Understanding your competitors is a key part of brand positioning. You’re probably thinking this is a painfully obvious thing to say. You’re correct. It is. But most organisations define their competitors based on the category they operate in. This can be a dangerous oversimplification.
Banks competing with banks or mobile operators with each other provide examples. A much broader perspective is required or you may not see new and nimble competitors coming because being category-focused restricts your peripheral vision.
You’d be better off defining your competitors based on the jobs a stakeholder wants to get done (for more detail on the idea of jobs to be done thinking, look no further than Prof. Clayton Christensen and Steve Wunker’s work). Doing this will focus your mind on building and positioning brand experiences that help your stakeholders achieve certain goals or solve specific problems. This is important because it’s likely that experiences delivered by brands from other categories will be able to help a stakeholder get the same job done as yours.
Some years ago the Head of Strategy from a famous motorbike brand spoke at a conference I attended. The key job one target segment wanted to get done was get the most out of the early stages of their retirement. Adopting this perspective helped the brand realise their competitors were not just motorcycle brands but companies that make conservatories, timeshares and sell world cruises because they compete for the same customers’ cash. As the simplicity of this comment sank in, a deafening silence ensued. The speaker then outlined how this insight shapes where, how and who they build brand experiences for in the motorcycle category and beyond.
Around 2001 I remember discussing mobile telephony with a senior IT architect over a game of table football. They mentioned Skype and the advent of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. From that time it became clear the days of money pouring into mobile phone brands were numbered. Lucrative services like roaming no longer had a monopoly on international voice revenues. You could speak for free from anywhere in the world, as long as you had an Internet connection. Around the same time SMS was the gift that kept giving. It was pure profit. A real cash cow. VoIP-based applications like WhatsApp, Viber, Line and WeChat have put paid to that. These are not traditional mobile operators but technology brands that help customers get the same job done via alternative means – to communicate conveniently.
Wavelength worked with a boutique hotel brand with properties located across Europe. Their target market was the highly educated, frequent business traveller who could just about cope with the corporate grind from 9 to 5. Beyond that they needed a break so they could be themselves. These travellers didn’t enjoy the stuffy and staid experience most hotels offer. These ‘hipsters’ craved authentic urban underground experiences where they could connect with like-minded people whilst away from home. A category-based approach would have focused the brand’s competitive frame of reference on hotels and sucked the brand into functional and feature-based competition such as pillow choice, free Wi-Fi and gym facilities. Yawn. After extensive research and subsequent ideation the client understood the jobs the target customer wanted to get done:
- Disconnect from the corporate grind during the evening whilst on business trips
- Escape mainstream city experiences
- Feel plugged into the local underground community
- Demonstrate to friends that they’re “clued up”, i.e. in the know, when they go home.
Based on this insight, the hotel partnered with local brands that could help customers get these jobs done. Local designers held fashion shows in the bar, and up-and-coming DJs pumped house music through the hotel’s smooth sound system. This transformed the hotel into a magnet for local hipsters that were in the know. Adopting a jobs to be done approach helped this hotel build relevant experiences their discerning, underground, yet affluent target customer craved. It also ensured their guests stayed at the hotel and didn’t spend their cash elsewhere.
Focusing on the jobs your stakeholders are trying to get done, and not just the category competitors operate in, provides a powerful base for positioning your brand experiences. Doing this will help you position your brand experiences with stakeholders in mind. It will also help you to pre-emptively identify new and powerful competitors that can emerge from adjacent industries and snatch revenues from under your nose – before it’s too late.
Photo by Stefan Cosma