Looking through the keyhole

Corporate espionage

McGunnMedia
Mar 24, 2014 · 5 min read

Every so often we see other businesses — our “competition” — featured in a magazine, television, newspaper or other media highlighting their work and think “Wait a minute, that isn't anything special! We do that all the time!!”. So you feel slighted, because you truly believe your work / product is at least as good as the one being featured, and yet you aren't getting a piece of that pie.

Okay, there are three essential parts to consider when looking at the exposure “the others” are getting. It’s human nature to look at it — but it’s only with a reasoned mind that you are able to learn and grow from others’ apparent success:

1. First impressions: (overall perception)

Look at those who you perceive to be doing better than you, and find out what it is they have done, and you haven’t, to get that exposure. After all, they are the ones that are being featured — not you. Is it that they have approached the media and you haven’t? Have they paid for the marketing space? — or have they created a “unique” project and then invited the media to come and take a look at it?


What is the core difference between the businesses being featured / talked about and your business?


If your goal is to get the exposure and coverage that they are getting — then look carefully at what they are doing to get it that you are not.

(And then decide if that’s something you would be able, willing, or even want to do. And that alone is a completely different kettle of fish…)

2. Look again: (in-depth probe)

Look at your competitors product. Take a really hard look, not just a glance. Then critique it and work out what they are doing right and wrong.


Critique vs. Criticism

There’s a very important distinction to be made here: critique vs criticism. They are *not* the same thing.

Criticizing, in this particular context, won’t take you anywhere. It’s just a good old moan, and more often than not it won’t be about the subject of your criticism as much as it will be about your own perception, views or biases on the subject.

A critique is an analysis of a subject, with the purpose of understanding it, and finding out what’s right and wrong about it without bashing it — it’s a tool for improvement, not for destruction.


There is a lot to learn by looking at your competitors with critical eyes, but there are a few rules to follow if you don’t want to fall into the criticizing vs. critique trap:

(As you go through this process, make sure you are taking notes. It will be easier to analyse without bias.)

  • What are they doing right? Can you learn from them? Don’t copy the good stuff ipsis verbis (because that might land you in real trouble, and nobody likes copycats anyway), but work on your own version and incorporate it in your product or service.
  • What are the errors you are seeing? Look at the mistakes being made, and each time you see one, note it down. Just saying you won’t make that mistake may not be sufficient: are there policies in your brand that need to be changed? (hint: are you treating your customers as well as they deserve?) Does the marketing language you use need to be different?

When you spot something you consider to be an error, find out how they made that particular mistake. Spotting an error is usually very easy to do —as is saying you won’t be stupid enough to do the same. But we all know the expression “famous last words”…

If you can work out how the error was made in the first place, then you will see how easy it was for them to make it — that’s the so-called “beauty of hindsight”. Make no mistake: errors and things you don't like in your competitors or other featured companies are just as easy for your company to do.


3. Check Again: (review your results)

Go back again and take a second look at the “errors” you spotted. How many of them are real, or just perceived as such on your part?

(Yes, it’s the whole critique vs. criticism thing again. Even when analyzing things with the best of intentions, we are only human and it’s really damn hard to leave our biases at the door. This is the last call to do so!)

Is this something that they have really made a mistake on, or is it just something that you don't feel your brand would ever do because of x, y and z?

Let’s assume this error is a real one: is it based on a lack of service or product quality? If yes, then take the steps to ensure that it won’t ever happen in your company. Is it a branding error? Then do something to ensure your own brand isn't falling into the same traps.

If, however, it is “only” a perceived error, sit down: you've got homework to do. Why do you see it as an error? What have you missed? What are you not seeing? Why wouldn't you do it yourself?

(The answer to these questions is yours and yours alone, and there are no right or wrong answers. It’s perfectly okay if in the end you still see it as an error —as long as you understand why, and are able to assume that it is something to do with you, and your core values or beliefs.)


Yup, this sounds like a time consuming thing to do, but it’s an analysis that should be carried out regularly. It’s only natural for us to compare ourselves against others, but a method is needed to ensure that you are also growing from the experience and it isn't just fodder for your pet peeves. Also, it’s cheaper if you’re learning from someone else’s mistakes!

Growth happens not only on your own but by constant market observation.

Make your observation analytical, and responsive.


Case Study:

Nike Still Stands By Disgraced Athletes Like Lance Armstrong And Michael Vick

Nike seems to be constantly under fire, usually because of child labor and sweatshops. This time it’s because of their continued support for athletes who, for one reason or another, have fallen from grace.

What do you think? Is this a real error or a perceived one?


How to think critical:

“She can’t accept that they did better than she did, but she isn't seeing how they got there!”

“The company was hit by a backlash of bad publicity: It’s easy to see why when they used such controversial language in their marketing.”

“After seeing their twitter blunder, we implemented a co-check policy on all social media text.”


If you enjoyed this post please “Recommend” it below and leave notes! I’d love to hear your thoughts, it all means a ton to me! Thanks!

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    Business and Art

    A collection linking art to business, for marketing and brand awareness.