Do you know your competition? Really? And if you do, how are you responding to it? I first published this blog in 2013 and it is so powerful and relevant still that I’m bringing it to your attention again.

So, let’s see if you really have identified your competition and take a trip back to 1950s USA, a land where the train was king…

The passenger train was king but for how long? Some of the Rail Companies had the attitude of “Unless there’s a faster train, we’re fine” but others were looking wider afield. More accurately, they were looking up. To the planes.

They correctly identified that they weren’t in the train business but the business of shifting people from place to place across their vast continent. And now, there was a new boy on the block who could do that faster. Much faster.


So, how did they respond to this competition?

  • Progressive companies, like the Pennsylvania Rail Road company, invested in air companies.
  • Others began to focus on selling passenger train trips to the “tourist” market and the comfort travellers; three days in a train, admiring the views, seeing your country, or 8 hours in a plane rattling around in some discomfort (this was the 1950s remember!)
  • Others moved into freight and developed “trucks on cars” (cars as in railway cars).
  • Some were slower to respond and kept plugging away at the unprofitable business of passenger transport across the USA.

Today we can see how these different responses panned out.

The US has a huge domestic travel market – based on flight. The rail companies that invested in these made a good move for the future.

The US also has a hugely profitable rail sector- in freight. More freight goes by rail in the US than in Europe. Goods can arrive from China at a huge rail depot on the US West Coast and be whizzed over to the East Coast or up to Canada in a cost-effective, efficient manner, passing trains carrying Canadian and US grain as they head back to the same depot to get a boat to China. Rail freight has decimated the road trucker business in the US and Canada.

Tourists can still enjoy the train as part of the great US experience, catching the only passenger trains in the US as part of their holiday (or vacation).

Those who plugged away at passenger transport via rail…they’ve gone bust.


What lessons can we learn from this for our organisations?

  • First: know what you are providing to your customers. Base this on the problems you are solving, rather than the way you solve them. This blog post of mine covers this crucial element of strategic marketing.
  • Once you correctly know what you are providing, you can accurately identify the competition. The competition are the people who provide the same benefits as you; not necessarily the same product.
  • The next step is to put in place strategies to counter the competition. It could be to offer the same benefit they do, but better (rail freight instead of trucks on roads); to join them or take a stake in them (invest in air); to adapt your offering to a different market (tourists) or to ignore it totally (bust).


This is the key to business survival: know your competition, adapt and be better.


By Kara Stanford, Strategic Marketing Consultant, KMS Marketing.

Want to know more? Then contact me to find out how I can help you identify your true competitors.


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