Who are you Competing with? (no, really…)

Who are you Competing with? (no, really…)

By Tania Yuki

Frequently, when we begin working with a new client, they will already have a strong, preconceived notion of who their competitors are. Usually, they are the same companies that these big, frequently winning companies have been fighting for decades… sometimes longer.

We diligently set up custom benchmarks for them, help them track their share of voice, engagement metrics and brand health scores, and set up dashboards that monitor with obsessive accuracy and rigor, exactly what each of these companies are up to on social media. Sometimes, also more broadly in their cross-platform marketing.

Best practices are established, winning strategies analyzed, reports shared broadly inside the organization and sometimes in press releases to the outside world. When the metrics are up there are sighs of relief or high fives all round, when they are down we all lean in together to scrutinize what might possibly have been done by a competitor to suddenly win. Strategies are re-examined, tweaks or overhauls are made, and everyone gets back in the saddle to fight it out again.

The set-up is beautiful, synergistic… and also dangerous, delusional and frequently, dead wrong.

While many companies are busy obsessing about their obvious competition, who they have reviled for years, they are completely overlooking the competition that is not obvious. The small piranha brands slowly nibbling away at their consumer’s time, their curiosity, their dollars. Neither they nor their immediate competitors realize that they are both losing, and losing fast against online-only or digital first companies, that are emerging seemingly out of nowhere and winning hearts and minds.

Are most big companies mad? Absolutely not. Usually, it’s somewhere on the spectrum of blissfully unaware, determinedly ignoring change, or uncomfortably conscious but too unsure to do anything about it. Occasionally I also will run into my personal fan favorite – the “we’re so unique we have no competition” believers, which is a whole other rant for another day.

The benefits to paralysis are clear – it’s easier in the near term, there is less immediate career risk and far less discomfort. Continued focus on historical competition keeps benchmarking aligned with how other platforms are measured, making internal reviews easier to understand and consistent – no small thing in a big organization. Another benefit to ignoring new competition is that a “win” in a category that is declining is internally easier to sell through than a loss anywhere else. Cultural politics make looking at losses too painful, or too confronting. And if you don’t have to, why shake the tree? Just find the wins, take your praise, and keep on praying that no one asks smart questions.

But continuing to sit in this warm bath is not sustainable, and it doesn’t serve anyone. Let’s look at the data for a moment – here is a chart that highlights the pace of change in the beauty category over the last five years on Instagram:

Notable absences are many of the big beauty brands – Estee Lauder, L’oreal, Maybelline, and many more. Where are they? Note also how there is not a single year where things stay the same – not even close. Keeping a fixed competitive set is madness in this environment. And for those skeptics who are already protesting that social engagement does not equal sales, remember that two of the top five on the 2018 list are now billion dollar businesses.

Consumers are changing just as fast. One generic luxury makeup and skincare brand, for example, has seen their consumer affinities shift massively in the past three years.

In 2015, here were some of the top brands that their social engagers also engaged with: Jurlique, Ole Henriksen, Lancome, Stila, Bobbi Brown – most largely luxury, high end, growth brands. (Shareablee Affinity Report, December 2015)

By 2018, this is what that list now looks like: Masqueology (priced from $10), Australian Gold, Lancome, Revlon, Sally Hansen – most older skewing, supermarket brands.(Shareablee Affinity Report, August 2018)

What changed, and how did they not notice? Or if they did, was this a conscious choice? Possibly, the brand wanted to become less aspirational to heavy makeup and skincare enthusiasts, and is now happy to be viewed alongside more treatment-driven, utility brands. Possibly, they simply didn’t notice that younger consumers don’t want to keep wearing their mom’s brand and are thinking of luxury in a different way, focused on luxurious color, quality ingredients that are harm free, and that are built by people who are more like who you aspire to be, or to be friends with. Enter Kylie Cosmetics, Fenty Beauty, KKW, ColourPop, Huda Beauty and many more. Note that three of the top five Beauty brands in 2018 are influencer/people driven – Kylie Jenner, Huda Kattan, Rihanna.

These are just a tiny set of examples that highlight why it’s a dangerous practice to set up your analytics with guardrails that prevent the discovery of insights. So if I’m urging you to rethink your competition, this is why. I simply want to ensure that how you set up your measurement practice enables you to consciously design the future of your company, and to prevent you from wasting your time rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic (while creating beautiful slides that tell everyone on deck that everything’s fine). Let that be other people’s businesses, not yours.

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