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Why your competition isn't who you think

A colleague said something interesting to me the other day. She told me that a prospective client in the charity sector claimed to not have any competition.
Julie Neilson

Julie Neilson

3 minute read
May 23, 2024
A colleague said something interesting to me the other day. She told me that a prospective client in the charity sector claimed to not have any competition.
Why your competition isn't who you think Image

Well, it turned out this was true (sort of). There weren’t any other charities in the UK who were supporting this particular cause. Hurrah! That’s at least half our job done then, right?

Well, no. Because it was obviously also not true.

Reducing your competition to just direct competitors who offer a similar service to you means missing out on the whole picture…


A different way of thinking

A competitor audit is part of every good agency’s process. We look at the market, we work out relative strengths and weaknesses, we map out relative brand positions and we define the white space where we can play.

But people don’t really work this way. Yes, if they’re thinking about changing their car, they may well be conducting a rational comparison between two or three different brands and models. But the ads for each of these cars aren’t competing with each other. They’re competing with how else the audience may choose to spend their money – whether the buy the car at all or use the money for something else. They’re also competing with every other demand on our target’s attention at the time the ad’s being viewed: every other ad on the page, every alert from their phone, every piece of music in the background, every knock at the door...

Real life, in fact. Our ads have to compete with real life.


The art of being disruptive

So, shouldn’t we be re-framing our understanding of competition? To acknowledge that the competitive set when we’re generating awareness isn’t the same as the competitor set at the point of consideration or conversion?

In the first instance we have to stand out from all the other noise, be disruptive, be entertaining, be provocative. To earn the attention that opens the door for our audience to want to take notice of what we have to say next.

And in this context a competitor audit of car brands could lead us to reductive thinking. To occupying a white space that’s nearly the same as everyone else’s white space.


Whole Picture Thinking™

At Eleven we’ve recently been putting a lot of thought, effort and time into revolutionising our approach to strategy, and part of that is shifting the way we think about competition. From the narrow perspective of the category to the wider perspective of the alternative ways our target has of spending their money, their time or their attention at different points in their journey.

This strategic approach is all part of our Whole Picture Thinking model, which enables us to make sure we’re aligned on the strongest insight-led opportunities to inform our strategy development and creative execution.

The result of this way of thinking? Real world impact that drives meaningful change.


Strategies are all too often built on assumptions about audiences. But by taking the time to determine your organisation’s competition beyond their direct competitors – any other demand on their time and attention – you’ll build a strategy that ultimately leads to much better, more effective work.

If you found this blog interesting, check out this article on how to make the most of your marketing budget.