Three Ways to Make Your Competitors Irrelevant

Eliminate Competition

Buying online is a consumer’s paradise, right?

One can compare competing offers ‘til the heart’s content, all with simple clicks of a mouse.

Well, it’s not that great if you happen to sell online.

And what if I told you it’s not really that great for consumers, either?

Sound crazy? Read on.

Preface: Start with a killer product or service

This should go without saying in our age of global competition and reduced barriers to entry. But so often merchants are looking for a magic bullet to widely distribute something that the market simply finds inferior.

The problem is, there are plenty of people out there with exceptional products and services who are losing out to others with lesser offerings and higher prices.

What’s going on with that?

Superior marketing and sales techniques, that’s what. Here are 3 ways to level the playing field (or even tip the scales in your favor).

1. Eliminate competition with artful positioning

Wouldn’t selling online be wonderful without competition? Well, it’s possible, if only to the extent that a certain type of person considers you the absolute only option. Yes, it’s our friend positioning again, and we’ll keep talking about it because it’s so vital to success.

The traditional approach to positioning involves offering a benefit your competition cannot or will not offer, thereby making your offer the only choice for those who value that benefit. It still works too – look at the insane level of customer service that Zappos offers, and you’ll understand why throngs of people wouldn’t dream of buying shoes elsewhere.

For small and micro-businesses, positioning (a/k/a your unique selling proposition) can be as simple as creating a unique bond with enough people to build a thriving business. Whether by creating a hybrid business at the intersection of disciplines, crafting a better metaphor that communicates what people need to hear, or creating an emotional bond and huge trust based on your own personality, modern online positioning has come down to connections that resonate authentically and generate loyalty.

Remember, it’s not about where you rank in a hierarchy against others. It’s about carving out your unique territory and owning it outright.

2. Confront your competitors proactively

Let’s face it, in some markets, positioning alone might not get it done. When you’re selling retail items such as consumer electronics or commodity goods, shoppers are more focused on overall value for the buck.

The most common merchant response to the threat of online comparison shopping is not very effective. “Hey, let’s pretend they’re not there!” is nice as wishful thinking, but let’s be realistic.

You’ll hear time and again that the initial objectives of copy in a call-to-action environment is to 1) attract attention; 2) express benefits; and 3) overcome objections. The fact that your prospect thinks you have legitimate competition is really just an objection to buying from you right now.

Instead of sticking your head in the ground, why not proactively address why your offer is better than the other guy’s? Don’t assume that your prospect “gets” that your offer is superior; “show” her it’s better by doing a head-to-head comparison with charts, checklists, or even an interactive apples-to-apples demonstration.

People examining your offer want you to be the solution to their desire or problem. It’s your job to eliminate the lingering doubt that exists in the form of objections, and like it or not, your competition is one of those objections.

3. Emotional benefits make everyone happy

We tell you over and over (and over) to focus first on benefits rather than features, because people decide to buy based on lightening-fast emotional responses, and justify that decision with logic. But what if it turned out that making purchase decisions via emotion (instead of by overly-rational research and price shopping) actually made us happier?

Recent psychological resaerch indicates just that. The study focused on using proven methods to impede logical decision-making, thereby forcing people to go with emotional, intuitive choices instead.

The results?

Those who used primarily emotion rather than primarily logic made more consistent choices. And consistency is one of the hallmarks of a “rational actor.” In other words, the “emotional” people made more “rational” choices than those who focused on rationality!

What does that mean? From the study:

For the consumers, contrary to lay perceptions, attending to one’s emotional responses may prove to be very valuable in understanding one’s preferences. It is possible consumers would be much happier with choices based more on their emotional reaction. For example, if one buys a house and relies on very cognitive attributes such as resale value, one may not be as happy actually living in it, as opposed to a person who attends to his or her emotional reaction to the house prior to purchasing it.

Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide, thinks that online price shopping might actually make us unhappy. He notes that the study speculates that the Internet leads consumers to engage in more rational deliberation, which in turn produces an outcome that contradicts our assumptions about the “online shopping paradise.”

Remember, when introduced to an emotional benefit in an offer, neurology shows that our brains react as if we were already experiencing the actual benefit. In essence, employing emotional benefits not only begins the customer satisfaction experience before the sale, this latest research indicates that initial satisfaction maintains after the sale.

Isn’t bonding with prospects and customers better for everyone?

It’s amazing how many of the initial assumptions sparked by the Internet continue to be dead wrong. E-commerce was supposed to benefit the consumer by providing limitless options, and yet the counterintuitive paradox of choice shows that too many options make us anxious and unhappy.

Instead, we now have an entire movement devoted to voluntary simple living. We don’t necessarily want more choice; we want something that does what we need it to do when we desire a solution.

In an ultra-competitive environment, a quality product or service is an indisputable market obligation (and I’d say an ethical obligation as well). But given how we actually operate as human beings in the face of overwhelming choice, isn’t a communication approach that bonds emotionally with our prospective customers also a market obligation? Perhaps even an ethical one?

What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Google+.

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Reader Comments (47)

  1. says

    I see a lot of businesses trying to make their competition irrelevant by acting as if their competition didn’t exist. You have be aware of the market and how your product is going to be perceived in the existing context. Nobody operates in a vacuum.

  2. says

    I see this so much in choosing local services based on searches online as I do for buying products. I love the “1) attract attention; 2) express benefits; and 3) overcome objections” and often remind staff to focus on those same 3.

    In my experience, it pays to get that across in the snippet, in 160 characters or less.

  3. says

    Not sure I agree that the internet encourages people to over-rationalize the buying process. Other than the proliferation of possible choices (which, I think, are actually fairly limited due to browsing/search habits), how does the internet actually encourage “rational” buying over “emotional” buying?

  4. says

    I think Zappos got it right. When selling online, it is critical to offer an overall experience, not just a product. And you have to make that experience hard to replicate.

  5. says

    You have be aware of the market and how your product is going to be perceived in the existing context.

    Michael, that’s exactly right. Dealing with competitors is the most context dependent of the three, so careful judgment is required. I was just reading an article at Ad Age about the Verizon/Google Droid going directly after the iPhone, and was struck by this quote by an industry analyst:

    “It’s not a great idea to take a strong competitor head on.”

  6. Nathan Hangen says

    So it sounds like you’re saying:

    1. No one has the market on you, be the best you and there is no competition.

    2. Explain in clear english/pictures why your offer is better (why didn’t I think of this?)

    3. Tell people what they’ll be when using your stuff, not necessarily what your product does. Rather than – you’ll learn how to create a compelling blog, it should be – you’ll be a problogger raking in 6 figures, working only a few hours per day.

    Do I have that right?

    Good stuff Brian.

  7. says

    I don’t think it’s an obligation necessarily, but it is more advantageous if you’re selling something and you’re using a communicative approach that bonds with the buyer emotionally. In an ultra-competive environment, without an emotional connection with the potential customers, it makes it almost nearly impossible to sell something more or less the same of what others are selling also.

  8. says

    Jeffrey, a lot of people do extensive research and price shopping online before making a decision to buy. That’s a logic-based approach that often ends up leaving people anxious that they made the wrong choice.

  9. Sonia Simone says

    That last point is the key for me. Everything is so complex now, even more so if you spend lots of time online. Create an environment where you solve the problem in a satisfying way, simplify the decision process for “your people” and help them feel terrific about going with you, and you’re golden.

    This points, too, to the new reality of not trying to frantically chase the greater share of the market, but building more value and a stronger relationship so you get a greater share of the customer.

  10. Nathan Hangen says

    Brian, that’s a great point, because now it’s almost like anytime you buy something online, even after doing research, you feel like you could have found a better price somewhere…if not a better product. So some of us either never buy at all, or feel guilty the minute we click “buy.”

  11. says

    Good points here. Companies like Zappos has done a lot right, especially on customer service like you said. Tony Hsieh has done a great job building that brand and as a result, Zappos shoppers will stay forever!

  12. Sonia Simone says

    That’s so true, Gabe. I like doing business with someone about whom I can say, “I really don’t care that I could have saved a dollar or two somewhere else, I always do business with XYZ because I think they’re amazing people.” So much more satisfying than wasting hours of my life trying to get the best possible deal on a literal level.

  13. says

    I have to say that I completely agree with the emotional thing. Sometimes if I’m offered something and it in someway appeals to my emotions it is hard for me to STOP from buying it. It’s like I’m just compelled because I know how good it will be.

    The one thing I’ve found though is to really pay attention to who is offering it. We all know there is tons of “hype” out here that is all designed to work on emotion and from what I see and from what others say, many are getting a little tired of seeing those tactics.

    I’m finding just being completely honest and forthcoming with the benefits, as you explained also, works so much better.

    Great post!

  14. says

    “Those who used primarily emotion rather than primarily logic made more consistent choices.”

    This just nailed me. I forget to focus on benefits from time to time, but from now on, I’ll never forget what I read here. Thanks Brian!

  15. says

    The Zappos story is extraordinary. When the item you want is out-of-stock, the company willingly gives up the opportunity to cross-sell or up-sell you another product. Rather, it refers you to an online competitor that does have stock of the product you want. Zappos is planting seeds of credibility and purchasing word-of-mouth.

  16. says

    I like how copywriters and Internet marketers create bundled products with their competitors contributing their chapter/recorded message/etc as part of the whole book/audio-video product.

    It’s a relevant way to make your competitors irrelevant.


  17. says

    Once again, a great post Brian. Without opening a can of worms, I wonder too if the phenomena of decision-making online relates to a feminine/masculine approach to fulfillment. For one of our online businesses, I suspect that our main competitor’s masculine approach appeals to masculine-type customers (regardless of gender). Our approach seems to appeal more to customers with a feminine-mentality or approach.

  18. says

    I had a post on my blog yesterday talking about the “wow” factor. You must have been reading my mind.

    The key is to create an amazing (dare I say, remarkable) experience so that people want to work with YOU or buy from YOU. You’re no longer “a vendor,” you’re an ally.

    @Tom, I guess someone at Zappo’s saw Miracle on 34th Street. :-)

  19. says

    Love this post… the psychological aspects behind decision making, anti- intuitive behaviors, and the direct and concise manner its written in. Can’t wait for the next one.

  20. says

    I like the point about proactively addressing that the offer is better. Right now, I am just using the “reasons why you should get my product”.

    I’ll see if I can incorporate this in my sales message.


  21. says

    Three great points which often need to be thought about.
    When dealing with the internet though there is a far less emotional connection with a potential client because ‘face to face’ you can read body language which plays such a large part of human connection.
    This means that the process for getting emotional buy in is much longer and may explain the need for techniques such as the long form sales letter and the use of FREE information and products before a customer is ready to buy.
    The internet gives really great leverage on people’s time BUT the counter to this is that if there is no ‘face to face’ in a transaction it can lack emotional buy in which is often the final trigger in a purchase.

  22. says

    @Sonia – That’s exactly how I am building my business: try to offer the most amazing value I can. Personally.

    @Tom Wanek – I only buy my jeans from women who will send me elsewhere instead selling me jeans that don’t look good on me. Yeah yeah, I know, that’s kinda chick-like, but getting a good fit on a pair of jeans is too critical. I tend to return to those places.

  23. says

    “It’s about carving out your unique territory and owning it outright.”

    That conjures up powerful caveman images for me, in a good way lol.

    “But given how we actually operate as human beings in the face of overwhelming choice, isn’t a communication approach that bonds emotionally with our prospective customers also a market obligation?”

    Yes, it is an obligation. It just took us some time to get here, to articles like yours that nail the emotional aspect. We’ve been telling ourselves for ages that emotion antagonizes logic (big myth, but with some truth in certain contexts), that they are clearly “opposites.” But with business-inspired research at the forefront of redefining human behavior, we’re rewriting the story.

    “Perhaps even an ethical one?”

    I think yes. The more that you get into the emotional triggers, the more you understand the motivations, limitations, etc. of your prospect. (Emotional intelligence can be used for ill, as well as good.) When you see all that, and you still take advantage of it in a unethical way, you’re more accountable. Because with the “dry” logic-based approach you at least have ignorance as a somewhat excuse.

  24. Ron says

    I’ve always been interested in the psychological aspects
    of attracting customers,but I’m a little confused.If the idea
    is to impede someones logical decision making
    (as suggested) and focus on the emotional part,then
    why this ” don’t assume your propect gets that your offer
    is superior,show her by doing a head to head comparison
    with charts,checklists,etc” To me, it sounds like it’s
    leading right back into the logical.Could it be, justify
    with logic, might delay decision making?

  25. says

    Ron, I’m not suggesting you “impede someone’s logical decision making.” That was the way the psychologists conducted the experiment in order to produce results that meant something. They had to be sure that people were using their emotional faculties.

    The point is to emphasize the benefit associated with each feature, instead of hoping the prospect gets it on their own. For example:

    “Keep your feet warm and toasty all brutally-cold winter long with our double-insulated waterproof boots.”

    The first part is the benefit, the second part is how the product achieves the benefit via a feature.

  26. says

    With over 30 years experience as a salesperson, I have always believed that relationship (aka warm fuzzies) and people’s feelings are the basis of both buying decisions and a salesperson’s success. How does a person get warm fuzzies from eBay?

  27. says

    My marketing 101 class was decades ago. This post helped really helped me to see the connection between what I learned then and your approach here.

  28. says

    Really enjoy these blog entries that discuss “emotional, intuitive choices” and how they eclipse so called “rational thinkers” in the marketing process. I wrote a blog entry a couple of years ago called “The Ice Cream Store Syndrome” describing how too many choices can impede the decision making process. Thanks for writing about how people want simplicity.

  29. says

    Fantastic post, Brian. I’m reminded of the process of taking auditions as a professional musician. As the auditioner (seller) it’s easy to think that the audition panel (buyer) is somehow your adversary to be overcome. But everything changed for me when I realized that they WANT me to be the person who will meet their needs. Which also seems to be the context for this post: that buyers are looking for that perfect fit, and it’s our job (ethical obligation?) as businesses to give that to them.

    As to your question about our ethical obligation of guiding the prospect to a deeper emotional bond, trust, and ultimately a satisfying purchase, I’m not sure. It’s a great point to consider, and, as a purchaser, I do love going with someone I know and trust without worrying that there’s a better deal out there.

    So, perhaps, as far as our ability to create more happiness and peace of mind through online interactions, the three techniques in your post could indeed help bring that about.


  30. says

    Hey Brian,

    The simple but most effective 3-step process to dominate your niche: 1) Make the best stuff possible, 2) be remarkable (tip: be an amplified version of yourself), and 3) clearly demonstrate your benefits (and why you’re better than them).

    The reason Apple does so well in the computer hardware/software market is because they conquer all 3 steps. They may not be the biggest computer company, but they have the stickiest and most passionate customer base. The customers made the Mac choice by emotion, not rational thinking.

    And most couldn’t be happier with that choice.

    Awesome reminder on how to excel in your niche, Brian. I love how you stressed the importance of simplicity, and your article itself was simple too.

    Great stuff as always,

  31. says

    Emotions really move people whether in donating anything to charity or in buying stuff offline and online. And science have caught up with what marketers have been doing all along. 😀

  32. says

    A question;

    While it is simple knowledge to offer a better experience than your competitor in order to generate sales, but in a marketplace such as the internet where there are literally millions of sites out there for perhaps one product – what are the key factors to making the right experience and getting your product over and above those other million sites?



  33. says

    I think visibility is key to selling online. Its all very well having a great website but if no-one sees it, you’re bust. You could have an average website and high visibility and I’m willing to bet you’d survive. By great and average, I mean in relation to your competition.

  34. says

    Good point, Canvas Pictures (your parents must have a wonderful sense of humor). This article presumes you have traffic.

    Of course, traffic doesn’t mean squat if it doesn’t convert. Unfortunately, I think that’s the far more common problem. You can buy traffic if you need it, and if you can convert it efficiently, that can mean a good ROI.

    It’s that conversion thing that people have problems with. Generally, an “average” website won’t get you enough margin to survive.

  35. says

    Good Stuff. One basic tactic related to this post is starting out with a neat picture or caricature stressing the benefit first. I haven’t quite practiced this yet on my site, but I will now. For example. I sell ice cream dipping freezers. I start with a picture of the freezer. Simple enough. But it might be better to start with a picture of kids enjoying ice cream and smiling and having fun. This is what my prospect is looking to achieve by buying the freezer and scooping ice cream. So that’s probably a better way to bond emotionally with what my customer wants in the end.
    Thanks for a great post.

  36. says

    Running a successful online business is a mix between having a great product with great marketing. With one being weaker than the other, the business suffers.

    That’s why we all need to strive to be do our best with our businesses.

  37. says

    I must agree that we are responsible for the emotional aspect of our consumers. For me, our product does not only include the physical things that we deliver to our customers. It also involves every value that we can offer and give to them. And they all should be counted as part of the quality.

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