I do competitor analysis. The information I need is easily found online, so I gather data about the cohort of companies surrounding a client or campaign. I think about the mission statement of my client and compare that to the mission statement of other, somewhat similar companies. I look at the pool of potential customers or users and see how my client acquires them verses how competitors acquire them. I look at the different social media channels and conversion channels. I compare websites.
After all that, I’ll know the techniques and channels a competitor uses to excel or fail and I’ll know how my client can improve. I will see how one crowdfunding campaign thrived, and another withered. I know the history of what has come before us, and I use that history to do a better campaign or outreach.
The Flaw In Competitive Thinking
But there is a flaw in this thinking. It creates a blind spot. We are not all competitors fighting over the same pie. Customers might choose one provider, and then switch to another, and then switch back. I have a business account for banking and a personal account with a different bank. I use an app called Bear for notes and short-form writing and an app called Scrivener for long-form writing. I wear Nikes and New Balance. They are all competitors, but there is also something deeper going on. Their customer base overlaps. People can use two banks, two apps, or wear two different kinds of running shoes. Last time I checked, the revenues of both Nike and New Balance were pretty good.
The Cooperation Model
A cooperation model started to appeal to me. Take books for example. You can take a narrow view and argue that if your reader wants a book about marketing, they will buy only one. But most people who want to get better at marketing buy lots of books. They read everything they can get their hands on. Authors can and often do help each other by writing blurbs for each other’s books. A recommendation by a well-known author will boost book sales. A blurb by an authority in the field will do the same. A cohort of authors, experts, and readers are working together to sell more books.
Putting the Model into Practice
I have two smart USC interns working with me this summer. One of our projects is a test of the cooperation model. We are building a cohort around a parenting book I will be publishing. We are doing this by contacting other parenting authors and experts and asking them to do a burb (recommendation) for our book. I will start production on a podcast about parenting and will invite them as guests. My reasoning is that parents who want to be better will not read just one book. They will read everything they can get their hands on. Recognizing and connecting the community of parenting authors and experts makes sense.
Red Cup’s podcast about food will relaunch in the fall, also with a cooperation model. To prepare, this summer we’re looking at chefs and restaurants who would want to promote each other. People don’t eat at just one restaurant. They will switch from one to the other. In the competitive view, restaurants are “fighting” for each customer’s business. In the cooperation model, customers who are vegetarian, or who like Lebanese food, will share notes on the restaurants they love. The community wins. The simple pie chart model of a big piece for you, a smaller piece for me doesn’t reflect the world.
I know the cooperation model works. I’ve tried it with two seasons of an education podcast I produced called EdTech NOW. The host, Noah Geisel, is a teacher, and he interviewed other teachers and school administrators. In the first season, our topic was tech tools to help teachers. In the second it was digital literacy. Teachers are learners, and the heart of that podcast was about sharing best practices, apps, techniques and varying views of the world. Were they competing to create smarter students? No, the teachers on our show were working together to become better teachers.
One more case study. I recently wrapped up the promotion on a novel about anxiety. Red Cup produced an audiobook version and an ebook version. If someone has anxiety disorder, do you think they will read just one book about it? Of course not. They will read everything they can get their hands on. It’s a cooperative model of problem-solving and knowledge sharing, not a competitive model of selling one book and not another. When I understood this, we booked the author on podcasts about anxiety, sometimes hosted by authors who had their own anxiety books. The author wrote articles about her book. They ran in blogs that promoted other books. (We didn’t feel competitive about that.) I accepted guest posts on my site about anxiety studies and authors with their own books; of course, they mentioned my client’s book.
The cooperation model works. There’s enough pie to go around. We can all help each other.