Why a Rivalry Can Help Your Business Thrive

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Back in October of 1916, the Cumberland College Bulldogs from Tennessee lined up to play against their rivals, the Georgia Tech Engineers. Cumberland College had discontinued its football program a year prior, but they weren’t allowed to cancel this game, otherwise facing a hefty fine if they didn’t show up.

In a show of spirit, Georgia Tech beat Cumberland 222-0, the biggest blowout in American college football history. With the team leading 126-0 at halftime, Georgia coach John Heisman rallied his team by instilling a fear of their rivals saying, “You’re doing all right, team, we’re ahead. But you just can’t tell what those Cumberland players have up their sleeves. They may spring a surprise. Be alert, men! Hit ’em clean but hit ’em hard!”

Not all rivalries are this one-sided. Your business, no matter what it is, will have competitors; some will be big, some small, some will already be there in the market and some – depending on how successful your brand and product is – will spring up right away. You may feel like Georgia Tech in your field of business, or you may feel like Cumberland. But a real competition can make you and your business stronger, smarter, more savvy and better at what you do.

A Boost in Innovation

When companies come into competition with each other, they’re faced with two options: get better, and get outside the box. The latter kind of thinking can drive major technological and social change, as businesses innovate new products and services to outshine their opponents. A global survey of CEOs by PwC in 2011 stated that “79% of CEOs in the survey believe innovation will drive efficiencies and lead to competitive advantage, to go with the 78% who expect new revenues”.

AT&T had a monopoly on telecommunications in North America for most of the 20th century, but when MCI sued them in 1974, the industry dynamics shifted: more competition allowed for advances in fiber-optic cable systems and wireless technologies. Apple’s feud with Microsoft has led to major developments in portable computing technology–cell phones, music players, tablets, and products like the Apple Watch and Microsoft HoloLens. Challenge fuels change, and those changes can ripple outwards into society.

New Approaches

As mentioned above, companies have two options when competing with each other. There’s something to be said for sticking to one’s guns and consistently providing a good product. Coca-Cola has beaten out Pepsi for its market share for several years running, even while Pepsi has tried its hand at diversifying into food brands like Quaker Oats and Tostitos. A disastrous launch of “New Coke” in 1985 is exhibit A for not tampering with a good thing.
Working hard on constantly improving your own products and services can help you stand out, both in the competition and as a business. After sinking sales that bottomed out at $4.5 billion in 2018, toy company Mattel’s current CEO, Ynon Kreiz, is working on stabilizing the company by focusing on its core brands, as well as a push into film and amusement parks. It seems to be working as Mattel’s 3rd-quarter report of 2019 came in with a 3% increase in revenue and an increased share price of $0.08, surpassing predictions.

Learn New Tactics

Keeping a close eye on your competition can highlight strategies for winning and losing. A competitor may be offering a side benefit that you hadn’t thought of, or they could be appealing to a customer’s need that wasn’t addressed by your own business. Businesses can also seize on a company’s failures.

The infamous Audi vs. BMW billboard war is just one example of countless marketing campaigns that thrive off poking fun, or lobbing criticism, at their rivals. Mostly recently, a Peleton ad went viral for the wrong reasons. The short video, in which a husband gives his wife one of Peleton’s stationary bikes for Christmas, was widely criticized over social media as being sexist. Aviation Gin immediately seized on the backlash and hired the actress to star in one of their own advertisements–a short, cheeky clip depicting her celebrating her newfound freedom from her husband (and that bike) alongside her friends and plenty of gin. Tweeted out by Canadian star Ryan Reynolds, the ad currently has over 4.6 million views on YouTube and more than 42,000 retweets on Twitter.

Open the Door to Collaborations

Finally, there’s a saying: “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Having a healthy and friendly rivalry with your competitors can lead to an expanded network of contacts and resources, exchanging talent and information. While you can work on new innovations and improving your own business model, and learn through constant observation and assessment, sometimes the best method of improvement is through sharing.

Take the legendary battle of Gavigan versus Benefield. Sarah Gavigan, head chef at Otaku Ramen in Nashville, TN, challenged her rival Jessica Benefield of Two Ten Jack for the title of Master of Ramen in 2017. The showdown was held at Otaku Ramen, with proceeds supporting the volunteer organization Sister Cities of Nashville. Since then it’s been an annual tradition–a feast of heroes that raises the restaurants’ profiles, satisfies their customers, and raises money for a good cause.

When you’re looking over your competitors, consider that not all rivalries end in a 220-0 blowout. Some of them end in a dinner party and a big bowl of noodles.

Gillian Robinson | Contributing Writer

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