Being aware of what your competition is doing is obviously useful, but basing too much of your strategy on them is, in my opinion, a mistake.

There’s a lot of software out there that helps businesses see what their competitors are up to — especially in SEO. The selling point for each is that it supposedly allows the business to stay one step ahead of that competition. Except it’s sold in a way where it becomes the focal point, and being reactive to competitors grabs way too big a slice of the overall strategy than it deserves.

If you’re proud of the work you do, and if you believe there’s a unique selling point to your business (which you should), who cares what they’re doing?

Tell your story and build loyal customers

If a competitor has a certain program that’s been killing it and detracting from your business, sure, find a way to offer something better. But observing their strategy just so that you can copy it is useless. It seems obvious to say, but I think it’s one of those things that also sounds logical when pitched the other direction.

But here’s why staring through the binoculars at them is a waste of your time:

  1. Who says they know what they’re doing anyway? Sometimes aimlessness looks calculated, but it may not be. Sometimes they succeed by accident, and your mimicking them only pulls you into mediocrity.
  2. They might be targeting different customers than you or doing something with short-term success that will hurt them long-term.
  3. Spending your time watching them takes away from refining your own products and services.

Take my industry of marketing and writing, for instance. I know there are cleverer and further developed folks out there than me. But I also know that there are a ton of “me too” people out there that succeed at a marginal level by wordlessly following the herd.

They outnumber your serious competition significantly, and they’ll always be one step behind. No reason to pay attention to them.

There are a lot of bad mechanics out there, bad plumbers, bad salesmen, etc. If you fancy yourself a good one, you’re probably ahead of at least half your competition through basic probability. And if that’s true, why should you care so much what they’re up to?

Instead, pay attention to the leaders of your industry — the companies you’d like yours to be. A lot of the time those leaders aren’t actually your competition because they’re in a different playing field than you.

Most small-business owners pretend that they are merely small big businesses. They’re not. They’re micro. They’re scalpels, not machetes; they are focused, not diffuse. So, instead of caring about everyone and taking what you can get, embrace a subset, find the weird, and love them more than anyone else ever could. – Seth Godin

Sure there are counter-examples. Burger King is known for letting McDonald’s spend millions of dollars on market research and copying them. A lot of what they do is purely reactive to their #1 competitor. But you’re not Burger King and there were a lot of other copycats that didn’t make it.

Stephen King illustrates the point I’m making well when talking about writing in his book “On Writing”. He says essentially that it’s fine to have a favorite author and incorporate aspects of their style into your own, but don’t start writing a book saying “I’m going to write a John Grisham novel in my own words.”

You’ll only come off as a watered down version of him. Write a similar style story, but make it yours.