Be a Leader – Not a Follower

When I was a kid I remember my parents telling me to “be a leader, not a follower,” and I tried to send the same message to my son – after all, if your children are leaders, they’re presumably less likely to be influenced to engage in “bad activities.”

But, you know what? While I’ve been a leader in many different sorts of environments – a manager, a committee chair, a board member, a small business owner, a parent – I’m not always, necessarily, a leader in the true sense of the word. I don’t always venture forth with my own original ideas and actions regardless of what others may be doing.

I’ve come to recognize and accept that we all have follower tendencies, regardless of what leadership roles we may play. In the world of marketing communications I see these follower tendencies reflected most often in the strong desire of businesses to do what their competition is doing. The competition is using radio? We should be on the radio! The competition has an e-letter? We need an e-letter! The competition is cutting prices? We should be cutting prices! And, so on.

Such followership is pure folly in my mind and, most importantly, often a waste of resources and the cause of lost opportunities. Do you recall your parents’ response to a statement like: “Everybody else is…” To this very weak plea my parents would, of course, respond: “If everybody else was jumping off a cliff, would you do that too?” (No, actually, I wouldn’t…)

In my mind, before you can determine whether it is wise to do what the competition is doing, there are three key questions you need the answers to:

1) Who is my target audience(s)?

2) What are my goals?

3) Is what the competition doing (assuming the competition has the same target audience and goals as you do) working?

Questions 1 and 2 must be asked and answered whenever embarking on any communication activity – I tell this to students in my classes, employees I’ve managed, clients I work with and even friends who are engaging in “personal communications” of various kinds. To ultimately be effective, you have to start with a clear idea of who you’re trying to influence to do what – and you need to be very specific.

But, while monitoring what the competition is doing from a marketing standpoint is certainly important, copying them is not. In fact, copying the competition can serve more to strengthen the message of the competition than to further your own unique (let’s hope it’s unique) selling proposition. When I’m marketing something I want it to stand out – I don’t want it to be “just like…” Just like doesn’t work. It doesn’t differentiate. It doesn’t compel my target audience to take a desired action toward my identified goal. It just doesn’t work.

The next time you look at an ad your competition ran or hear about a new product they’re introducing or a new event they’re planning and you think: “I need to do that, too,” think again. What you really need to do is:

1) Identify your target audience(s).

2) Identify your goal(s).

3) Determine how what you have to offer is different from your competition.

4) Determine the most impactful opportunities you have to communicate your message(s) to your target audience(s).

5) Develop a plan that will incorporate multiple means of connecting and compelling your audience to do what you’d like them to do.

Do that, and it won’t be long before the competition is copying you – and that can be a very nice place to be.

Recommended Reading:

The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement

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