HBR: Obsess Over Your Customers, Not Your Rivals

“The brands that remove obstacles and encourage progress along their customers’ journeys are the ones that win repeat visits, repeat purchases, and word-of-mouth referrals” Are you removing obstacles in your customers’ journeys? What are your customers’ decision traps, pitfalls, friction spots, and quit points that they frequently encounter on their journeys? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Tara-Nicholle Nelson.

Obsess Over Your Customers, Not Your Rivals

The starting point of most competitive analysis is a question: Who is your competition? That’s because most companies view their competition as another brand, product, or service. But smart leaders and organizations go broader.

The question is not who your competition is but what it is. And the answer is this: Your competition is any and every obstacle your customers encounter along their journeys to solving the human, high-level problems your company exists to solve.

When I led marketing at MyFitnessPal and was asked about our competition, I think people always expected me to rattle off a list of other nutrition-tracking smartphone apps and weight-loss programs.

What I actually said was that we were on a mission to make it easier to live a healthy life than an unhealthy one. So our chief competition was anything that makes it harder to live a healthy life. This included biology (fat tastes good, sugar is delicious, and our brains are wired to want more of both); mindless eating; and the billion-dollar advertising and marketing budgets of companies that make fast food, junk food, and processed food. Our competition was the fact that in many situations healthy food is actually more expensive and less convenient than unhealthy food is.

If we had viewed Weight Watchers as our competition, we probably would have spent a lot of time trying to do what it does, just a little better. Maybe we would have raised money to get more-famous celebrity spokespeople, or tried to come up with some sort of next-generation points system.

Sure, someone in your company needs to understand the marketplace: who your competition is, what other products are on the market, and how they are doing, at a basic level. But there’s a point at which paying attention to other companies and what they’re doing interferes with your team’s ability to immerse itself in the world of your consumer. Focusing on competitive products and companies often leads to “me-too” products, which purport to compete with or iterate on something that customers might not have liked much in the first place.

In my recent study of over 2,000 consumers, over 50% of them said that they use digital and real-world products and content at least three times a week in an effort to achieve their goals around living healthier, wealthier, and wiser. The brands that remove obstacles and encourage progress along their customers’ journeys are the ones that win repeat visits, repeat purchases, and word-of-mouth referrals.

Once you’ve redefined your competition as your customers’ obstacles, it’s relatively easy to stop propagandizing the war with another product or company. Stop setting goals by reference to other companies. Minimize how much meeting time is devoted to talking about rival companies and products. Discourage product design approaches that focus on assessing or iterating on what is already out there.

Instead, reinvest your team’s time and effort. Here’s how.

First, rethink what you sell. Most companies think they sell a product. To transcend strictly one-time, transactional relationships with your customers, your company must think about selling a transformation: a journey from a problematic status quo to the new levels and possibilities that will unfurl after the behavior change you help make happen.

A real-estate search engine might actually “sell” wise decision making, through the process of making the largest transaction their customers will ever make. CVS Health “sells,” well, health.

Next, rethink your customers. They are not just the people who have purchased your product or the people who follow you on Facebook. Your customers are all the people who grapple with the problem your business exists to solve.

Now, focus on their problems. Engage in customer research, online and in the real world, to understand and document their journeys. I don’t mean their customer life cycle with your brand. Map out your (redefined) customer’s journey from having the problem you exist to solve to no longer having that problem. That may be the journey from unhealthy to healthy living, or from being broke to being a good steward of their finances.

One of the most important takeaways from your customer insights research should be a deep understanding of the decision traps, pitfalls, friction spots, and quit points that people frequently encounter on their journeys. Look to user data, surveys, ethnographic research, online listening, subject matter experts, and even third-party data to discover roadblocks. Use this information to do a continuous “competitive analysis”:

  • Understand the obstacles your customers face
  • Learn how and where people get stuck
  • Solve those problems
  • Understand how people overcome the obstacles and get unstuck
  • Understand what stops others from achieving this success
  • Solve those problems
  • And so on

Here’s the “competition” rubric we operated under at MyFitnessPal:

Competition is: Everything that makes it harder for people to live a healthy life rather than an unhealthy one.

More specifically: Biology, food autopilot, the cost of healthy food, the tastiness and convenience of unhealthy food, and everything that makes it hard to build healthy habits such as food tracking and home cooking.

Innovations driven by obstacle-as-competition insight:

  • In-app bar code scanner to make it easy to track packaged foods
  • Massive food database, so users never have to enter nutritional data
  • Social features and challenges for support, accountability, and competition
  • Recipe-logging features for home-cooked meals
  • Content, marketing, and PR campaigns featuring user success stories, advice on making and breaking habits, cost-effective recipes and cooking tutorials, and other messages tailored to remove the frictions commonly encountered on the journey from unhealthy to healthy.

And it’s working. People who have even a single friend on MyFitnessPal lose twice as much weight as people who don’t use the app’s social features. MyFitnessPal users who log home-cooked recipes lose 40% more weight than those who don’t. The bar code scanner and food database are consistently mentioned by users who have lost weight despite having been unsuccessful with all manner of diets before. And over 120 million people worldwide now use the platform.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once said, “If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we’ll turn out all right.” I take this one step further: If you can stay focused on eliminating the obstacles along your customers’ journeys, your company will turn out much more than all right.


S+B: What It Takes to Stay Ahead of the Competition

Are you maintaining a high level of performance? Are you aware of new and innovative products on the market? Below is a blog from the STRATEGY+BUSINESS Blog by Matt Palmquist.

What It Takes to Stay Ahead of the Competition

Bottom Line: For companies, sustaining a consistently high level of performance requires unique capabilities that may differ sharply from the strategies they used to succeed in the first place.

Leading firms set themselves apart by achieving a high level of performance and meeting or exceeding consumers’ expectations relative to the competition. It’s usually an arduous, years-long process. But sustaining that level of performance is a completely different challenge — one that few companies can overcome in the modern business landscape.

There’s plenty of substantive advice available on how to attain high-quality performance in the first place. Researchers have variously touted the ability of firms to create barriers to entry for competitors, for example, or to draw (pdf) on unique capabilities to differentiate themselves. But rivals learn quickly, once-novel strategies can eventually be duplicated, mistakes can be made, and complacency can set in. What it takes to sustain top-quality performance, therefore, is also deserving of study — but it has received comparatively little attention from researchers. Indeed, most analysts have implicitly assumed that the capabilities required to attain high-quality performance are the same as those needed to sustain it.

A new study aims to shed light on the issue by analyzing which capabilities enable companies to sustain a consistent and high level of performance. It should be noted that for the study, the quality level and consistency of performance are two distinct concepts. Whereas a firm with a high quality level outshines its competitors in the short term, consistency involves maintaining that high level with minimal variance for a five-year period.

The authors analyzed data on 147 business units within large companies in the manufacturing sector that were based in either the U.S. or Taiwan. The reason to zero in on U.S. firms is obvious: They tend to set the tone for the global economy. The researchers chose to study Taiwanese firms as well in order to consider the differences between Eastern and Western cultures in their management approaches and assess any impact on performance. (In the final analysis, no significant differences between them appeared.) Taiwan also has a well-established reputation for advanced manufacturing.

To assemble a sample, the authors reached out to executives whose companies had won awards or earned acknowledgment from associations dedicated to recognizing high-performing businesses. The authors conducted surveys with quality or operations managers at the firms, who could speak to the specific strategies employed, and with general managers, who could field questions about the firm’s overall performance and the nuances of its business environment. For a subset of companies, the authors also obtained financial-performance data from the business unit’s accountant as well as internal audits that gauged the quality of its products and services.

After controlling for firm size, competitive intensity (pdf) of a given industry, and level of uncertainty faced — in the form of rapid technological developments or changing market conditions — the authors found that four particular capabilities emerged as integral to sustaining high-quality performance:

Improvement. This capability was defined as a firm’s ability to make incremental product or service upgrades, or to reduce production costs.

Innovation. Defined as how strong a company was at developing new products and entering new markets.

Sensing of weak signals. Defined as how well a company can focus on potential banana peels in order to improve overall performance, including analyzing mistakes, actively searching out production anomalies, and being aware of potential problems in the surrounding business environment.

Responsiveness. Defined as a business’s ability to solve problems that crop up unexpectedly and to use specialized expertise to counter those complications.

But these capabilities influenced different aspects of sustaining high performance, the authors found. For example, innovation capabilities primarily help firms maintain a certain level of quality, whereas the capacity for improvement affects mostly the consistency component. That’s probably because innovations are typically unique events that meet customers’ immediate needs and establish a certain level of quality, whereas incremental improvements are geared toward ensuring the long-term reliability of products and services, which translates into consistency.

Meanwhile, a firm’s capability for responsiveness had no significant effect on consistency, but had a decided positive impact on its level of quality — presumably because responding to quality-related problems quickly and efficiently is also a way of exceeding customers’ expectations in a one-off way.

Sensing of weak signals had a strong positive effect on consistency, but a moderately negative impact on the level of quality. This suggests a potential trade-off, the authors note, because maintaining both a high quality level and consistency is essential to sustaining performance. The authors speculate that a focus on sensing weak signals mandates that firms spend a lot of time collecting data and analyzing the occasional blip, which could cause them to get mired in minutiae and distract them from the more important tasks associated with sustaining a high level of performance. Although the benefits may pay off over time, a concentration on preventing failures rather than seeking out successes could also lead firms to take a short-term view and be overly conservative, too concerned with simply surviving, and to thus shy away from taking chances.

Intriguingly, the capabilities that increase consistency (improvement and sensing of weaknesses) are unaffected by the level of competitive intensity or uncertainty surrounding a firm, whereas those that affect the level of performance (innovation and responsiveness) depend heavily on the external context, the authors found. Presumably, the value of innovation and responsiveness is higher in the face of unanticipated external shocks, whereas improvement and sensitivity to failure are capabilities that are more internally oriented. As a result, firms may need to invest in certain capabilities more than others, depending on their business environment.

Source:An Empirical Investigation in Sustaining High-Quality Performance,” by Hung-Chung Su (University of Michigan–Dearborn) and Kevin Linderman (University of Minnesota), Decision Sciences, Oct. 2016, vol. 47, no. 5


Open: Win Customer Loyalty By Supporting Your Community

Do you want to increase customer loyalty, bring in new business, devastate your competition and make you feel better about yourself? Below is a blog from the OPEN Forum Articles by Shel Israel.

Win Customer Loyalty By Supporting Your Community

A few weeks ago I wrote about United Linen, a professional laundry service. Looking back, I think there are some valuable lessons small businesses should learn from they way United embraces and supports their community.

United shows a commitment to its physical community in various ways. For example, they began posting hometown team sports scores through their social media channels, and more recently, they started promoting the local symphony orchestra. During winter, United gets road conditions from their truck drivers and reports back to residents.

In short, United uses social media to report on and champion their local community. They’ve chosen a wise and valuable strategy—one that you might consider taking with your business.

Small business has clearly embraced social media. We see all sorts of cases of how little guys in corner stores or home offices have defied geographic boundaries by going global. But most small business is not going to go global. They depend upon people who live within a few miles of their store or office.

The question becomes: what should you talk about? Because let’s face it, there’s only so much you can say about your dry cleaning service or your homemade pie.

However, your customers and you probably share many topics of interest. Every town, city or neighborhood has all sorts of local events, issues, problems or reasons to celebrate. Your neighbors and customers talk about them over the counter in your shop, in coffee shops, dog parks or over backyard fences.

These issues are what make your community special—they are the community passion points. A century ago, most communities created town commons, where people gathered to discuss, debate and occasionally brawl over local issues.

People like to do business with people who share their interests. They would rather have an easy conversation then get bombarded with marketing offers and a few very large companies have figured this all out.

Dell Computer, for example, has 8000 employees who use social media as part of their jobs. They are discouraged from using the conversational tools to be overly promotional, and instead are encouraged to mix in mentions of their hobbies and personal interests.

“We discourage shilling,” Richard Binhammer, a senior member to the Dell social media team, told me.

Binhammer’s approach make sense. A smart sales person almost never starts a customer conversation with, “Hey, are you going to buy something? They are more likely to discuss weather and ease in to any possible transactions.”

In social media, you will almost always do better by conversing than by aggressive selling, and you will probably sell more goods and services if your team talks with people about what interests them rather than what you want to sell.

Want to read more on community building? Check these out:

There are local passion spots wherever you do business. And the ability of your hometown to have a public, accessible venue for discussion has been in atrophy in recent years.

Local newspapers and broadcast stations have been on the wane. Those that have survived have very often cut staff and local coverage. The result has been that many communities suffer a local information void waiting to be filled.

Thanks to social media, local merchant or professional can fill this void in local community information and promotion at low cost and with a little investment of time. The result may have more lasting value to your business position than any e-coupon. The result may also increase the number of people who use e-coupons when you post them as well.

You have the opportunity to provide your community with an online commons—a venue where local news is shared and issues can be discussed or debated.

Here are four ways to do it:

  1. Be the local media company

Online journalist Tom Foremski has been talking a lot about every company becoming a media company. But his examples are usually about huge enterprises such as Dell Computer, Cisco, Ford Motors, etc.

Why can’t a small business do this for its hometown? Your customers are already telling you what they care about—why not report on what their local passion points are? Your loyalty to your community will spawn their loyalty to you.

  1. Use video and pictures

Your community is filled with wonderful and provocative visuals and sounds. Take pictures at local events. Post them (note: if kids are involved get permission).

  1.  Listen and report

Use basic tools such as Google Blog Alerts to monitor topics that interest your community. Use Twitter and Facebook to be the first to report on them. If it is a complex subject, blog on it—or ask someone in your community to do a guest blog on your site.

  1.  Be a polster

When issues arise in your community, poll your audience. Ask for a yes or no response, but also host a venue for people who want to leave longer comments. I constantly ask questions on Twitter and Facebook, but I also set up a space for blog comments, where people can post long comments and perhaps debate each other’s ideas.

By becoming a community booster, you build loyalty and establish thought leadership. This can be devastating to a competitor.

I call the strategy ‘Lethal Generosity.’ Here’s how it works:

Start a campaign for safe streets, sending the local team to a post-season tournament or whatever is a passion point you share with your neighbors.

Next, invite your competitors to join the campaign to match—or exceed—any financial contributions you make. Do it online or in public.

What can your competitor do? There’s only two options:

  • Ignore you. But then it appears they don’t care about safe streets or the local team.
  • Match or exceed your donation. In either case, they are following your lead. You will get some of the credit for your competitor’s generosity.

And, in either case, you win.

Try it. I bet it will increase customer loyalty, bring in new business, devastate your competition and make you feel better about yourself.


GT: 7 Ways to Outsmart Your Competition

How much do you know about your competition? Below is a blog from the Growthink Blog by Dave Lavinsky:

7 Ways to Outsmart Your Competition

“Knowledge is power.” This is a well known saying commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, who was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist and author.

In business, knowledge certainly is power. For example, if you knew where your market was heading, you would have a massive leg up on your competition.

So, how can you gain more knowledge to outsmart your competition? Here are 7 ways.

1. Learn from your customers.
Marketing consultant Jay Abraham once said, “your customers are geniuses; they know exactly what they want.”

Because your customers know what they want, speak to them. And don’t just speak to your current customers, but speak to your competitors’ customers too. Learn to listen deeply to your customers and to ask probing questions. And when you hear consistent feedback (and not just one customer saying something), take action.

2. Learn from your competitors.
Watch your competitors closely and learn from them. What do they seem to be doing well, and how can you better emulate them in this respect? What are they doing poorly that you can capitalize on?

Importantly, don’t just copy your competitors until you know that what they are doing works. For example, if a competitor starts offering a 25% off discount for new customers, don’t copy them right away. Rather, wait and see what happens. If the competitor stops offering the discount quickly, then the promotion probably didn’t work. Conversely, if the competitor is still offering the discount 6 months later, it probably did work. Only copy the competitor’s “winners.”

Also try to figure out what competitors are saying about you. And, if criticism from a competitor gets back to you, don’t become defense or dismiss it casually. Rather, engage critically with it. The criticism may prove to be quite helpful. A competitor may be aware of your weaknesses in a way a friend or customer cannot be. So don’t disregard negative feedback, but rather consider it carefully, and take corrective action as appropriate.

3. Learn from your employees.
Oftentimes your employees have a lot more information than you do. They are the ones who are interacting with customers, and they are the ones that are building your products and providing your services.

Speak to your employees and get their feedback, ideas and suggestions. As an example, nearly all new innovation at Toyota comes from front-line employees. Encourage your employees to come up with ideas and give you feedback. They may also alert you to changes in the marketplace and customer behavior that you need to understand in order to adapt.

4. Learn from your community.
This is particularly true for local businesses. Find out what is going on in your community. For example, if your community is heavily involved in recycling, or if the local high school football team just won a championship, then you need to know about it since these are things your community cares about. Importantly, leverage this information. In these two examples, you could offer a sale related to the football team’s victory. Or post signs explaining how your business recycles. These actions would position you as part of the community and cause customers to flock to your business.

5. Learn from coaches and consultants.
The right coach and/or consultant will have lots of knowledge that you don’t. They will have worked with other business owners and “been there, done that” – that is, they will have seen challenges and overcome them already. Because you won’t have to “reinvent the wheel,” these paid experts can allow you to make the right decisions, avoid mistakes, and grow more quickly. Plus, paid experts can give your business a reality check and keep you focused and accountable.

6. Learn from mentors.
The right mentor serves a similar function as a paid coach and/or consultant in that they have experience, expertise and connections that allow you to avoid mistakes and grow your business more quickly. The challenge is finding the right mentor, and setting up the appropriate structure to get ongoing feedback (this naturally happens when you pay a coach or consultant).

7. Learn from other business owners. In previous articles, I have mentioned the massive power of mastermind groups. Mastermind groups are groups of business owners who work together to grow everyone’s business. Mastermind groups are incredibly powerful since other members of the group will have already overcome the challenges you face, and thus can give you the answers you need.

Likewise, in many cases, skills and knowledge that have taken other business owners months or years to learn can be transferred to you in minutes. So, you gain massive knowledge quickly, and gain a support group that all shares the common goal of building a great company.

Knowledge certainly is power. Leverage these seven ways to gain knowledge, and you will be able to outsmart and dominate your competition.


Power of Two: Creative Foils

Joshua Wolf Shenk talks about competition in his book Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs. “Competition is when you need to kick the guy’s ass to get what you want. Rivalry is when you want to kick the guy’s ass. But such animosity – such oppositional passion – can actually lead both parties to each get more of what they want.” Who is your competitor or rival? Do you act as a foil for your competitor? Below is an excerpt from the book.

Creative FoilsPowers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs

In the mid-1970s, at Everett High School in Lansing, Michigan, nobody could touch Earvin Johnson Jr. on the basketball court. He was only fifteen years old but a local sportswriter had already dubbed him “Magic.” “You’re special, Earvin,” his coach told him. “But you can’t stop working hard. Just remember-there’s someone out there who is just as talented as you, and he’s working just as hard. Maybe even harder.” Magic nodded politely but he was thinking, I’d like to meet this guy, because I haven’t seen him.

“Truthfully,” he reflected later, “I wasn’t sure anybody like that existed.”

He did exist. His name was Larry Bird. He grew up in French Lick, Indiana, with two older brothers. “Mark and Mike were older than me,” Bird said, “and that meant they were bigger, stronger, and better – in basketball, baseball, everything. They pushed me. They drove me. I wanted to beat them more than anything, more than anyone. But I hadn’t met Magic yet. Once I did, he was the one I had to beat.”

His freshman year of college, Magic saw Bird on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was “blown away by his stats” (32.8 points per game on average and 13.3 rebounds). When the two played in a tournament, he saw that it wasn’t just numbers. “I couldn’t wait,” Magic said, “to call home and tell my boys, ‘Man, this dude named Larry Bird is for real.'” Bird was just as impressed: “I’ve just seen the best player in college basketball,” he told his brother Mark. “It’s Magic Johnson.”

On March 26, 1979, they faced off in the NCAA Finals. A sophomore at Michigan State, Magic was now a Sports Illustrated cover boy too, A senior, Bird had led Indiana State through an undefeated season, Thirty-five million people — still the largest audience ever for a college championship — watched the game, and they saw Indiana take a drubbing. Double-teamed, Bird missed fourteen of twenty-one shots. When the buzzer sounded, the dueling stars were the very picture of victory and defeat. As Magic, still panting from the game, wrapped one arm around his coach and the other around Bryant Gumbel for a postgame interview, Bird made his way to the Indiana bench, draped a towel over his head, and put his face in his hands. On national TV, Magic stuck out his tongue in delight, praised his coach, dodged the big question about when he’d leap to the NBA. Then the camera cut to Bird, now with his face buried in the towel

Sports nicely illustrate the fundamentals of competition because they’re built on what the philosopher James Carse calls “finite games” — clear contests, bounded in time, with rules designed to produce a winner and a loser (or rankings from the most to the least successful). Any impurities that leach in – a controversial call by the referee, say – are overwhelmed by the final score, the official record, the glum faces of postgame agony, and the raised arms of postgame thrill.

Though competition rouses us with specific promises of victory-a towering trophy, an impressive title – the most primal desire may be for triumph itself. Certainly, direct face-offs improve performance in all manner of conditions, an effect that has been validated empirically: One study found weightlifters able to bench-press an average of two kilograms (about four and a half pounds) more when competing with another person than when facing a crowd alone. Another found that people could squeeze a handgrip twenty-one seconds longer. Competition, compared to solo performance, has also been linked to increased heart rate and blood pressure, even when the challenge requires little physical exertion (as when study participants race toy cars).

What these studies suggest and measure, epic stories help us really see and feel-whether in business (Steve Jobs versus Bill Gates), politics (Abraham Lincoln versus Stephen Douglas), art (Pablo Picasso versus Hanri Matisse), or advise-giving (Ann Landers verusu Dear Abby). In sports alone, the sheer volume of epic pairings – Jack Nicklaus versus Arnold Palmer in golf, Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier in boxing, Chris Evert versus Martina Navratilova in tennis (and we could go on) – makes it seem like the rule, not the exception, that great work emerges from rivalry.

The irony is that, while an animating motivation comes from a desire to best someone – which is, at bottom, a desire for separation, for distinction – top players end up developing a strange attachment to one another, even a need for the other. Playing with the best brings out your best, and if the other guy is gunning to beat you, that may be bad for your stress level but it’s ideal for your performance.

What makes the attachment between rivals all the more poignant is that defeats, setbacks, and even humiliations may in retrospect seem like a shove down a better path. By 1998, the contest between Steve Jobs (who’d been exiled from Apple and had just returned to save a near-bankrupt company) and Bill Gates was so lopsided that Gates told a journalist: “What I can’t figure out is why he is even trying. He knows he can’t win.” But Jobs, by applying lessons learned in his exile (and by working effectively with others), would make Apple the most valuable company in the world. In his mid-forties, Abraham Lincoln (a one-term congressman and a prairie lawyer) found himself so outpaced by Stephen Douglas (an eminent U.S. senator) that he wrote in a note to himself: “With me, the race of ambition has been a failure – a flat failure; with him it has been one of splendid success.” Yet Lincoln framed an antislavery platform in contrast to Douglas and rode that local rivalry to national renown. In the presidential inauguration of 1861, it was Douglas who held Lincoln’s hat.

For stories of winning responses to stinging defeats, nothing beats the saga of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. In the fall of 1979, Bird started as forward for the Boston Celtics and took his team to a 61-21 record. (The year before, they’d gone 29-53.) But the Celtics didn’t make it to the finals; Bird watched the games at a Boston restaurant. In the sixth game, Magic Johnson led his Los Angeles Lakers to the title over the Philadelphia 76ers.

Not only that, but Magic was series MVP.

“I was pissed,” Bird said. He was burning still from the NCAA finals, which even decades later he called the “biggest game of my life” and the “toughest loss I ever took.” Now Bird considered himself down by two.

Bird didn’t know it, but he had fueled Magic’s performance. The day before game six, Magic had learned that Bird had won Rookie of the Year — he’d gotten sixty-three votes, compared to only three for Magic. “I was jealous and I was mad,” Magic said. “I thought I had a great year. When I heard I only got three votes, I took it out on the Sixers. I wanted people to recognize my play the way they had recognized Larry’s.

“It wasn’t anything personal against Larry,” Magic added. “Well, actually, it was.”

Watching, anticipating, and responding to each other quickly came to feel like a necessity. Bird called the competition “a crutch” -“I had to have him there,” he said. First thing every morning, he would look up Magic’s stats in the newspaper. “I didn’t care about anything else,” Bird said, Magic felt the same. “When the new schedule would come out each year,” he said, “I’d grab it and circle the Boston games. To me, it was the two and the other eighty.”

In their second NBA season, in 1981, Bird’s Celtics took the NBA championship. The next year, Magic’s Lakers reclaimed it. At last, in 1984, the two met in the finals-which Bird relished as a long-awaited rematch of their college duel. The Celtics won in seven games. “I finally got him,” Bird told his teammate Quinn Buckner late into the celebratory night. “I finally got Magic.”

Magic was crushed. “It’s probably the first time ever in my life I was depressed,” he said. “It took me years to get over it,” he wrote in 2009. “Actually, I’m not sure I’m over it yet.” Bird savored his rival’s pain. “I hope he was hurt,” he said around the same time. “I hope it killed him … to not only win the game makes you feel good but just knowing that the other guy was suffering, and you know he was.”

Yet even this suffering was stimulating. “That championship series redefined his whole career,” said Magic’s teammate Michael Cooper, “because he never stopped working after that.” In 1985, the teams faced off again for the championship. This time, the Lakers took it in six games,

Even their off-court encounters were dramatic. Though Johnson often made friendly overturns, Bird always rebuffed him. In 1986, Converse introduced a Bird show and a Magic shoe, and the company persuaded them to shoot a commercial playing off their rivalry. Bird surprised Magic by making small talk between shots and even inviting him for lunch. When they met the next season, Magic found himself saying, “Hey, let’s go have a beer.” Bird said no way. “If me and him got to be really good friends… he could still play the same game,” Bird said. “I couldn’t. That’s just the way it is

Magic and Bird were foils for each other. Foil is the perfect word, because it has two complementary meanings. As a verb, from the French fouler (to trample), foil means “to prevent something undesirable; to impede, hinder, or scuttle.” As a noun meaning “a thing that by contrast emphasizes the qualities of another,” it derives from the practice of putting metal foil (from the Latin folium) underneath a gem to enhance its shine.

Foils who seek to stymie each other can also bring out each other’s best qualities. “If I’d beaten Pete [Sampras] more often,” Andre Agassi writes in his memoir, “or if he’d come along in a different generation, I’d have a I better record, and I might go down as a better player, but I’d be less.” Until recently, research psychology had no vocabulary for these relationships, I because it studied competition only through staged encounters. The subjects were always strangers and they performed in contests with a zero- sum game – one guy wins, the other loses, and that’s that. But over time, mere competition can evolve into rivalry, which the scholar Gavin Kilduff and colleagues define as a “subjective competitive relationship,” where the stakes feel higher “independent of the objective characteristics of the situation.”

Put another way: Competition is when you need to kick the guy’s ass to get what you want. Rivalry is when you want to kick the guy’s ass. But such animosity – such oppositional passion – can actually lead both parties to each get more of what they want. In a study of runners, Kilduff found that the presence of a true rival in a race (as opposed to mere competitors) led to faster times – an average of twenty-five seconds in a 5K.


DuctTape: How to Thoroughly Spy On Your Competition

Below is a blog from Duct Tape Marketing. Do you use any of the listening stations below and highlighted in red?

How to Thoroughly Spy On Your Competition

Okay, maybe spy is a little strong but experience tells me that most small business don’t know much at all about what their greatest competitors are up to when it comes to marketing.

I know you don’t really have any competition because you provide such a superior product and experience, but setting up a competitor specific listening station can uncover some useful insights.

Why competitive research matters

  • In the first place you might very well learn that your competitors are doing little and that simply upping your inbound marketing efforts could pay immediate dividends.
  • You might also learn, as I’ve seen countless times, everyone in your industry is doing and saying basically the same thing. Use this wake up call to find and communicate something truly unique.
  • By thoroughly keeping tabs you could gain a valuable understanding into their weaknesses. Quite often these come through as customer service issues and complaints and can arm you with information that could help you determine messages that amplify your particular strengths as they relate to areas of your competitor’s weaknesses.
  • Lastly, you may actually pick up some tremendous ideas about how to make your business better by taking a tactic here and a tactic there and adding your secret sauce to them to improve your overall marketing effectiveness.

Your competitive research plan

Follow some or all of these items in an effort to build you competitive listening station.

  • Set-up alerts in services such as Mention or Talkwalker for the names of companies and individuals you compete with.
  • Create lists to monitor their social activity on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook spend a little time research their brand on SocialMention
  • Do a little research on what content is drawing shares and links using a tool such as SharedCount or Topsy
  • Subscribe to their blogs using tools like Feedly or Feedbin
  • Get on every one of their email lists. Use tools such as IFTTT.com to automate your research by doing things like storing competitors email campaigns to Dropbox or Evernote for easy retrieval and analysis.
  • Download all published ebooks, research and white papers. Use advance Google search to find all the PDFs on their domain – do this search to find them – filetype: PDF [competitor domain]
  • Enroll in all content series, events and webinars
  • Find and follow their YouTube channel
  • Find and follow their Slideshare decks
  • Subscribe to their Yelp RSS feed – this way you can monitor their reviews
  • Research their pay-per-click advertising using a tool such as SpyFu
  • Study their SEO efforts using tools like the MOZ opensiteexplorer or SEMRush to find out who links to their sites and what phrases they are optimized for in search.
  • Find out where their executives speak and what conferences they attend.

When you automate as much of the above list as possible you simply do an occasional deep dive analysis and then semi-occasional check ins to keep up to date on any new opportunities.