When the Competition Is No One

Businesses often view competition as a zero-sum game. A company thinks that someone out there is a candidate to buy either its widget or a competitor's, so the company does its best to convince that customer that its widget is superior. It will craft its marketing messages accordingly.

But just as often, the competition isn't another business selling a similar product or service. It's no one at all! Out of disinterest, inertia or another reason, the potential customer is not interested in buying anything. The challenge then isn’t to create marketing messages that outflank a competitor’s. It’s to convince potential customers that they have an unmet need to be filled, and that’s a different task entirely.

Suppose a guy named Scott has a dog that sits at home all day chewing its paws, and Thomas owns a dog daycare business. If Thomas were trying to elbow in front of his competition, he might trumpet his facility’s canine spa treatments, water slide and gourmet treats. But none of these luxuries matter to Scott who isn't looking to pamper his pet.

On the other hand, Thomas might choose to appeal to Scott's concern for his dog's well-being. The message could imply how bored or lonely the dog must be at home all day. Thomas could try to tap into pet-owner guilt or paternal-like concern. The job is to get Scott interested in the service to begin with. Once convinced, there's no guarantee that Scott will choose Thomas' business, but it will certainly be a front runner where before it wasn’t even considered.

All businesses face both competition (other companies operating in the same segment) and no competition (consumer apathy). More often than not, surmounting no competition is the harder task to tackle. People can be swayed one way or the other by features, but no one is going to think about buying what they don't feel they need.

Image: Photo by Tor Sven-Berge, CC License 2.0