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Different types of competitors and an age-old question “What Business Are You In?”

Just this morning, I ran across Margaret Hefernan's post over at BNET in which she reminds readers that it is really important to know what business they are really in. She cites the example of "Dancing Deer" a cookie company whose beautifully presented products are purchased primarily as gifts. It reminded me of a factor that I often teach in strategy courses, namely that competition often comes in a variety of different forms: Traditional Competition: You know them, they know you, and when you are doing competitive intelligence or competitive assessment, that's where the energy often comes to a crashing halt. It is important to remember, however, that there are at least two other important competitors to keep in mind. Oblique competitors: For Dancing Deer, it's anything else that could be a gift. For Build-A-Bear workshop, it's any other way kids could spend time. For TV stations, it's any other place people could spend their scarce attention. Oblique competition, in other words, represents competition but not necessarily for products and services, but for some scarce resource that you need. Potential competitors: the most dangerous of these are Clay Christensen's "disruptive" new entrants who come into your markets unexpectedly by serving customers you don't and don't want to serve, but then invading your space with some new twist on what you do. So as you are thinking through who your competitors are, don't just stop at the first category!

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