me 2 or 3 names and clear context on why is my marketing hero. If you’re that person, put on a ‘cape’ – a towel at the very least – as you go about the rest of your day. Celebrate!
Even back when I worked for large advertising agencies, and you’d ask large corporate clients who their competitors were, you’d get sketchy answers.
Here are the top 3 sketchy responses to ‘who are your competitors?’ whether from small business or bigger brands.
- Our product is so different we have no real competitors.(This from some really big names who offer things like savings accounts *eye roll*)
- Nobody else makes what we make. (This is sometimes true in a start-up world, but rarely.)
- *Crickets* (That, in the case of larger corporates, because it happened with them too, was somehow made into your job as an agency to go look for and figure it out. Fair enough, it probably is.)
Regardless of how big or small we are, we all have competition. Even if you’re collaborating your head off with people who do exactly what you do, you have competition – maybe collective competition. Even if you make the unique product in the world, you still have competition. Why? Because your potential customer is currently either spending the money they would’ve spent on your product-that-they-don’t-know-exits on something else, or saving it for a future need.
Understanding your competitive landscape as you plan your content strategy is non-negotiable. It’s how you figure out who else is vying for your prospect’s attention, and how they’re doing it.
(It bears saying at this point, like I do often, that this works for you even if you’re a personal brand and all you’re doing is curating content to get the eye of a few recruiters. If that’s you, good on you. But thousands of other candidates are doing the same. Who stands between you and the job? Maybe not an individual? Maybe a type? Think about it.)
For large brands, agencies come in and run all manner of research to arrive at competitive frameworks, audits, a breaking down of their strategic approach… it can go on. And can become expensive. Therefore, unless you’re a large firm, going into a massive content audit of all your competitors’ publishing and properties is not necessary to get the context you need.
If you’ve thought very little about competitors so far, you definitely need to. But there are more agile approaches to find your competition and suss them out. It’s when you pull out the key barebones of any good competitive review framework. You need to know who’s out there and what they might be doing to promote themselves and how that’s all working out for them. Simple.
And while I do promise easier approaches, just following competitors on a couple of social media channels and calling it day is certainly not enough!
As a smaller business or an individual, there are two ways to approach sussing out your competition if you have no idea who they are, or even if you want to look up the landscape that you haven’t checked in months.
Method 1. This is simple. Who can you learn from?
Everybody needs a dream list. Chances are, if you’ve been doing what you’re doing and you love it, you have a list of heroes. Look them up. And then read, read, and keep reading. Read their blog, their resources, other platforms they contribute to.
Method 2: This is more time-consuming, and sometimes down a rabbit hole, but it needs to be done. Who else is out there?
Here’s where you get Google to help you find some frenemies. Broadly identify the space that you’re playing in and find two or three generic terms (which are basically your keywords) that will help you look for (aka google) other people who do what you do. Now choose two or three people that you’re totally into from the people you find.
How will you know that? By reading. Reading for a few hours at least and that is going to be shoddy. As you read and discover their material, you’ll start to form opinions. Based on these opinions, shortlist to two or three people that will form your aspirational competition list.
Now monitor them.
What do they do well?
Where do they fall down in the execution?
What keywords are helping them get found?
Now use that to feed into your own planning.
That is the most 101 way to do a competitive review.
Every pro out there uses a variation on the same theme. This is my process at its simplest. I use different levels of detail for different needs, but this is basically it.
Try it; it’s easy and intuitive. And the results are always inspiring.
I’d love if you could drop me a line if you find this approach useful or what hacks you may be currently using to make this kind of research your own.
Also, if you like what you’re reading here, there’ plenty more where it comes from! Join our facebook group….
This is part 3 is a 10-part series on how to build yourself a content strategy that will make your content marketing way more effective.
Find part 1 – the overview to thinking strategically – here
Find part 2 – building a clear audience profile – here
If you found that useful, you want to read this.
I have a 6-week content strategy online program that has just launched. It’s called Content Clinic. It’s a step-by-step 6-module approach to ending the content overwhelm. At the end of it, you’ll have yourself a content strategy and a calendar of effective content for a whole year. The results you should expect to see are 10x your engagement on social. Take a look at the page for more info. There is a special introductory pricing on now that won’t last long.