Regardless of the products you're trying to market, the audience you're trying to cater to, or the industry you happen to be operating in, all businesses face competition. This is just a fact of life. But it's important to realize that a competitor isn't just another company that is trying to go after the same pool of customers that you are. Competitors are invaluable learning opportunities that are just waiting to be taken advantage of, provided you approach things from the right angle.
Learn About Your Audience
One of the most important lessons that you can learn by taking a closer look at your marketing competitors has nothing to do with your competition itself and everything to do with the shared audience you're both going after. For the sake of argument, let's say that your number one competitor offers products or services that are very similar to yours.
How is your competition marketing those products and services to that audience? What types of print materials are they designing? What tone do they use when speaking to them directly? What prices do they charge, and why do they feel like the market can sustain that? What values do they choose to single in on when representing their brand?
All of these choices, along with the public reaction to them, can tell you a great deal about what your audience is looking for. Marketing is all about making a connection, and if you can pick up something through observation that you can adapt and make your own to strengthen that connection, you should absolutely take that opportunity.
Learn About the Competitors Themselves
The second lesson you can learn by taking a closer look at your marketing competitors comes down to how they choose to run a business that is very similar to yours in many ways. This goes beyond just the products or services they provide. Look at how they choose to distribute and deliver those products. Look at the steps they take to enhance customer value or build loyalty. Have they recently instituted a rewards program with great success? If you were thinking about doing one yourself, congratulations, someone else just did your trial run for you.
Perhaps the most important thing you should be watching out for when it comes to your marketing competitors is how they react when they make a mistake. These days, everything is essentially an extension of your marketing arm - from the print collateral you're putting out into the world to customer service interactions on a site like Facebook. Everything is taking place in the public space, which means that other customers (and you and your associates) can all see everything go down in real-time.
Did your biggest competitor have a particularly nasty public interaction with a customer? What factors caused it to occur in the first place? How did the customer react? How did the business react? What did the rest of the audience have to say at the end of the day? Remember that mistakes are only a bad thing if you choose not to learn from them. If you can get someone else to make a mistake and arrive at the same lesson, you come out all the better for it.
Competition in the world of business (and especially regarding marketing) isn't going away anytime soon. However, it's not something you should let get you down. Instead, look at it for what it is: an incredible ongoing education into your market, your industry, and even your own business that someone else is paying for.