Opinion: Breaking down walls of local competition

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You’ve heard the phrase “nothing’s wrong with a little healthy competition.” It’s true.

Especially in a capitalist economy, competition prevents one company from creating a monopoly and controlling the quality and price of a given product or service. Competition also provides the benefit of choice to the market, which can then decide if they’re receiving the product or service in a satisfactory way. One company innovates and changes the standard level of acceptability, and everyone else has to rise to the new level or be left in the dust.

Examples are Amazon’s free two-day shipping and Apple’s smartphones. Nobody wants life without these things now, and companies that fail to adapt are doomed. This weeds out the companies that don’t put their customers first and establishes a clear hierarchy in each industry. Competition is fierce. There are winners and losers.

Competition in marketing
In the local marketing landscape, competing marketing companies often hold each other as far apart as possible. I’ve seen them fight over prospects and employees, bad mouth each other, view themselves as superior in every way and refuse to associate with each other.

Not everyone is this way, of course, and the vast majority are wonderful people. All’s fair in love and war, though, and business is war. Only the strong survive, and we can’t fraternize with the enemy. But are we really enemies? Is there really any benefit to viewing each other this way, or can we all benefit from the existence of other marketing agencies?

Enough to go around
It’s true that competition in the marketing industry is pretty fierce. Statista reports there are 13,300 marketing agencies in the United States. With so many marketers, it probably seems like it has to be dog-eat-dog. On the other hand, Oberlo reports that there are 30.7 million small businesses. That’s 2,307 clients for every business even if you subtract the 13,300 agencies from the small-business total.

Think COVID-19 destroyed your chances? Even if no agencies closed (same level of competition) and half of the small businesses closed, that’s 1,153 clients for each agency. There definitely won’t be an even distribution, as the Pareto principle would indicate, so what happens if you end up on the short end of the spectrum with only 20% of “your share” of the clients? That’s 230 clients. That’s a very respectable business.

Worst-case scenario, half of businesses close, all the agencies stay open, and you can only scrape out a 5% share. You get 57 clients. You’re not going to run a huge agency, but at $1,000 per month, you can still bring in over half a million dollars a year. “So what?,” you might ask. “We’re still competing and I don’t want to settle for ‘good enough.’”

Sub-market solutions
The truth is that it’s foolish for every agency to fight over the same prospects. If we tried to be all things to all people, we’d be mediocre at everything. I have a background in video production, but rather than try to offer one more service with 417 Marketing, we refer clients to Double Jump Media if they want a video produced.

We have relationships with other local companies that refer clients to us. These relationships are good for all parties involved, as their clients are happy to have the help they requested and we provide a referral bonus to say thank you.

There are a lot of ways to specialize as a marketer. You could build websites like Wehrenberg Design or run Facebook ads like Hemon Media. You could serve one particular industry like Medical Consulting Group or The Marlin Co., or you could use a proprietary method like Frank and Maven. However you differentiate yourself, there will be a subsection of the market that resonates with your unique style. Not only is this authenticity attractive to prospective clients, but other businesses know how to refer people to you. You want a Magento site? You want Classy Llama. Need Amazon ads? Talk to OMG Commerce.

However you slice the pie, there’s enough business for all and we can all refer work among each other so that business owners get the best level of the service they need.

If we are willing to work together for the good of the market, everybody wins.

Ryan Baker is the vice president of digital strategy at 417 Marketing LLC. He’s a certified Google Ads specialist and a certified customer experience professional through the Customer Experience Professionals Association. He can be reached at ryan@417marketing.com.