During our Brainzooming “Outside-In Innovation” workshop at the Compete Through Service Symposium, participants applied several of our benefits-based strategic thinking exercises.

These inter-related strategic thinking exercises help explore higher-impact benefits. These longer benefit lists highlight new innovation opportunities, improve messaging, and suggest potential competitors.

One participant struggled on the strategic thinking exercise to identify competitors. Participants were trying to list three types of organizations delivering comparable benefits to their own. The three types are:

  • Expected competitors - Those on a brand’s typical competitor list
  • Surprising competitors - Dissimilar organizations that could still clearly be competitors
  • Left Field competitors - Completely non-traditional, out of category organizations that could possibly compete with yours

As an example, here’s a left field competitor someone identified. A health insurance company selected Google as a left field competitor. Google has massive amounts of information on healthcare needs. It could also introduce ways to collect more. Additionally, Google has dabbled with delivering online healthcare.

The participant stymied in pushing his thinking on left field competitors asked for help to push further.


Two Other Ideas to Imagine Potential Left Field Competitors

As is often the case, one great way to push your thinking into new areas is to combo multiple strategic thinking exercises.

Strategic Thinking Exercise Idea 1 - What's It Like?

If you’re challenged by identifying unlikely but potentially emerging competitors, you can combo the benefits approach with the “What’s It Like” strategic thinking exercise.

In “What’s It Like,” you list five diverse characteristics of your business situation. You use this list to explore others organizations facing the same types of generalized situations.

To imagine more unusual potential competitor possibilities, you could pick various combinations of only two of the five characteristics. What left field competitors might match just two characteristics similar to yours? The answer can still tie to what you do. But using only two common characteristics should create room for a wilder exploration of potential left field competitors.

Strategic Thinking Exercise Idea 2 - What's Getting in the Way?

The recent story we shared from Armada Corporate Intelligence about how the Oreo brand is staying fresh inspired another way to spot left field competitors.

Oreo identified online video games as a competitor. The reasons were consumers play with video games - and spend discretionary dollars on them - while they wait in retail lines instead of looking at (and buying from) Oreo point-of-sale displays.

Cookies and online video games competing is a pretty left field comparison, if you ask me.

You can identify comparable left field competitor comparisons. Explore how else your customers may be using the time, attention, and resources they usually would have used to buy from your brand. Even more critically, examine other brands, in or out of your market, that are inserting themselves and disrupting the traditional buying process.

Why imagine left field competitors?

If you wonder about the value of identifying left field competitors, consider the benefit to Borders Books, Tower Records, and any cell phone company of imagining Apple as a far-off competitor twenty years ago! – Mike Brown

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