Getting Used to It: Your Biggest Competitor Isn’t Another Business

Getting Used to It: Your Biggest Competitor Isn’t Another Business

About a decade ago, we had a client that was based in Kansas City. For those of you that might not be familiar with the Midwest, that’s about a 5-hour drive from St. Louis.

At the time, this was our largest, most important client. It probably (and dangerously) represented about 80% of our revenue. Needless to say, face time with the client was important, and Atomicdust Partner/Account Director Jesse McGowan and I were happy to make the drive every month.

On these drives, I began my love for business audiobooks, and business books in general. I had a 5-disc set of a Donny Deutsch book about how he started his famous advertising agency in New York. This predated podcasts, and was probably my first exposure to advice on how to run and structure a creative agency. It was my first time really getting to hear behind-the-scenes stories of how other agencies worked with clients, and how the process isn’t always rosy.

The book was filled with stories from his career, including one about a project his team did with Ikea. The details about the Ikea campaign are hazy, but I remember one key concept very clearly.

When his team began interviewing customers about what motivates them to purchase new home furnishings, they explained to families how Ikea products are very affordable and can have a dramatic impact on improving the look of someone’s environment.

Most of the customers nodded, and told the team they were familiar with Ikea and its products.

Donny’s team pried further – “If Ikea is affordable, and you like the style, why don’t you improve your home?”

“You get used to it,” one customer explained. I’m paraphrasing here, but “Over time you stop seeing the wear on the rug. Or how worn our old chairs are. You just get used to it.”

Ikea’s biggest competitor wasn’t another furniture store. It was the mindset of their audience. The mindset that “This is how things are,” not “This is how things could be.”

I think about that a lot, but carry it outside the realm of furniture – although my wife constantly reminds me how much I hate changes to our house. She’s right.

But in the context of business (and especially marketing), people get used to way things are. They get used to internal politics. Of marketing that they are embarrassed by. Of being number three in their industry. It’s like an old rug in the middle of the room. Each little spot is a story that you become used to seeing everyday.

I’m guilty of this too. I become so used to what is working well, or the reason behind why it doesn’t, that I forgot to dream about “What if?” And to stay competitive, businesses need to remember to always ask: “What if?”

One of the best things about back then, and having a frequent 5-hour drive, is the time it forced us to take. We used it to learn, wonder and change for the better.

Your biggest challenge isn’t always another business. It can be getting caught up in the grind of the day-to-day and the inability to take time and wonder how things could be.


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Mike Spakowski

Mike Spakowski

Mike Spakowski is Principal / Creative Director of Atomicdust and is involved with the day-to-day design strategy, art direction and studio management.

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