I listened / watched / tweeted / chatted / multitasked my way through yesterday’s American Marketing Association “Social Media: Cracking the Code for Business Marketers” virtual event.

There was so much great content throughout (which is available on demand until May 2010), but one comment near the end hit home relative to recent conversations. James Clark of Room 214 wrapped up his social media ROI presentation with a slide referencing great work by his company’s “competitors.” As he put it, the subject area is moving and changing so quickly, you have to acknowledge and learn from competitors.

What a refreshing perspective.

In the transportation/ logistics industry, where I spent years, it’s nearly impossible for a company to possess every capability a customer might need in processing, storing, and moving their goods. With increased supply chain complexity, it’s become typical for your most vicious competitor in one business segment to be a valued customer, supplier, or strategic partner in another. If a transportation company can’t figure out how to work and compete at the same time with someone else, they’re destined to be relevant only for customers with very basic needs.

So it was a surprise recently, shortly after going full time with Brainzooming, when two people specifically said, “I think you’re a competitor of mine.”

How remarkable.

With so many companies needing to think more strategically and innovatively and then be able to implement their ideas, my concern isn’t competitors but simply sharing the value of what we can do to help potential clients be more strategic, innovative, and successful.

Can others address these potential clients’ same needs? Certainly. And as I regularly interact with other strategy and innovation providers in person or via social media channels, I hope to learn from them as well. At the same time, nearly everything I’ve produced on strategy, creativity, and innovation approaches is readily available here at no cost for others to use and learn from too.

So what’s the basis of competition for my two “competitors”?

How about fear? Or maybe, as someone said the other day when discussing this, it’s about being a dinosaur clinging to a business model destined to only fulfill very basic needs.

Sure, it’s early in the history I hope Brainzooming will have. We’ll definitely lose out on some opportunities where we have the best answer to help someone. But if we don’t think we really can best deliver on a potential client’s needs, we’ll reach out to folks like my “competitor” friends to see how we might work together. Or if it’s the best answer, we’ll point a potential client to someone who can provide better performance and value for them. I already did it earlier this week.

That’s our model, and we believe it’s the right one to genuinely serve and benefit the cool people we work with at Brainzooming.

Are you with us on this? Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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6 Responses to “The Strategy of Fear – Who Are Your Competitors?”

  1. Pam Hausner says:

    Absolutely, Mike! I’ve noticed that shift in thinking about “competitors” in my industry, too. I’m not sure if it’s an old school vs. new or whether it comes from a deeper, philosophic core. I’ve referred prospective clients to other companies because I knew we weren’t the right fit. The longer I’m in business, the more I realize we’ve been successful because of our great relationships with our clients. If it looks like our vibes just don’t mesh at the beginning, I have figure what’s wrong. Do they have needs we’re just not equipped to handle (like 24/7 support, etc)? Or is this something we can work through?

    I need to have good relationships with others in my industry in order to better serve my clients or prospects. It really is all about genuine service. Thanks for the post. I wholeheartedly agree.

  2. Nate Riggs says:

    This is a great post Mike.

    It’s interesting how businesses (largely driven by how accessible information has become in recent years, I think) have started to change.

    Most of my “competitors” are also my “partners”. Synergy makes everyone more successful. I just interviewed @jaybaer yesterday for my blog. He does what I do but in Flagstaff. My confession to him was that I stole a bunch of his ideas from his blog and business model and made them my own. He was cool with that and offered to help however he could.

    I think I like this type of a business culture better than the old(er) ways… Good stuff!

  3. Kate Wilson says:

    It’s refreshing to see someone embracing the motto “if you try to be all things to all people you’ll wind up being nothing to no one”. You’re better served to refer a potential, and especially, a current client to whoever can best serve their needs. They will appreciate that you are looking out for their best interests as a company and not your bottom line as a company. Over time they will come back for what you do provide, or if what you provide is nothing they’d ever need they’ll refer friends/colleagues to you as someone with integrity and truth behind what you do. All companies say they are working in the best interests of their client but few companies “walk the walk”. Most companies mean “we are woking in your best interest, so long as it benefits our bottom line at the same time” which is no way near the same thing.

    Bravo to you Mike, keep up the good work, I hope to work with/for someone like yourself some day.

  4. Mike Brown says:

    Thanks Pam, Nate, and Kate for your great comments! The common theme through all of them is reassuring and so interesting given the different lengths of time I’ve known each of you.

    Nate and I met through the Transportation Marketing & Communications Association several years ago. Pam was introduced through Mark VanBaale on Twitter about two months ago, and we got to meet IRL at the Central Exchange blogging presentation 2 weeks ago (yet it feels like we’ve known each other for much longer). And Kate and I first “talked” on Twitter yesterday during the AMA virtual event.

    I can readily envision working with all of you on projects quite naturally.

    While our backgrounds and areas of expertise are different, it’s been great over the past few years to really cast a much wider net to find cool people who are energizing and rewarding to work with. I can’t wait to partner with all three of you and others reading this on cool projects that genuinely help others be more successful!

  5. James Clark says:


    Love the article.

    I do love hearing about co-competitive environments. Our organization is based in Boulder, Colo., where the business and entrepreneurial environment is very open between competitors.

    The only companies that should fear a co-competitive environment are those without the means, or will, to accept feedback to innovate and improve their offerings.

    So, we’re always of the mindset – go ahead and do your best – imitation is sincerest form of flattery. The reality is that we’re working on improving what is publicly available so our hope is that the next version will better and more powerful.


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