I hated that day.

It came while I was working on a Japanese car account. My mom was looking for a new mini-SUV. I took her shopping, intent on impressing on her the infinite superiority of my client’s product.

But, she didn’t like it. She thought the ride was bouncy. It made her nervous. No matter how much I tried, she wasn’t buying any of the copy points I unconsciously recited.

Then we tried a few other cars on the lot. American cars (too slapdash). European cars (ridiculously priced). And, lo and behold, the Koreans. Juuusst right.

As I mentioned, I hated that day. But it taught me a valuable lesson.

You see, I had never taken the opportunity to drive every competitor’s product. I had drunk the Kool-Aid to its sugary dregs,  simply believing what my client and account service people were saying about our product’s strengths and weaknesses.

You laugh. But now let me turn the tables.

How deeply have you investigated your competitors’ products?

If it’s software, have you taken the time to go through the entire buying cycle, purchase it, watch the tutorials, use it, write to the help desk, try to return or cancel it?

If it’s soap, have you bothered to stand at shelf, and read – really read – the claims each of your competitors is making on the package? Have you held each bar in your hand, to see which feels most balanced? Have you gone through a bar of each, to see which lasts longest and truly makes your skin feel best?

The list goes on and on.

Truth is, most of us don’t bother to uncover the truth. Or at least uncover the positioning our competitors use. And that’s a grave mistake.

what are they doing right? wrong?

It’s all too easy to rationalize away what you don’t want to see or hear. In simple english, we don’t want to know that our competitor makes better mini-SUVs for less money. In some small way, it shatters our belief in what we’re doing.

But look at it this way. No competitor does everything right. Each has a specific strength or two, and many weaknesses (or at least, many points of sameness). How hard is it to try every product, and assess for yourself what their strengths are? How hard is it to map out all the areas of strength our competitors ‘own’ (remember, if they aren’t talking about their strength, and consumers don’t recognize it, they don’t own it). And once you’ve assembled your map, how hard is it to stake out a more meaningful position for your own brand in the vast green space unoccupied by your competitors?

Let me return to the mini-SUV story. My mom didn’t like my client’s product. But hardcore 4×4 enthusiasts LOVED it. It was small, it was light, it was virtually unbreakable. It ran circles around the big fat Europeans and US brands when the mud got knee high.

marc stoiber enterprises

The hero of our story – at least to avid 4×4 enthusiasts

How did I know this? Because I owned one of those big, fat European SUVs. As did many of the 4×4 enthusiasts in my offroad club. Unconsciously, I had been trying to position my Japanese client’s product as a viable challenger to these products, with the same luxury, the same comfort, the same V8 torque. Instead, I should’ve taken the time to reflect on what the bigger vehicles were doing wrong! In the real world, big and strong didn’t win the race. Small, light, bouncy vehicles with tiny engines did. It would’ve been so easy to take advantage of this positioning…and we walked right by it.

attack their weaknesses…and strengths

It seems simple enough to shine a light on your product by pointing out your competitors’ weaknesses.

But it’s far more surprising (and effective) to find a way to position your competitor’s strength as a reason to try your product out.

Allow me to illustrate with perhaps the world’s best example of this strategy: Avis.

Marc Stoiber Enterprises

Ooooh, take that, Budget

Instead of boasting about cleaner cars, or newer cars, or any other car related feature, Avis adopted the simple premise that their lines were shorter, their employees hungrier, their mission to please far more sincere. It worked like a charm.

you won’t know from behind your desk

The truth is, once you get outside and really dig into your competitor products, I guarantee it will change your perspective. Even better, it will give you a visceral, intuitive, gut instinct about what position you can proudly stake for your own product.

At the very least, it’s easier than dreaming up the positioning by yourself behind a desk.

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