Why You Need to Be Your Own Competition

I have been a fashion designer for the last 10 years. Within that time, I worked for a few successful start-ups and well-established companies, as well as created and launched a few independent labels for myself and other clients. What I discovered quickly, was that many had the resources set aside for creating the initial product, but they were missing a few vital elements in building and maintaining a solid brand. Few were open to deep market research, investing in solid branding and marketing, or changing the product to stay ahead of competition.

Everyone is fighting to be relevant, whether it’s from a personal branding, or a company/product standpoint. Now more than ever, the need to create a product with buzz factor is essential. Sometimes that means refreshing or even reinventing your product(s) more than you’d like. Yes, change can be really hard at times.  It’s not always cost efficient and it takes time to readjust. But if it’s necessary for growth, it must be done. Don’t let fear or your ego get in the way. If objectives haven’t been met or sales, traffic, etc. hasn’t improved after a year or two, stop saying, “I know what I’m doing, I don’t need to do it different”. Or, “I can’t” or “I’m afraid to change”.

Remember that scene in Superman III, where Good Superman and Bad Superman have a duel at the scrapyard?  Both had the same set of tools to fight with, but one was willing to fight a little dirtier than the other. You have to be willing to split into two parts and look at your company through the eyes of the bad Superman self and be willing to be your own enemy in order to be your best objective advice.

You have ask, “Is this product as awesome as it could be?
How can I make it different or better?” Is your product a compelling story, and does it fill a need in the market?

The beginning stages of product or company development involves an in-depth and honest evaluation. Before you even sit down to create or market Widget A, you have to determine if it has legs first. Do painstaking market research. Who is your competition, both directly and indirectly? What are they doing? What are their failures and successes? How can you do it better?  Treat your product as though it’s already launched and YOU are now the competition.  Approach your product and/or business model as an outsider with hyper-critical thinking and constructive criticism. Keep in mind that your current competitors may not always be your most “dangerous” competitors. The obvious competition is well, obvious. But pay attention to internal employees with innovative ideas that are shot down, the small team of young, disruptive innovators or even your own vendors.  Imagine my horror when I discovered that a factory I was using was not only trying to offer my product cheaper under their own label, but they were using my photos to sell my design knockoff product.

An unexpected competitor launches a product that is completely different to your (and your perceived competitors’) existing, established product, but which accomplishes the things your customers want better than your products can do. They are, of course, disruptive innovators. And, if you do not pay attention, you will not notice the threat they pose to your business until your customer base begins to evaporate and you have to go into damage control mode to save your business.
– Jeffrey Paul Baumgartner

Brand building and maintaining relevancy is as important as the product itself. It’s not enough to just create a great product initially and ride that train until the wheels fall off. Failing to change, even a little, along the way may mean you’ll be left too far behind to make even the slightest impact later.  It isn’t a ‘set it and forget it’ crock-pot. In order to stay relevant in business, you either have to create something that stands above all others the first time, or be open to constant change.

Think ahead in terms of what the natural progressive steps, if any, may be. Already BE there mentally.  Obviously, if something is steaming ahead out of the gate, it doesn’t need changing right away. But you should always keep some next-step, progressive ideas in your back pocket, ready to launch when the moment strikes.