How to Compete

How do we compete with other companies? What are our unique differentiators? In a world where everything is pretty much the same, what matters? They're bigger than us. They have more budget than us. They have the market share.

Zappos had to convince thousands and thousands of customers that ordering shoes on the web was easy, and that their customer service policies were top shelf. They made a near-billion dollar correct bet on how they competed.

Craigslist revenues for 2009 were estimated to top $100 million dollars, and Craig Newmark built the company around the premise that excellent customer service and community involvement were the key.

Peter Shankman build HARO (Help A Reporter Out) as a free-to-receive thrice-daily email newsletter to support reporters' need for information, and has pocketed quite a tidy sum by being helpful to others.

Helpful is always a powerful way to compete.

Other Ways to Compete

Want some more hints? Think about these words:

* Velocity - Can you build a faster experience for people? Can you build a slower one?

* Distance - Can you eliminate distance? (the web does this). Can you make distance a value? (vacation spots)

* Distribution - Can you jump a gate? Jim Koch of Samuel Adams hand-delivered his beer to many bars until someone bought.

* DIY - Can you empower others in the spirit of do-it-yourself? Does your product or service empower others?

Even More Ways to Compete

* Can you solve a problem I didn't know I have? - VirginUSA solves my "flying is kind of boring" problem.

* Can you remove steps? - BatchBlue formed relationships with Shoeboxed, which allows me to mail my business cards to Shoeboxed, and have them show up in my contact database at BatchBlue, thus powering my contact management.

* Can you create a new marketplace for me? - The iPhone isn't an amazing phone. It's a gatejumper for services the other telcos refused to provide, and it's open for developers to try and make their fortunes. See also Threadless. See also Second Life (virtual goods is still alive and well).

* Can you equip me to succeed? - My Monster Outlets to Go (amazon link) power cord with 3 plugs and a USB port is invaluable to me at airports, where I often have to charge and run. The USB port is the magic (to me)

It's a dodgy game to compete on price. It's always a race to the bottom. It's never fun to compete by name-calling or bragging over your competitors. Instead, really earn it with us by competing in ways that will empower both you and us. Do you agree? And more importantly, how are you competing right now?

Chris Brogan is co-author of Trust Agents (Wiley, 2009). This article originally appeared on his blog at, and is used with permission.

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