Stop Worrying About the Other Guy
Way back when, I was walking down Chicago’s super-hip stretch of Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park, and my friend pointed out some recent changes that were happening to the menu at Red Mango.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Red Mango is a national frozen yogurt chain that emerged in the US during the late aughts and was largely responsible for the probiotic frozen yogurt craze that followed.
They expanded fast, entered a dozen markets around the country and rode the wave of the craze that they were responsible for creating, to great success.
Following every craze, however, is usually a crash.
In this case, the frozen yogurt trend stalled and the fresh-pressed juice craze took hold.
And Red Mango, it seemed, got worried.
So they started selling smoothies.
Then they started selling fresh-pressed juice.
Next they added Hale & Hearty Soups to the menu. (a specialty soup chain in NY)
In other words, they responded by expanding their menu to include things “the other guys” sell, in hopes of attracting more customers.
I assume they thought that diversifying their menu would help them continue to grow in the face of a waning trend. They looked around and saw what related companies were succeeding with — smoothies, juice and soup — and they rushed to copy the competition in an attempt to stay competitive.
But was it competitive? Or was it confusing?
I think Red Mango muddled their message. Their brand used to be synonymous with great yogurt. The Place for frozen yogurt, in fact.
But after all of those additions, they seemed like they became a place for…. a lot of stuff, with no particular focus.
By expanding their menu and copying competitors, they compromised their reputation as the top-of-mind yogurt choice. And they opened the door for their competition — who they were so worried about — to monopolize the message.
I’m a big believer in the idea that there’s room for everyone as long as what you’re selling is different (and better!) than what everyone else is doing.
Instead of copying the competition, Red Mango should have doubled down on their strengths.
They could have chosen to make better yogurt — perhaps with dairy from a special farm with notable farming practices. Or they could have made their probiotic blend proprietary and created a marketing campaign that shared the special and unique benefits of said blend to the customer.
Looking over your shoulder is never good for business.
Your business has its own special set of strengths, assets and ethos that make it what it is. They’re what make your business unique and compelling to the people that it currently serves.
To build (and grow!) a thriving business requires both knowing your strengths and keeping your focus on them.
When you encounter market challenges, it’s easy to get scared. It’s easy to look at the other guys and feel like you have to change what you’re doing in order to keep up. Don’t do it.
You can’t move forward if you’re spending your time looking behind you.
Every core change you make to your business — every move you make in reaction to what the competition is doing, rather than from a place of expanding who you are — comes at a cost.
Those reactive changes begin to dilute the personality and essence of your business, and those are the things that are drawing customers or clients to you in the first place!
So that’s the last thing you should be doing when you’re thinking you need to do something to trigger growth in a challenging climate.
Frankly, you have better options.
Maybe your business can grow by doubling down on your strengths. Or continuing to do what you do best, while getting better at getting the message out. Maybe your business can grow by upping your game and taking your strengths to the next level.
Notice how none of these options have anything to do with looking over your shoulder, second-guessing yourself and trying to keep up with the other guy.
Playing to your strengths works wonders.
I keep thinking of the two VERY popular taco places that reside within 3 blocks of each other on that same stretch of Milwaukee Avenue.
They both have taco-focused menus. And before the pandemic, they were both packed every night.
Why? Because each place has its own unique point of view — with a particular atmosphere and their own creative take on menu items. They’re not trying to be like each other at all. They each chose what they wanted to be, and they’ve remained focused on it.
Customers can see that, and appreciate each restaurant for what it uniquely is. They choose to eat at one place, or the other, or perhaps both on different nights within the space of a week.
Neither taco place has to keep up with the other guy. They thrive just by being themselves.
To grow and thrive, keep striving to be the best version of you.
Staying ahead of the curve means never looking over your shoulder.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t observe what other businesses are doing — you should certainly pay attention.
You never know when you’ll be inspired… or see a good idea that will fit with your business and its strengths, but won’t sacrifice the core personality and spirit of what you’ve built so far. You may also see a few cautionary tales that can help guide you moving forward.
So in the end, I say… Stay dedicated to your craft. Do it better than anyone else. Don’t worry about what your competition is doing. And keep striving to be the best version of you.
(P.S. Several years ago Red Mango went back to focusing on frozen yogurt.)
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