Gary Rogers, former Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream CEO and Levi Strauss Chairman, used to encourage his teams not to obsess too much on “worm races.”
“Worm races” were Gary’s nickname for line charts that showed competitive market share over time. He observed that marketers often spent too much time focused on what their competitors were doing and not enough on their customers. Staring at the ups and downs of these share lines could caused them to miss the bigger picture.
I once worked at Dreyer’s when Gary was CEO and his words always struck a chord. Too often the way we often thought about our brands came from arbitrary Nielsen categories instead of actual consumer insights. I was a Häagen-Dazs brand manager and we narrowly thought of our category as “super-premium ice cream” and other “super-premium ice cream brands” as our competition. However, most consumers don’t think about ice cream that way. They’re choosing a dessert out of a whole range of options.
Competitor myopia can lead to copycat products and a sea of sameness in the market. It’s ultimately a race to the bottom.
I like how Tara-Nicholle Nelson suggested in an HBR article that we re-define our competitors as our customer’s obstacles:
“The question is not who your competition is but what it is. And the answer is this: Your competition is any and every obstacle your customers encounter along their journeys to solving the human, high-level problems your company exists to solve.”
Or, as Jeff Bezos famously said:
“If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we’ll turn out alright.”
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: