Don’t worry about your competition – learn from them instead

Not so long ago, McDonald’s lost its ‘Big Mac’ trademark within the EU.

It was a major blow, and one that rival Burger King was quick to exploit. In January this year, Burger King created an in-restaurant menu that made merciless fun of its rival. Items on the menu included:

  • Like a Big Mac, but actually big
  • Kind of like a Big Mac, but juicier and tastier
  • Big Mac-ish but flame-grilled of course.

 

It’s funny, eye-catching stuff and you can see the full menu here.

You’ll also see from the article that Burger King has form in trying to wind up its rival. Another campaign that made me chuckle was its ‘Whopper Detour’ promotion in the USA – which unlocked a 1 cent Whopper burger coupon when a customer got within a few hundred feet of a McDonald’s.

The big question, though, is whether any of this will help Burger King take the mantle of market leader from its rival.

My guess is the answer will be: ‘no’.

Focus on your customer, not your rivals

Why? More people prefer what McDonald’s offer.

More to the point, McDonald’s seems (to me at least) to be completely focused on its customers, not its rivals. In recent years, its restaurants have improved massively, its menus have more variety (and more healthy options), its practices have become more environmentally friendly and it has talked long and hard about the quality of the meat it sources.

Importantly, I just wrote all that from memory and experience. If asked how Burger King had improved over the last few years, I couldn’t answer.

I know that I always found the experience of going there utterly depressing – my local branch seemed to specialist in slow, unfriendly service and offering up a depressing atmosphere in its restaurant. More importantly, my children have never once asked to go there.

There’s a lesson in this that I think all businesses can learn from.

Years ago, I used to edit a business magazine. I’d write features about local firms and I noticed that the really successful ones hardly ever mentioned their competition. They focused on the customer instead.

It’s a wise approach. Of course, you should study your competitors and learn from their successes and mistakes. But don’t obsess about them. Instead concentrate on offering the best products and services you can and work hard to understand how your market is changing.

The last point is so important these days. Imagine you were running a video rental business in the early 2000s.

If you spent lots of time and energy worrying about your rivals, you were wasting your time. What turned out to be crucial in that market was the fact your customers were changing their habits. First, they began to prefer having DVDs posted direct to their door. Next, they all but abandoned DVDs for online streaming. That’s why firms like Blockbuster went out of business – they were busy trying to dominate a vanishing market and didn’t respond to customers’ changing needs until it was far too late.

Something similar happened with a lot of print firms. Many SME printers were locked in competition with rivals for local customers and contracts. Most didn’t spot that the real competition was cheap international printing services from (especially) China. The companies that survived offered something extra to their customers, often by specialising in high-end work (for example in fine art printing).

So, next time you look at what your competitors are doing, take note and learn – but don’t worry. Your business should never be defined by what a rival is up to, but by learning more about your clients or customers really want from you.

After all, even though they’re funny, Burger King’s ad campaigns have one unfortunate side-effect – they advertise their rival!

Business Guidance from THP

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