Are you close to your competition?

On the way into Reading from my house, there has been an Aldi supermarket trading happily for several years. It has been on its own on the edge of a housing estate and apparently doing well. Several months ago, however, the wasteland next to it started to be developed. A sizeable building was being created, and recently the hoardings were removed to reveal that Lidl was there. The cheek of it; right next door – literally feet away..!

Coming back from Reading the other evening I noticed that the Aldi supermarket car park was full. Usually that is not the case; generally, it was busy but rarely full. As I drove past and glanced at Lidl, I noticed that their car park too was packed. Far from stealing customers from Aldi, the presence of the Lidl store appears to have led to more people going shopping in that area.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a local Thai restaurant owner several years ago. His premises were three doors away from an empty property on which a planning application had been posted. The new owners wanted to convert the former shop into a restaurant. I mentioned this to the Thai restaurant owner and said, “I hope you have sent your objections to the council about that new restaurant.” He smiled and said, “Actually I have written to the council, but I have said how pleased I am that a new restaurant is opening up.” He then told me that several people had complained about the potential for noise, but that he was making a case for the economic benefit to the area. The more restaurants in one place, the more custom we all get, said my Thai friend.

The picture above shows the centre of Reading by the riverside. All of those storefronts are restaurants. Behind the photographer, it’s all restaurants. And on the opposite side of the river, it is all restaurants. There are about 20 restaurants all within a minute of each other. 

Think about your local town. Where are all the estate agents? Almost certainly within a stone’s throw of each other. The same will be true of all the law firms. Often, you find all the dentists within yards of each other’s doorstep too. And most towns these days have a “car village” with all the motor dealers in the same place. Where I grew up, there were three pubs – all about 100 yards apart. Even the three churches – Church of England, Catholic and Methodist, were virtually next door to each other. 

Far from being a disadvantage, being close to your competitors means you are in the right place to be spotted by potential customers interested in what you are selling. Having all the same kind of services in one spot opens up the market for everyone, which is why I suspect that Aldi was secretly delighted that Lidl had decided to build a store next door.

Online, though, it is difficult to be next door. Or is it?

When people are searching for what you sell, you probably want to use search engine marketing techniques to get yourself to the top of the pile. But what if below your listing is a random collection of links? The viewer gets a somewhat limited notion of what you are providing. However, if below your listing are all your competitors, your potential buyer immediately knows they are in the right place. Search engine experts will often tell you to avoid the keywords used by your competitors. I don’t; I say use the same keywords they are using as that will help ensure you all appear in the same place. 

Similarly, are you in the same groups on LinkedIn and Facebook as your competitors? Avoiding those groups because your competitors are there is potentially working against you as the visitors to those groups don’t make the connection between you and the products and services being discussed – they just make the link to your competitor. 

The other day I was running my first social media masterclass for a large international management consultancy firm. As a matter of principle, they do not have any kind of presence on Facebook. “Who is your nearest rival?” I asked. They said it was Accenture. So, I went to Facebook, found the Accenture page and pointed out to my client that it was being followed by 500,000 people. That’s staggering. Half a million people are regularly aware of Accenture yet my client isn’t even showing up to the party. If your competition is on Facebook, you have to be there too. Otherwise, you are not gaining the benefit of being found in the same place. (My client is now urgently reviewing its decision to ignore Facebook…!)

Have you checked your competition’s online presence? What groups are they in? Which social networks do they use? What kind of blogger outreach are they using? Where does their own material get published? You need to be in the same places. Otherwise, all of you lose. They lose because the size of the market they are looking at is smaller than it might be with both of you there. And with all of the competitors in the same place online you all gain through the focused attention of potential customers. If all of the competitors in a particular market are regularly commenting in the same social groups, appearing in the same searches and being covered by the same bloggers, it means that customers don’t have to hunt around for each of you. It’s just like going into Reading for a meal. You don’t have to worry – just park your car, go down in the lift and you will have 20 venues from which to choose. If your customers go online, go to a social group and see you and your competitors there, those customers find it easier to select one of you.

Far from avoiding your customers online, you need to seek them out and be next to them.

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