I can’t think of a single product, service or technology that doesn’t have some sort of competition. Even high tech medical devices that might be otherwise be considered first entrants or category creators still have to differentiate themselves from the competition. When marketers are developing their competitive marketing strategy they take these three types of competitors into consideration:
- Direct competitors. Direct competitors are those who basically offer the same sort of product with some degree of feature or even benefit related difference. They are the group of products, services, etc... that define your category.
- Indirect competitors. Indirect competitors are those products that your audience might use in place of your product. For instance, we worked with Surgical Specialties Corporation to introduce their Biosentry tract sealant device. This was a product designed to prevent post-biopsy pneumothorax. It was the first device of its kind. However, interventional radiologists (our target audience) were using some ‘homemade’ plugs out of blood, gel, sponge, etc… Kind of gross if you think about it. The Biosentry system was a much more elegant one!
- Finally you can have competitive mindsets. Customer mindsets can become one of the biggest obstacles to address especially for category creators. How do you get someone to change their mind, their technique, their approach to a surgical procedure that is different than what they may have been doing for the last 20 years.
Often when medical device marketers are setting up their product launch strategies, they focus only on the direct competitors, but by not addressing the indirect competitors and any general competitive mindsets, we’re only looking at a piece of the puzzle. When we think about setting our clients brands up for success, we look at what we call the 3 Cs. Namely, the customer (and their mindset), the competition (direct and indirect) and the company’s core competencies. By delving deep into each of these separately, we can identify the white space - or the opportunity - that our brands can try to own through effective positioning.
In general though, when marketers are looking to crush the competition, and create a clear compelling competitive advantage, there are three ways to differentiate their brands:
- Be the Best: Apple is one of those companies that sets itself apart by being the best. They are continually setting the bar in terms of innovation and technology and they are constantly iterating on the products that they have to ensure that they are always ahead of the curve. However, they aren’t so incredibly tech oriented that they’ve lost sight of their customers and their needs. Not only do they typically provide the best technology, but they do it in such a way as to simplify the user experience. As an iPhone, Mac, etc… user you know that there’s powerful technology behind the products that you’re using whether you choose to use all of the bells and whistles or not.
- Be the Most Customer Centric: In 1999 after an unsuccessful shoe shopping experience, Nick Swinmurh quit his day job and started one of the greatest online retailers - zappos.com According to Zappos, “The original idea was to create a web site that offered the absolute best selection in shoes in terms of brands, styles, colors, sizes, and widths. Over the past 9 years, the brand and aspirations have evolved, and in addition to offering the best selection, with the goal to be the company that provides the absolute best service online -- not just in shoes, but in any category.” Their vision is to be the online store that provides the best customer service and the best selection. They focus on speed and delivery because they know that a customer with product in hand is a happier one!
- Be the Cheapest: Walmart is a great example of a company that prides itself on its strategy of cost leadership. It’s not about just discounting the products that they sell, but they actually work directly with their suppliers (sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse) to find efficiencies that enable the type of cost savings that they can pass onto the customers shopping in Walmart stores. The hub-spoke warehouse and delivery model that they’ve developed is directly tied to its cost leadership strategy.
Just like you can’t be all things to all people, nor can you adopt all three of these generic strategies. At most you can be two at once, but the really good companies focus on one and adopt practices and policies that reinforce it. Looking for more ways to crush the competition? Check out this case study report.