Tell me which one of these things you hear the most:

  1. Find and monitor your competitors to keep pace with what they are doing.
  2. Ignore your competitors because you don’t just want to create “a better” product.

Both of these mindsets are mistaken. There are three good reasons to keep an eye on who your competitors are and what they are doing.

But first, why are these two things wrong?

  1. If the only reason you track competitors is to ensure you are building the same capabilities so prospective buyers (or companies looking to switch vendors) can evenly compare you, then you are leaning towards being another option in what could be a long list of options. And really, who wants to be considered – another one of many?
  2. On the other hand, when you completely ignore your competition, you can miss out on some critical trends in the industry, or changes in your target customers. Of course, you don’t want to just be “better”. You want to be different. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep your ear to the ground and pay attention to what’s happening around you.

So why should you track competitors? 3 reasons

To find missing pieces (components, features, capabilities).

We all know you don’t just want to create another – insert product here – and offer the same capabilities (maybe better, but still the same). Or maybe you do, in which case, you’re missing out on big opportunities to set your product apart from the rest.

If you do your homework right, you listen to your customers and map their requirements to the product you build. But you can also listen to your competitors to find opportunities to create new features or functionality that set your product apart. What are their customers complaining about or frustrated with? What do they wish the product did differently? Are you doing the same things and need to rethink your approach? Are these things you can add to your product?

Is the competitor doing something that is getting a lot of attention, but you know there’s a different way to do it that will help customers be more successful?

Also, remember that your competitors are not only direct competitors. If a company can replace your product with something else, that’s a competitor. The challenges people have with those are opportunities for you to build something unique and different.

To learn how not to market your product.

Every brand wants to create a unique marketing message but most of them wind up saying the same thing as everyone else. Maybe there’s a little spin, but if you want to be known in a category or a market, you often get caught using the same language and sharing the same messages.

And if you think the answer is to say, “We do it better, faster, more efficiently,” ugh…stop marketing. Really. Stop marketing.

Differentiated marketing messaging comes from listening to your customers and from not repeating the same things your competitors say. You can’t do that if you don’t know what they are saying.

To help journalists and analysts understand where you fit.

One of the questions I often ask brands when I interview them for an article is who their competition is. Most of them won’t say. In fact, many say they don’t know. I’m not sure if that’s a dodge or not, but I think it’s a mistake.

I know you don’t want to tell people who your competitors are because you don’t want to give them recognition or be named in the same line in an article, but if your product is truly different. If it has a story and feature set that set it into a true category of its own, then tell us who you aren’t the same as and why.

Don’t make us do all the homework to figure it out. Because we don’t understand your story better than you. And it’s easy to group products together because they sit in the same high-level category.

Know who we might compare you to, and tell us why we’re wrong. Not just marketing fluff why we’re wrong, but show us how you are truly different. In the end, it’s up to the journalist or analyst to decide for themselves, but helping them head down the right path is good for you.

Every brand wants to be in a category of one.

I love category design. It truly encourages us to think outside the box and build products that meet the needs of the audience(s) we are trying to reach.

I just don’t think you do it in a bubble. You have to be aware of what’s going on around you to find the holes—the opportunities—to do something different. And paying attention to the competition is part of that.

My daughter is wrapping up her third dance competition this week, and she’s doing great. Enjoying the experience, but not the bruises and floor burns and bumps (dance is hard, people!).

So, I have only one thing to share with you this week. I spoke with the CEO and co-founder of Propel, a cloud data platform that allows companies to create analytics products to complement their SaaS platforms.

Too often SaaS companies think of analytics as an after-thought, something to add in once the main functionality is built. And it doesn’t have to be that way because today, analytics is pretty darn important. Check out the article to learn more, or visit the company directly.

That’s all for this week. If you take one thing away from this newsletter, it’s this: don’t ignore what’s happening around you. It might just give you ideas that can set you off in a new direction.