I’ve worked with a lot of clients over my 20+ career. More often than not, when we’re deep in the throes of brand work, designing a website, writing a unique selling point, or even developing core values (which should be unique and deeply personal), the client will often look to their competitors for ideas or inspiration – and sometimes even guidance.
To answer that, I’d like to provide this handy little list of things to think about before you start looking at what everyone is doing:
1. Repetition doesn’t mean truth.
Also known as the “illusion of truth effect,” hearing something repeated over and over has a strong chance of permanence in our mind regardless of whether or not it’s true. Donald Trump is one of many politicians that uses this tactic to his advantage and is quoted as saying, “As long as you keep repeating something, it doesn’t matter what you say.” For example, I’ve seen countless ecommerce websites putting the hamburger menu on the top left side of their mobile site. Why would you put something as important as navigation so far out of reach for the majority of mobile users? Just because we’ve seen it over and over again doesn’t make it true. Which leads me to the next point…
2. Have they done their research?
It’s shocking how little goes into actual UX research, analyzing the results, and then taking action to make a change to improve an experience. And you know what? So many times people just don’t investigate what’s best. They just do what’s been done whether it’s good or not. Do your own research and don’t rely on others to do it for you (because they probably aren’t doing it to begin with).
3. What do my customers want?
Instead of asking your competitors for direction, ask your customers what they want to see and why they want to see it. What’s most important to them? What would help them the most? How can my product or service improve their lives? You may be able to find something your competitors haven’t found by simply talking to the people that you should care about the most.
4. Innovate, don’t emulate.
I just made up this stupid little rhyme, but it’s true. Trying to be the best in your industry is a losing game. Simon Sinek talks about this too. Let you and your business set the bar. Don’t let your competitors set the bar, because they may be setting it too low.
5. To thine own self be true.
You probably recognize this quote from the Alicia Silverstone breakout vehicle Clueless. How can you tell anyone about who you are without knowing it in the first place? And don’t rely on your competitors to tell your story because they are going to get it wrong. You have a story and you need to own it and tell it. Don’t accidentally tell someone else’s story.
Don’t listen to them.
Listen to yourself and your team and your customers, then make decisions based on that. Your competitors aren’t you and they never will be.