One of our consultants, Peter Jasniewski, recently wrote a post painting competition as a good thing. I know what you’re thinking, “How could you say that? My competition stresses me out and keeps me up at night!” While that might be true, give the post a try; who knows, maybe a little change in perspective is exactly what your business needs to have a banner year in 2016!

Competition undoubtedly makes the lives of business owners more difficult. But who said running a business would be easy? Probably not a successful businessperson.

When it comes to competition, I can tell you one thing for sure: ignoring the presence of competing businesses because you don’t want to deal with them is the worst thing you can do. By contrast, learning everything there is to know about your competitors is the best way to protect your business. As long as the energy and focus you get from keeping an eye on your industry is positive and constructive, then competition is, indeed, a good thing.

For those of you willing to constantly improve upon your business, the good news is we live in a time where spying on the “other guys” is relatively easy. You know, the Internet and stuff. You don’t have to wear a fake mustache and a ridiculous hat to get the inside scoop on what your toughest competitors are doing; instead, all it takes is some digital savvy and knowing where and what to look for.

Recently, we’ve had our attention fixed on helping businesses handle their competition, so for our first infographic of the year, we decided to outline The Secret Steps To Gaining An Edge On Your Competitors:

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As Ellie from Up says, “Adventure is out there!” Don’t worry, this is no wild goose chase for the monster of Paradise Falls; we’re merely suggesting a deep dive into all the data you can find on your competitors. Seriously, it’s going to require some digging, so roll up your sleeves and get ready to find some information we can use to get you an edge on your competitors!

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When you first realize your competitor is doing something new that appears to be working – as in, clearly boosting their business in a big way – your first reaction is always going to one of panic. “What should I do? How do I keep up with them? I’m doomed!” Well no, you’re not doomed, and honestly, the best thing you can do in that moment is nothing. Yep, nothing. Take a deep breath, step away from the computer and go do something else. Go for a drive, watch a movie, or play golf; anything to get your mind off your catastrophic discovery.

Guess what? You’re not doomed. Whatever your competitor is doing, there’s a simple explanation. And once you’ve settled down, it’s certainly a good idea to find out everything you can about the new and improved business you now have to deal with. But in the end, you’re going to find out what’s really going on – and it’s not going to be that bad. Maybe the tactic you discover is something your business can use too, or perhaps it’s not actually a good strategy and your competitor’s success is short-lived. In either case, your business is fine, so have a bit of faith in what you’ve built.

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I know I said you don’t have to wear a mustache and a fake hat to spy on your competitors, but I didn’t say not to do it if you feel like a good old-fashioned sting operation. Okay okay, that’s a little dramatic, but there’s certainly no harm in dropping by a competitor’s physical location if they do have one. There’s no substitute for getting to know a brand from the inside because after all, it’s the people and the actions of a company that truly defines it.

competitive edge

We talk often about looking to the future and keeping your eye on the digital horizon, but what if you could actually get a glimpse into the future? No, we don’t have a functioning DeLorean at our office, but there still might be a way.

Consider that, right now, there’s a company of similar age, size and profitability to  yours, except it’s in a totally different industry. For the purpose of this example, let’s assume this industry is not in the tech or digital space, but for whatever reason it’s very good at keeping up with technology itself. So in terms of digital marketing and technology, since this other industry has already traveled the path that your company wants to follow, you should theoretically be able to learn something from their experience.

It might not be real time travel, but it’s an effective way to make educated guesses about where your industry is heading.

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20 billion is a big number, so the fact it’s the average estimate for yearly market research spend in the US means…there’s a lot of research being bought and sold. But there’s an elephant in the room: experts believe the actual use of this information pales in comparison to its cost. Well, that’s awkward.

If you’re going to spend time and money gathering information on your competitors, make sure you use it. The job isn’t over once you’ve done the research; the second half is figuring out which data is most relevant and determining how you can use it to better your business.

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Gathering intelligence on your competitors is about improving on your business, not completely tearing it down. The moment you’re unable to have creative, constructive and productive thoughts is the moment competition becomes a bad thing. Stay focused on your vision of your company, don’t lose yourself in somebody else’s apparent success. Gaining an edge on your competitors is about making progress so whatever you do, and however you process the information you find, always move forward.

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That’s all we’ve got for the latest edition of our monthly infographic, but be sure to check back to see what we have in store for February. Here’s the full infographic, in case you want to do us a solid and share or blog about it:

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About Cheryl Baldwin

Cheryl Baldwin, Director of Marketing Communications at WSI, oversees WSI’s Marketing Department. She’s an integral part of the WSI’s global brand presence and corporate identity.