guy riding on a bicycle on a track past competition

When it comes to advertising, there is a pattern of behavior exhibited by businesses, primarily driven by business owners. This pattern is driven by the desire to place their business’s name, sign, or ads everywhere their competitors are. (And when I say everywhere, I mean EV-ER-Y-WHERE.) While I don’t have a name for it, I am sure it is a “thing.” I have witnessed this behavior throughout my advertising career going back to the early 2000s. 

Location, Location, Location!

What is interesting about this phenomenon is that, except for a few instances, an owner wouldn’t build, buy, or lease a location right next to the competition. It wouldn’t even be a consideration. For most businesses, your location can make or break your business. 

Being right in the thick of too many competitors fighting for the same customers can break it. So, why wouldn’t this type of thinking carry over into the advertising landscape? Instead, what you see are businesses leasing a billboard near the competitor’s building. Or ads running on every digital news site. Or commercials running on television programs. Or even sponsorships in the smallest of small magazines, only because the competition is placing ads there.

Competition Isn’t Bad

I’m not saying that competition is a bad thing. In fact, there are many reasons competition is good for business. Leasing a billboard space near your competitor’s location could be a very wise strategic move. However, what I’m describing is not a marketing strategy at all. It looks more like FOMO (fear of missing out). I can’t help but think of that expression, “Would you jump off a bridge just because they jumped off that bridge?”

When sitting down to write this blog, I kept thinking about the possible “whys” behind this pattern. Some of these could be other blog topics. Possible reasons that came to mind included:

  • Trying to be all things to all people
  • Not understanding who their core customer is
  • Not understanding what their key features and benefits are
  • FOMO (fear of missing out)
  • Assuming they should be there simply because the competition is

But in listing them out, I realized that what they all have in common is a lack of a strategic marketing plan, and – even more so – a lack of trust in and following through with their marketing plan. It’s this lack of trust that has businesses looking over to see what the other guy is doing.

guy pointing to calendar with one hand and clock with the other

As a side note, I would like to mention that there are many articles on why competition is a good thing; how you can effectively advertise where your competitors are; why placing your business near a competitor can be useful. Even trying to poach off of your competition is a strategy. What I’m talking about is a complete lack of strategy which results in being reactive. And if you’re being reactive, you’re probably not being consistent with your marketing efforts, working your business strategy, and sticking to your budget. Most importantly, you might not connect with the people who can most impact your business.

Why You Need a Plan (and Why You Need to Stick to It)

As mentioned in Why Sales is Not a Dirty Word, successful marketing “is both a science and an art that relies on equal parts data analysis, psychology, intuition, strategy, and business acumen. Heavy research, focus groups, hours of Q&A, and yes – some experimentation, goes into creating effective marketing campaigns.” You have to spend time determining who your customers are, who you might be missing, what key product or service you have that will draw people in, and what your budget needs to be. 

What you need is a roadmap and you need to follow it. Sure, tweaks and adjustments can be made along the way; there is experimentation with marketing and advertising. But you need a solid plan. One that you feel confident enough in so that when temptations come along, you stay true to your path. This might seem like a no-brainer, but having worked in marketing and advertising for about 16 years, I can assure you that it is not. Businesses want to be everywhere and be seen by everyone. They sprinkle a little bit here and a little bit there. Within a heavily saturated market, all they succeed in doing is watering down their marketing efforts. Unless you run a niche business or have a McDonald’s budget, you will be competing for awareness and market share.

What you need is a roadmap and you need to follow it.

Saturated Market

Let’s take a moment to discuss just how saturated the marketplace is. Technology is evolving at an insanely fast rate. When I was a kid, everyone in your home shared a landline phone, there were only three broadcast television stations and one public station, you got your news in the daily paper that was delivered to your house, and only people who worked at NASA had access to the World Wide Web. Okay, this last statement might not be accurate, but I didn’t know anyone with the internet. Now, we have hundreds of ways that we can watch shows and movies. Nearly everyone walks around with a small computer in their hand that you can also use to talk on. If you don’t have access to the internet, you will have a difficult time working or getting schoolwork done. And all of these media offer a place to run advertising messages.

According to Sam Carr in his blog, How Many Ads Do We See A Day In 2021? in the 70s (when I was a kid), people saw between 500 to 1,600 ads daily. Now, we’re seeing an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 ads every single day! So, how do you stand out? How do you separate from the pack?

Mean Something to Fewer People

For several years I had the pleasure of working with Roland Eckstein, Managing Partner of ESA & Company. Roland was a consultant for a broadcast television station that I worked with in Nashville, TN. He looked at businesses’ television campaigns, which usually had commercials sprinkled all over the station with little rhyme or reason. (To reiterate, business owners are often reactive. They feel FOMO. They think that the competition knows something he or she doesn’t).

Roland looked at the business’s message, the makeup of the core customer, and narrowed the buy to one or two programs on the entire station to drive their message home. He stressed the importance of owning the space that you’re in. Mean a lot to a specific group of people, your core audience. You can’t own the space you’re in if you’re following your competition.

Set Yourself Apart

Look for ways to stand out, to separate yourself from the pack. Kristen McCormick stresses the need to focus on YOUR key features and benefits, along with other suggestions for setting yourself apart, in 7 Ways to Distinguish Small Business Competitors.

Hire a marketing agency to help think through your purpose and translate that into what it means to your customers. Let them help you discover your niche audience (this is not “everyone”). Let them help you navigate all the various tactics and many ways that you can distribute your message. Let them help you come up with messaging that doesn’t get lost in an overly saturated market. Then most importantly, trust in your plan, and give it time to show results. Shift when needed, not because you’re reacting to someone else’s billboard that you saw driving into work. Know that, unless you have a McDonald’s budget, you cannot be everywhere. You don’t even want to be everywhere. You only need to be where you can connect with your core audience.

woman pointing to location

Ready to hire a marketing agency that can help you create and implement an effective marketing strategy?