Rethink Your Competition
Let's talk about what your competition is not and what it is. Your competition is never another company. It is never somebody who sells a similar product to you. Write this one down, your competition is any obstacle on your customer's journey. Any obstacle on your customer's journey. So I'm gonna take a moment and tell you a story now about my time at MyFitnessPal. I don't even like doughnuts and I want that one. So when I was at MyFitnessPal I would get asked in interviews all the time who our competition was. MyFitnessPal is, it's essentially a calorie tracking app, that's the simplest way of saying it. It's health fitness platform, or whatever, but that's what it is. So people would often, especially back then think, I would answer Weight Watchers or some other company that helps people lose weight by tracking what they eat. And I would usually say, biology. Our competition, our biggest competition is actually biology, it's the fact that fat and sugar are delicious, they taste reall...
y good. It's the fact that you have to eat, so eating is not even a behavior you can stop cold turkey, 'cause you gotta eat something, right? So it's hard for people to make that change. Maybe dopamine would be one of our competition. I definitely would say our competition is the trillion dollar marketing machine behind junk foods. I often would point out to whatever journalist I was talking with that when you go to the home improvement store and you go into the checkout there somehow are like, like why are there Snickers bars here? Now, they're delicious, but they do not help with home improvement projects. So why are they here? People can't get away from it, they can't get away from it, and that's really, that was our competition. We had decided, well, I'll tell you what we talked about as our competition statement in a minute. But many companies are so fixated on the other companies that sell what they sell, that becomes the focus internally. You see it when you see me-too products and it's relatively like easy enough to stop doing that in your company. You can just like stop setting goals in reference to other companies, you can stop constantly talking about what your competitors are doing, you can watch how much meeting time you allow, if you run a team at any level do not let a lot of your meeting time be focused on what your competitors are doing. You can also just discourage yourself from doing, it's important for someone in the company to know what the competition is doing, it's not important for everyone to know. And it does, when every team is very focused on what the competitors are doing it's almost inevitable that you'll start thinking about, well, I guess if they are doing that we have to do this marketing thing that's just like a little bit kind of different than that. I actually got an email the other day from a cycling company and I was fascinated by it from a marketing perspective, because the whole email was essentially like we're offering this, because it's different than that company's, and we're offering this because it's different than that. And I'm like, okay, that's good for you I guess, but you haven't actually told me why this is something I care about. Like nowhere in the, and it's a big brand, nowhere in the email did it say we're offering you this and here's why you'll love it. And transformational consumers are amazing if they love what you're offering, but they also have really finely tuned B-S detectors. And they know if you care about competing with another company more than you care about solving their problem. And it's not even like an antagonist thing. They just only are really, that's their filter or lens is are you helping my situation? Are you removing resistance? Are you triggering progress? Me-too competition fights are generally never that, so they just don't see them. And it's how you can spend a ton of time and energy on stuff that customers really don't even care about. So when we talking about rethinking your competition there are a couple of just insights I wanna give and then I wanna do a little exercise with you. So the first thing you have to do is just focus on your people, focus on your customers, focus on the problem that they have. Like I said, at MyFitnessPal we actually kind of came up with this way we would talk about this internally, which was we sort of, we were upset at the status quo of the world. We felt like it's really a lot easier to live an unhealthy life than it is to live a healthy life in this world. So we decided as a team that our competition was anything that got in the way of people eating healthy. And that was all fair game for conversation. And we actually adopted that as part of our mission statement and vision statement package that our whole goal as a company was to reverse that status quo and make the world easier to live a healthier life in than an unhealthy. And I'll tell you, it opens up some cool opportunities for innovation. It at least opens up some amazing conversations for innovation that you wouldn't have had otherwise. For example, we got a call once from a fast food, a notorious fast food brand who wanted to talk with our content team, which I ran, and I had a nutritiousness on the team and she was like, we are not talking to them. And I was like, oh, but we have to, because look at how many people in the world eat there. If there is even an iota of a chance that we could have a conversation with them that results in them putting even one healthy item on the menu to reach our 100 million customers we gotta talk to them, because that would make the world easier for them to live a healthy life in. So it creates this really elegant decision rule for even for what conversational and thought and innovation paths you go down. Now I think that conversation should help you see how mission statement and vision statement, like your goal as the company, is often very tightly intertwined if you do this right with the way you think about your competition. So REI, as an example, REI the co-op, is all about like helping people enjoy the great outdoors. That is what they care about and everything they do is like aligned to that. So their competition statement might actually be anything that stops people from enjoying the great outdoors is our competition. We will seek to eliminate that or fight that. So now I actually do want a couple of you to share with me like what your business is or product is and think about, let's rethink the competition through this lens. Does anyone have a company they wanna do this with or a product they wanna do this with?
Yes, so I am the founder of an app that's designed to connect people on one-on-one authentic conversations with each other. So what I currently see as the biggest competition is the temptation to numb. The fact that when thinks get hard and we want to talk to someone about that, so that we can relate with each other that yeah, the biggest barrier is that it's just easier to pull out our phone or to just drink more or whatever, eat more, yeah, fill in the blank with your numbing thing of choice, we all have them.
So I would see the numbing as almost, even like a very specific subcategory of competition, 'cause the competition might be anything that stops people from connecting with each other, but that's a very specific one that you've drilled down to, which is the next step in the process. You can't take on everyone or every human issue that gets in the way of someone have changed. But you can maybe take on numbness. You're trying to be relatively general by design, because what we're trying to do is actually, let's go to the next step and I'll tell you what we're trying to do. Once you do that then you can focus on that problem and innovate from first principles. Now I don't often quote Elon Musk, but when I do I use this quote, because I love it. He says, the normal way we conduct our lives is to reason by analogy. And with analogy we're doing whatever we're doing, because somebody else did it that way. Or somebody told us we're supposed to do it that way. Or it's like what other people are doing, so that just must be the way we do. But with first principles you actually boil every problem down to the most fundamental truth and then you reason up from there. This quote is worth reading the full version of, which this is not, because he literally walks you through an example of how he did this with respect to batteries. Where he's like, well everybody said it's really hard to store energy, so nobody was trying to do it. And then I like just went back to basics, what does it take? This, this, and this. How much does that cost? This, this, and this. Okay, it's totally doable, just no one's doing it. So the example I like give of first principles, we're gonna actually do a few of these now. The example I like to give for MyFitnessPal, the old school example, is that Mike and Al, the guys who started the company, they just really wanted to help people be able to log their food easily, 'cause we know that works for all kinds of food behavior change. And one of the early frictions they saw was people eating packaged foods being an obstacle to them being able to log it. It's a lot to try to log a packaged food item. So they made a barcode scanner and they were like the first people who put a barcode scanner on a food tracking app and that was actually like a huge game-changing thing. And it wasn't like they invented barcode scanning or anything, they just really were thoughtful about at a very, from first principles, if we know we wanna help people live healthier lives and we know logging is a way we help them do that, what are all of the obstacles in their way for logging? Packaged food, what about a barcode scanner? So you can do that with product, like they did. Now we talked about REI a second ago. If their competition is anything that keeps people from enjoying the great outdoors you can imagine there are a broad set of things that they could do to counter that and have. So they know that knowledge barriers and intimidation are a big reason people don't do outdoors activities that would like to. So they have all these courses and guided tours and free courses and outings from the stores. They know that, well, in one particular season, in the Christmas season, they knew or had an insight that the people attending like the national and state parks goes way down in the holidays. And some of it is the weather, but some of it is actually like people are shopping, people are out trying to get their Black Friday deals. So from first principles and seeing that that shopping culture on Black Friday was stopping people from going to the parks, they actually came up with a campaign called Opt Outside. And have you guys seen this campaign? They literally closed the stores, all of them, on the most lucrative shopping day of the year, they've done it three days in a row. Not only that, they then like partnered with some and inspired others to actually pay the entrance fees for anyone who wants to go to hundreds of parks all over the country on Black Friday. So they're like, first of all, you can't come shop here, we're not gonna let that stop you from going outside, secondly, we want our employees to be able to go outside on that day, so they're not gonna be at work, and third, we're actually gonna help you get into the park without having to pay for it. Because they are so focused on their competition being any obstacle between you and enjoying the great outdoors. And they've had all kinds of like awards and like acclaim for this. Which is funny, because it's counterintuitive. There's like an argument that they're giving up a lot of money potentially. This reminds me of a story that I don't have a slide for, but I tell it in the book, about CVS a couple of years ago. CVS had decided that they were really wanting to be a health company, not just a drugstore, and they actually made a decision to stop carrying nicotine products in all CVS stores. And investors didn't love it, because it was like billions of dollars of income they decided they were going to forego. But they, literally all of the executives were making statements like how can we actually be a health company and require someone who's coming here to get a stop smoking patch to see the cigarettes at the counter? Like that just doesn't, you can't be both of those things. And so ultimately they have I think made more than the loss of money up in terms of relationships that they have with like insurers and other things that they didn't have before. But sometimes it's counterintuitive, the innovation that comes from first principles. And maybe that you stop selling something or decide to forego some income. Patagonia, and this example I just came up with the other day, 'cause I was in the grocery store. And Patagonia, I love Patagonia, they are particularly politically active too, which suits my values. But Patagonia's mission statement is largely about creating kind of utilitarian products and also doing things that fix the environment. Which is a little weird as a business model. Like they've actually just invested a bunch profits into just buying land, so people can't do things on it that they feel like are harmful to the environment. Not necessarily profit making things. But I'm in the grocery store the other day and I see this whole rack of like Patagonia brand food, so now I have some salmon at home. So Patagonia, and when I saw it, at first glance I thought it was gonna be kind of like the REI theory. Like people need these provisions to be outside, we're gonna make healthy foods for them to take outside. And it's true that all the foods are actually things that you can cook at home or make in the wild, they're all made to be edible with, they're like meals ready to eat essentially. But when I read their statement about why they did this they just said they're basically tired of waiting for somebody else to fix the food chain. And so they're gonna try to fix it themselves by making a sustainable food chain and food products that people can buy. So it's not even really about provisioning for outdoors. So if their competition is anything that messes up the environment they just decided they would just try to fix it, which is admirable. Here's an example from Trulia. So at Trulia we really, we focused a lot on helping people make the wisest decision they could make about the biggest purchase they would ever make, which is their home. And so anything that was, any misinformation or even decision traps, like cognitive biases and decisions traps, we saw as our competition there. And what's fun about the Trulia example for me is I know it really well, 'cause I was in it and I created this program, but also it's a good example of how if your whole bailiwick is content and marketing and you don't have the ability to shut a store down or create a whole product line, you can still tackle obstacles of your customers by sharing knowledge in creative ways and in problem solving ways. So we have the insight that every person who ever buys a home ever, every person who every shops for a home ever, at some point deals with the question of whether they should be renting or buying a home. So we actually just decided to publish a rent versus buy index where we did the math on averages about whether it was less expensive to rent or buy in a bunch of cities around the country. We picked a list of 50 cities, published the index, and then we would also every year publish a different angle, every quarter while I was there, I think it's less frequently than that now. But the program's been running for eight years, I started doing this program in 2010 I think and it's still running. It is a massive driver of like PR and marketing and it really legitimized and gave credibility to the brand before we have economists and people on staff. And we were thoughtful about it, we would use every quarter as an opportunity to, like this wasn't ever meant to be the be all, end all decision on whether you should rent or buy a place. It was like on average, taking into account these factors, it's more expensive to rent in this place or it's more expensive to buy. But every time we published that it gave us the opportunity to help people understand all of the decision factors they should be considering. Including their own income, including their own tax situation, including their own family and sort of vision for the life that they wanted to live. And so we, for years, published a rent versus, and they still publish it, a rent versus buy index. In part to counter the competition of bad decision making essentially, bad homeownership decision making. And the last example I'll bring in is Netflix. I think a lot has been written about Netflix through the lens of their extreme, they were very clear that their business was a business of keeping people entertained at a time when their competitors were not as clear that that was the business. So it allowed them to pivot into streaming seamlessly in a way that their competitors didn't. If you think about the flip side of that, if your business is entertainment then your competition is essentially anything that gets in the way of people, your people being entertained. And I can't show, I don't have a second slide for this, but if I did it would be their slate of original programming. Netflix has decided that one of the obstacles is actually a shortage of good stuff to watch. And I think they might have done something to address that, don't you guys think they might have done something to address that? They've literally, I was talking with someone over there the other day and they said, we've become the largest essentially film studio in the world, because the that things we see. We don't see that they're doing that volume of programming in many countries around the world. Just to solve for what they saw as their competition. So we talked about your, I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name, the faculty app, the connection app.
Michelle. We talked about your competition being anything that would make someone not want to connect, including this very specific competitive issue of like the tendency to numb out. What, from first principles, what do you think you might be able to do about that? Maybe you're already doing something, but we're happy to give you ideas. (laughs) Um, do you have thoughts at all?
So to be perfectly honest, that was not in the forefront of my mind, thinking about what the first principles were, so I feel a little flatfooted in answering the question, so I'd love input from other people.
Yeah, I mean, so let's talk through it. Let's talk about your thoughts about numbing out. So what people are doing is instead of connecting with other people one-on-one they are eating, or drinking, or shopping maybe. So there is, this is kind of starts take it into content strategy a little bit. But there's a way in which you could begin to do your customer research kind of around that behavior, you could do some online listening, see how people reference that in their own words. Do they talk about numbing out? Or do they just talk about a shopping addiction? Do you know what I mean, like that. And I could see you doing some sort of content campaign or something that's targeting like that problem and maybe placed in a place where those people would be. On an e-commerce site say, or on a site that has a lot of shopping roundup type articles, like here are the 10 things you gotta buy for this. There are a lot of sites that just do those kinds of articles. And those kind of places, that's not a bad place to post or drive people to content that's specifically around, like how to overcome your shopping addiction or like what do they do instead of being on Amazon or on a shopping site? A big shopping site that I use all the time too, so like no shade. This is random, I'm just coming up with stuff.
Yeah, no, I think to clarify that when hard things come up and there's no one to talk to about those things that it's like in that moment of I could reach out to someone, but I'm not sure if I know anyone that can relate to this thing, or I could reach out to family or friends, but I am afraid of judgment around this particular topic. So it's like that decision calculus of one, who do I reach out to? Two, do I have someone to reach out to? And really it's just easier if I just fill the space with something else, so I don't have to think about it, because it's harder to be vulnerable and say, I really need someone to talk to, 'cause this thing is hard.
I mean, I don't spend a lot of time just doing straight ad campaigns, but I can imagine a world in which you were doing like app ads on sites where people are searching around those problems. You know what I mean? So instead of you being like I'm marketing this antidepressant on Psychology Today, you could actually market an app where you could connect with someone and have a real conversation with them. You know what I mean? Some of what you're talking about is just the issue of micro moments. Like knowing when is the moment that someone's looking for this question to be answered and inserting yourself a little bit as that answer. Now if you had a lot of resources on the content side that's the kind of insight that you can build a full-blown program around where you can actually create content that addresses those issues and get people to it from where they're searching for those things. Including like this does not have to be a million dollar type thing, many of the bigger sites in that space of like mental and emotional wellbeing take contributed content, they'll take a post or five or if they're very well written and have good actionable, action items. So you might write a post that doesn't seem like it's about how to go make friends on your app, but is in fact about what to do, is about a topic that your people are probably searching for in those moments. Like, I don't know, what to do when you feel, what to do when you feel alone. What to do and what not to do when you feel alone. 10 things to do when you feel alone. And have them be really good. You know what I mean? And maybe one of them is just connect with someone safe, connect with a safe person. And then maybe the only even mention of your app is in the shirttail where they say who the author is, but big content programs have been built on that strategy, big, effective content programs have been built on that strategy. For them to work well you do have to this work though, you do have to really understand what people are wanting and needing and be really responsive to it in a way that like may not be highly, highly self-promotional, but does get people back to you at some point. These are the places that you can find me and the things that you can find me doing and do along with me. So on soultour.com, if you'd like to get the Transformation Tuesday newsletter. At taranicholle.com you can take the 30 day writing challenge for conscious leaders. And at Tranformation Consumer Insights you can reach out to me and talk about joining a marketing mentorship group or a group coaching experience. Or obviously, get some customer training, not be in content strategy. That's it for me now.