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Marketing: Keep Up With the Competition or Differentiate?

Don’t fall behind the competition. Stand out from the crowd. Keep up with the Joneses. March to the beat of your own drum. In marketing, there’s a constant struggle between the desire to differentiate your brand and the fear of being outdone by your competitors. 

How can you tell when it’s best to align with the competition and when it’s better to go your own way? Consider these key questions.

Does it fit your brand image?

Say your competitors start offering major discounts that are turning heads, but your brand has positioned itself as a high-end option that’s worth full price. If you try to beat the competition by offering even bigger discounts, you could accidentally undermine your brand image. You might be better off if you remain highly selective about if/when you lower your prices, furthering your image as a brand that knows its value.

Similarly, say your competitors start launching hilarious ad campaigns that are getting tons of shares on social media. It might be tempting to follow suit. But if your brand image is more on the serious side with a focus on elegance, credibility and sincerity over playfulness and fun, it could feel inauthentic if you suddenly jump on the joke train. 

It can be beneficial to learn from and incorporate elements of what’s working for your competitors, as long as everything you try feels true to what your audiences know and appreciate about your brand.

Is there room in your budget?

Even if a marketing idea borrowed from a competitor fits your brand image, it still might not fit your budget. Depending on the size of your budget and your other financial priorities, an idea that delivered an excellent return on investment (ROI) for your competitor might not be worth the expense for you. 

For instance, if a large competitor launches a multimillion-dollar campaign that amounts to only a small fraction of their budget, and launching a campaign of a similar scope would take up more than half of yours, it likely wouldn’t make financial sense for you to imitate their efforts. You could always scale the campaign down to fit your budget, but keep in mind that it might not create the same level of impact — and with the decreased impact, your dollars might still be better spent on something else.

Should you increase your budget or shift funds around to make room for something your competitors are doing? That depends. It’s important to consider the opportunity costs. Even if implementing the idea will help move you toward your goals, it may come at the expense of another effort that is doing you even more good. Evaluate the ROI of your existing efforts, and the anticipated ROI of the new idea, before making any major changes to your budget.

How does it align with your overall strategy?

No matter how well an idea seems to be working for a competitor, it’s still essential to consider it within the context of your own strategy. What’s flowing well as an integral part of your competitor’s overall marketing plan might be an out-of-place roadblock in yours. 

As an example, maybe your competitor is seeing tremendous success from joining an up-and-coming social media platform that appeals to their primary target audience. But what if the majority of your sales come from a different demographic? You likely wouldn’t see the same level of success from joining the platform, and your time and money might be better invested elsewhere.

To decide if a concept fits your marketing strategy, ask yourself:

  • Does it get me closer to my marketing goals in a measurable way?
  • Will it help me effectively reach my target audiences?
  • How will it align with my intended marketing messages?

Sometimes, keeping up with the competition is a necessary part of marketing successfully. If your competitors are doing something that’s working, and it fits your brand image, budget and overall marketing approach, it might be worth giving it a go. But, as with all marketing efforts, don’t forget to measure results on an ongoing basis and make changes as needed to stay on track toward your goals.