One word that is very critical and often misconstrued in business circles is “competition”. “Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English” (2005 edition) defines “competition” as “a situation in which people or organisations try to be more successful than other people or organisations”. Probably as a result of rigid and negative interpretation of this definition by people and organisations, competition is taken to mean enmity. This negative perception is especially reinforced by the traditional language of “business is war”, articulated by the likes of Gore Vidal who promoted the gospel of “it is not enough to succeed; others must fail”.
This perception of competition is unfair. By way of academic hypothesis, it is like when a student is not satisfied with just outperforming other students in his or her class but also planning to ensure that they all fail by probably hiding or burning their books. Of what benefit will this be to him or her because he or she cannot be the only student in the class? It will just be an exercise in futility. I think the best thing such a student should have done is to get good textbooks for him- or herself and read voraciously so as to be the best student in the class while other students should be left alone. This is a positive path to enviable academic ambition.
Out of about one thousand books on different areas of business management I have read and reviewed in my Book Review column that has run for about ten years now in the Nigerian mass media, I find some very conceptually memorable and interesting. This is due to the quality of their contents and relevance to the (business) society. “Co-opetition”, a book with a blended title realised from the structural fusion of the words “cooperation” and “competition” is definitely one of such books. I was torn between surprise and excitement the day I read it because it was (and is) a textual endorsement of my perception of what competition should really be.
Professors Barry Nalebuff and Adam Brandenburger, co-authors of this text affirm that the way people talk about business today, you cannot successfully apply the traditional language of “business is war” and “It is not enough to succeed; others must fail”. Why? The simple reason is that you have to listen to customers, work with suppliers, create teams, establish strategic partnerships, etc. Also, there are few victors when business is conducted as a war. The typical result of a price war is surrendered profits all around the industry. Nalebuff and Brandenburger disclose that the United States’ aviation industry lost more money in the price wars of 1990 to 1993 than it had previously made in all the time since Orville and Wilbur Wright. This is shocking and disheartening, isn’t it?
Neglect of focus on customers
Organisations that subscribe to the language of “business is war” dissipate productive energy on de-marketing of competitors end up destroying their industry and causing avoidable job losses. They spend the larger part of their precious time on how to drag competitors down instead of concentrating on how to inject innovation into their products or services so as to attract more customers and professionally increase their market share. Knowing what customers want is very easy to determine for organisations that concentrate on how to satisfy customers instead of targeting unrealistic monopoly by de-marketing competitors. We all know that to achieve success in business, you need to keep adding value to your product or service.
Anti-competition and advertising
In advertising, for instance, the use of comparatives (“better”, “brighter”, “faster”, etc.) and superlatives (“best”, “brightest”, “fastest”, etc.) is normally marked by linguistic diplomacy. That is, they are used without ignorantly including the correlative conjunction “than” and/or mentioning the names of the other competing brands. By keeping to the rule of advertising, we have for example, “EzineArticles.com is a better website” or “EzineArticles.com is the best website”. We can say this comparison is silent and linguistically diplomatic. Mentioning other websites may lead to a legal battle for claim of damages. But those who rigidly subscribe to the traditional language of “business is war” often ignorantly use their resources to do indirect advertising for competitors all in the name of de-marketing. This may be in the form of ignorantly mentioning other competing brands in their adverts, thus alerting customers that might not even be aware that such competing brands existed before, e.g. “Our products are better than those of….” I am giving this example from experience and I will explain.
When I was still Acting Editor of Financial Standard newspaper in Lagos, Nigeria, owners of a professional accounting training centre came to place an advertisement in our paper. The president of the centre always told me to help them critique their advertisements. On this particular day, the president came with other people from the centre to place an emergency advertisement. On reading through, I saw that they mentioned a competitor in their advertisement and advised against it especially that it was a service advertisement not a rejoinder. Before I could finish talking, one of the men that came with the president of the centre said to me, “Prof, I know you are extremely brilliant and well-versed in language and communication, as well as other areas of knowledge, including business management because you run a book review column. But let the advert go like that.”
I had no option but to keep quiet. After all, it was their money that was at work. The second day, the advertisement came out and some of their friends who saw it called them and queried their rationale behind mentioning a competitor’s name in their advertisement. The president was forced to call and tell me about their friends’ reactions to the advertisement.
Kirti Desai, author of 101 Great Ideas to Boost Your Business, a book I reviewed recently advises against direct confrontation with competitors. Desai educates that you need to look for other mature and strategic ways of attracting the custom (“patronage” in American English) of your customers. In his words, “If your competitors are heavy on advertising then go for promotional schemes like free gifts, discounts, lucky coupons, etc. Study your competitors minutely, including their products, business strategy, distribution network, price structure, promotional offers, future planning, etc. Now compare it, segment-to-segment with yours. See where you stand.”
In having a strategy, basically, there is a natural progression of perspectives from rigid competition through a combination of competition and co-operation to a very co-operative point of view. When there are many companies operating in an industry, with all having competitive advantages, definitely opportunities to exploit mutual benefits become a necessary strategy issue.
As Bruce Greenwald and Judd Kahn, co-authors of the text entitled “Competition Simplified”, another masterpiece I have read on competition say regarding the above scenario, elements of competition are still present, certainly, but now there is the possibility of doing better by taking the actions and reactions of others into account. “We explored these situations through the lens of traditional game theory, examining effective methods of balancing competition with the competitive situations most likely to occur…. We turn now to another perspective, looking at these inherently complicated situations purely as opportunities for cooperation,” Greenwald and Kahn expatiate.
Note that those who in the same business with you are not enemies. Rather, they are mere rivals. Do you know that through cooperating and competing with them, you may be able to cut unnecessary costs? Competition or business is no longer a war. Therefore, speak the modern language of competition today. Cooperate and compete. It is already happening across the world. Align with positive business wind of change and achieve tremendous profitability and peace of mind in your business. Take action NOW, please.
GOKE ILESANMI, Editor-in-Chief/CEO of https://www.gokeilesanmi.com.ng and Managing Consultant/CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is a Certified Public Speaker/Emcee, (Business) Communication Specialist, Motivational Speaker, Career Management Coach, Renowned Book Reviewer, Corporate Leadership Expert and Editorial Consultant.
For business discussion, reach him on +234(0)8056030424; +234(0)8187499425
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