Social Media, Trade Secrets, and Why You Shouldn’t Give a Rip about the Competition

by Marcus Sheridan

I received an excellent comment last week in response to the transparency article I wrote regarding the way we run and market our businesses. Melody Giacomino was kind enough to ask a question in the comments section which, in my opinion, is representative of the very unfortunate paradigm a mountain of small and large businesses around the world share when it comes to their ‘issues’ with social media. She said:

Marcus

I am in running the social media campaign for my company and it’s been a shift in thinking to make it happen. Here’s the pushback I get on transparency. While you are being transparent to your customers (a great thing) – you are also being transparent to your competitors (not so good)

What I mean by that is many of us work in crowded markets. Trying to differentiate yourself from your competitors by talking about what sets you apart also gives them all the info they need to sell against you. How do you balance that level of disclosure?

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this concern mentioned to me by business owners over the past couple of years I’d be a rich dude. But let me be frank, the idea never has, nor ever will make any sense to me. Here’s why:

The Shocking Reality of Laziness

As I’ve discussed before here on this blog many times, I own a swimming pool company. Our brand is nationally recognized simply because our content marketing is prolific, and we’ve addressed a mountain of subjects in our field over the past couple of years.

Because I had so much success due to inbound/content marketing with my business, I figured other pool companies should also understand how this type of marketing can absolutely save businesses. (I know, this type of thinking doesn’t make sense to most people, but I’ve always believed in the principle that there’s room on top for everyone) This is why, for 3 straight years, I’ve taught seminars at the National Pool/Spa Show, explaining in detail every ‘technique’ our company has used to reach such incredible results with web marketing.

During this same time, the blog you’re currently reading has become a staple of marketing info for swimming pool companies across North America, many of which are my competitors here in the Virginia/Maryland area.

I mention these things not at all to brag, but rather to show that despite the fact I’ve directly or indirectly taught somewhere between 500-1000 swimming pool companies the power of inbound marketing, guess how many have effectively applied the techniques they’ve learned?

The answer, I’m sad to say, is about 15.

Yep, that’s it. About 1%.

Oh, and please don’t say it has to do with ‘skill’. If someone wants to be great at content marketing, ‘skill’ is easily one of the lowest requirements on the totem pole. But a desire? Yeah, it’s a must.

Sad but true.

Here is the thing– You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. 90% of all businesses, no matter how clear and present the truth is, will choose the ‘easy road’. And ultimately, because of this, most will fail. For the majority of folks, it doesn’t matter if you hit them over the head with a sledgehammer of truth, they still won’t get it. Such is life.

Please Stop With the Self Flattery, You’re Not Colonel Sanders

Colonel Sanders became famous because of a ‘secret’ fried chicken recipe. Sadly, many businesses today think they’re the second coming of ‘The Colonel’.

There are few secrets in this world. The ‘secret’ as to why businesses like Walmart, Starbucks, and McDonalds have been able to dominate their niches have been talked about again and again and again in books, TV documentaries, movies, case studies, reports, etc. Heck, the business model of McDonalds alone has been poked and prodded thousands of times by some of the greatest business and marketing minds ever.

Notwithstanding all of these in depth studies, how many Wal-Marts, Starbucks, and McDonalds are there? That’s right, just one. The blueprints for the company business model are plain as day for the world to see, but have they been copied yet? Has their business suffered because there are literally no secrets left?

I’d answer just the opposite. Their lore is even greater. Amazing, isn’t it?

So unless your business does more in sales each year than Sam Walton’s or Ray Crock’s little creation, please stop thinking your ‘secret sauce’ is anything more than thousand island dressing, will ya? ;-)

The Truth is the Truth is the Truth

Redundant statement, right? Well, here is the thing: I’ve talked again and again how effective content marketing and social media is a simple willingness to answer and address EVERY question a consumer has ever had regarding your product or service. For some reason though, certain bone-headed marketing departments feel that if they display said answers their competitors will somehow ‘find out’ their deepest trade secrets. Say what???

Seriously guys, let’s take a look at this for a second. Say I want to know something about a competitor of mine in the pool industry and their stance on a variety of pool installation topics. Would it be hard for me to find out anything I wanted to? Of course not. A simple phone call and 20 questions later would suffice just fine. Or maybe I could be a ‘secret shopper’ (as is done a million-times over around the globe) and really get all the nitty-gritty. The means by which businesses can extract competitor information go on and on.

When it comes down to it, if someone (a competitor) wants to know your stance or company doctrine on pretty much anything, they can find out.

Who’s Your Master?

I’ve seen companies whose marketing culture was run by their fear of what the ‘competitors’ might find out about them.

I’ve also seen companies who didn’t give a rip about what their competitors thought/gained, as their only goal was to provide excellence and value for their consumer base.

And guess which one of these two business approaches ended up on top every time?

The bottom line is this folks: Stop caring about the competition and start caring about your customers. Forget about this silly concept of trade secrets and know that your simple willingness to raise the bar in your industry and become a true thought leader in your field will lead to incredible business success, prosperity, and happiness for years to come.

 

Your Turn:

It goes without saying I’ve been pretty opinionated with today’s article, and I’d love to hear your take on this matter as well. Whether you agree with my thoughts or think I’m nuts, your opinion matters.  Also, has your fear of the competition(or your company’s fear of competition) ever affected your social media and content marketing approach? If so,  what were your reasons then and what is your strategy today? Jump on in folks, your questions, comments, and thoughts are always more than welcome. Have a great week everyone!! :-)

 

One last thing*** I’ll be giving another rockin webinar over at Spin Sucks this week. It’s about how content, when used properly, can drastically increase sales profits and closing rates. I’m seriously stoked about the innovative components of this class (some of which I can almost guarantee you’ve never heard of), so I hope you will give it a look.

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