Understanding the competition is imperative for any company or nonprofit that wants to be a leader in their field. It is required when writing a business plan or strategic plan, making pitches to investors and stakeholders, breaking into a new region or country, and when launching a new product or service into the market.
The most common starting point is knowing their product(s) or service(s), pricing, packaging and benefits. This is just the beginning; it is important to delve deeper into understanding your industry’s market players, why they do what they do, and their supply chain. But two additional areas should be focused on.
First, get to know their social media presence. Which outlets do they use and how often? Who are they appealing to? Who is following them? If they have social media presence, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram, following them can provide excellent insight into their business. Maybe they have social media accounts, but don’t frequently utilize them, or their posts lack meaningful content. Your organization may be able to tap into an underutilized segment of your market if your competitors neglect a primary method of connecting with current and potential customers.
If your competition is active on social media, is it useful? Do they have a loyal following or are their customers unsatisfied? Being able to confidently answer these questions will allow you access to your competitors’ mindset, business practices, target market, and values, and help position you apart from the pack.
Second, if your competitors have a product, what does their supply chain look like? Which sales channels are they utilizing? Are they online or brick-and-mortar only? Do they have a merchant website? Which distributors do they use? Who are their suppliers? Do they use private label services? Who are their buyers? Do they buy wholesale or directly from manufacturers? Or, do they control much of the supply chain, from production to end-user?
Understanding your competitors’ supply chain operation is most beneficial when you are looking to increase efficiency by cutting costs and expediting getting your product to market. With a keen eye, you can learn what they’re doing that works, which you can in turn utilize to enhance your company’s supply chain.
For example, one of our clients is a European supplier for IKEA and wanted to establish operations in the U.S. However, the American logging industry can be opaque and operates with different brokers, auctions, and log yards than in Europe. Our research discovered how U.S. sawmills cut long-term costs and risk by investing in their own transportation and forests. Depending on market conditions, buyers will act differently. Large paper company Georgia Pacific, for instance, purchases logs on the open market when prices are low, but cuts trees from their own forests when market prices are high, thus saving on costs and keeping prices stable. When establishing strategic partnerships with American companies, our client used this knowledge to focus on mills with their own trucking fleets and forests, since these were key factors in cutting costs and increasing efficiency in the U.S. market.
Knowing how your competition manages its supply chain is invaluable for your organization’s future success. You may find your main competitor has a competitive advantage that your organization was not privy to, but that you can now address. Seizing opportunities like this is essential when developing your business strategy or raising capital.
Ultimately, to stand apart from the pack, you need to understand who is in that pack and how they operate. Knowing your competitors inside out will provide insight into your own organization, allowing you to see new opportunities, generate new customers, and know how to best position your product or service in the marketplace.
Thomas Moviel is the CEO of 50 USA Markets, providing market research, joint-venture partner searches, and product representation for domestic and international companies. His firm has helped companies in a vast array of industries to understand their competition, identify target markets, find new sales channels to increase revenues, and expand to foreign markets. Thomas has conducted research on four continents, served in the Peace Corps, and holds a dual-M.A. in Economics and International Political Economy from Fordham University. http://www.50usamarkets.com/
This article is reprinted from Issue #9 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!
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