Competitive analysis

I’ve done countless competitor analysis in my career. I think about strategy intently when it comes to business, career, life and that works its way into my coaching and consulting career. Most businesses are obsessed with what their competitors are doing.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

Sun Tze

The quote is probably well remembered especially by people who have a chinese upbringing. But we often take for granted the part about knowing yourself. In fact, the original chinese saying has it in reverse from the above translation. It starts with “know yourself”. Of course we know ourselves, you’d think.

Yet countless businesses whom I’ve worked with when performing competitor analysis are not thinking about themselves enough. They are just identifying random brands or companies doing the same activities as themselves and considering them as competitors, trying to find out their pricing and what they do. If you know yourself then you know where is your stronghold and which is your true battleground. If you know you’re weak, then focus on where you can garner resources; more often in blue oceans rather than red ones.

When Barnes & Noble started their online bookstore, Jeff Bezos rallied the young Amazon team who was trembling in fear by telling them that there was no point focusing on their competitor since B&N wasn’t going to write them cheques, better to focus on the customers. Jeff Bezos knows Amazon well; there was no way a small upstart can win by mimicking their competitors. They’d run out of breathe before they start if they’re on the same race.

Of course, Amazon was afraid. B&N had lots of resources to try crushing them. But if Amazon was obsessed with this fear they’d be running in circles. The greatest competitor they need to analyse is themselves, their ability to focus on the client base will set them apart from each version of themselves.