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Editorial: The Heat of Competition

By Len Monheit

Caught up in the drive to succeed is often the conviction that one’s success can only be achieved at the expense of someone else. I’m not too much of an idealist to recognize that often, this is exactly the case.

Those most fiercely competitive can be so fundamentally programmed with this belief that they never consider other, broader options to direct, head-on collision. Even the not-so-competitive realize that success breeds imitation, bigger success, quicker imitation. Or on the flip-side, if you see someone else with a good opportunity or niche, how can you make it your own. (Frequently a thought process overlaid with the words ‘with minimal investment.’) This is the reality of business. And in an environment where true innovation is really a challenge, economic pressure is fierce, margins are tight and where many products have been commoditized, then this lure to take advantage of an opportunity initiated or developed by someone else can be quite compelling. In many cases, it’s a whole lot easier than going back to basics and developing from scratch. In an environment that rewards lower cost alternatives (quality considerations secondary) and that has few barriers to entry, it’s really open season.

How many times have we heard the statement, ‘Why do a clinical and let someone else benefit?” Or, why spend on marketing when a cheaper alternative that will take my market away is months away?”

The observations lead to an analysis of how to protect innovation, or at least, how to be adequately rewarded for it. Obviously, part of the strategy is protection and enforcement of the company’s Intellectual Property position. This includes patents, trademarks, formulas etc and a proactive strategy that ensures market awareness to competitive developments and offerings. Another part of the strategy is to so leverage the niche or opportunity that barriers to participation emerge. In some cases this involves channel strategy and exclusive tie-ups, in other cases, it’s involvement of a high-powered community group such as the sports nutrition sector or even practitioners. In still other cases, significant expense is involved in either marketing (to establish ‘domination’) or in infrastructure (to establish economy of scale or other cost advantage).

It is interesting to note that not all business development activities are purely competitive. Some organizations, at least at the executive level, realize that building a bigger pie translates to bigger shares for everyone. We see this in what appears to be ‘category building messaging’ and ‘general’ science.

Successful competitive strategies are also evolving that mix fierce competitive approaches with strategic innovation. Here, the organization tracks the emergence of a concept, maps it against its matrix of opportunities and trends, takes a few steps back, and attempts to leverage either the unique concept or even a series of concepts in a ‘zone’ into a truly emerging opportunity.

Whatever the case, fundamentally, it’s ‘unique’ that sells – even in a highly competitive environment. Unique can be source, unique can be support, unique can be IP, unique can be personality and character, it can be location or services and it can even be something as odd as a special sense of timing or opportunism.

Those that fail to define their ‘unique’ are frequently the most vocal about hyper-aggressive competition, knock-offs and commoditization.

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