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Market competition: a game of choice & chance

One of the Christmas presents I got last year was a bunch of old-fashioned board games. When I was growing up, we used to play these games as a family and my sister and I loved Frustration.  It all got very heated and competitive in our household of a Friday evening. It’s been nice to play again and kept my partner and I busy during the latest lockdown weekends.

As businesses we rarely operate in a monopoly.  We might spot a unique need or idea and get an advantage for a while, but if it’s a great idea, or a hitherto unmet need, you can bet others will start following you around the board quite quickly. Market competition exists.

Of course, playing Frustration, there are elements of strategy and elements of chance.  Whether or not your dice roll provides a 1 or a 6 is chance.  The move you choose to make with your 6 – bring out another player or advance ground with the one you have – is a strategy.  It’s a choice you make based on what’s in front of you, and some calculated risks. 

The balance is how much you keep an eye on what the other players are doing, and how much you focus on your own game.

My partner had never played frustration before, and in our first round, I trounced him! He focused entirely on his players only, whereas I got as many players out as quickly as possible, and then focused on taking him out at every chance (did I mention I was competitive with board games?!)  Of course, by round 3, he’d wised up to the balance between advance and protect that’s required to win, and it was no longer possible to take an aggressive competitive strategy.

The challenge with focusing wholly on your market competition, not your own game, is that it gives short-term wins but often gives more power to your competitors.  Why focus everyone’s effort on someone else’s business? It usually also means taking your eye off what the customers need.

Reviewing your competitors once in a while is important, to have the full picture that your customers see and hear.  There are many good books that talk to that – Blue Ocean Strategy and Freakonomics are two of my favourites that always get me thinking about market competition.

But don’t make the mistake of giving away energy to their strategy. You can’t control what they do. 

You can only control your own choices and actions.

In every market, like every game of Frustration, there are elements of choice and elements of strategy.

Focusing on what problem your customers really need solved is rarely a bad one!

Jill Pringle is an independent brand marketing consultant who helps CEOs and marketers in mid-sized service-led businesses build clearer propositions and marketing strategies. She’s also the author of The Brand Symphony book.

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