This Foodie Friday I’d like us to think about something you’ve probably seen happen in your town. A restaurant will offer a dish that becomes insanely popular and suddenly everyone is offering their take on it. Cronuts, dishes with foams instead of sauces, or even stuffed burgers (Juicy Lucy’s) are examples. It’s not just restaurants either. One soda brand goes “clear” and suddenly everyone has a “clear” or “crystal” or something similar. The supermarket is stuffed to the gills with innovative products and the several follow-ons produced by competitors.
What does this show us? That businesses pay attention to their competition and are tracking what the other guy is doing. That’s good and important. After all, listening is a fundamental skill. Listening, however, isn’t necessarily reacting. Tracking isn’t following.
It’s not just in the food business. When Ecco had huge success with their hip spikeless golf shoes, suddenly every shoe company had a version. Of course, what the other guys missed was Ecco’s fashion sense, and some of the products were as bad as just wearing tennis shoes to play golf. Microsoft wasted a lot of time and money following Apple everywhere and producing their own versions of Apple products. Still using your Zune?
If you’re going to do your version of a competitor’s product, the impetus for that should be your customers’ expressions of need and not some knee-jerk reaction to what the competitor is doing. First, you might not understand how well the product is selling for the competition. Second, you don’t know what their costs are to produce the dish. Third, even if you do know the previously mentioned data points, you might produce an inferior version which damages your reputation and enhances that of the competition. Finally, and most importantly, follow your customers. Are they defecting to some other brand? Why? Is it to the new product or because you’ve taken them for granted in your haste to follow the other guy rather than them?
Paying attention to what the competition is doing is important but following them can be fatal. Follow your customers, not your competitors.