B+B Episode 6: Competition

*It’s been almost 2 years to date since this conversation took place, and this writeup has been sitting in my drafts ever since, lonely and sad. Brand+Bread is currently on a sort of indefinite hiatus, but thought I’d share this with you, in case it sparks any new ideas.

It’s been a while since the last writeup of B+B (Client’s Clients, which I’m still pretty hyped about). In the meantime I’ve learned that there are no excuses for missing out on your own deadlines, it means you’ve just diverted attention to something else, with perhaps a deadlier line.

For our monthly brand munchies in November I thought it was time we went more experimental with our conversation, so I invited Pablo Arribas (words wizard, pop culture geek and the kind of designer that brings a completely fresh and unexpected perspective to brands, branding and the stuff in-between) to open the debate. And couldn’t have been more pleased with how things turned out. Around the ping-pong table at Fast Forward (who generously hosted us for the evening) we had: Lionel, Helga, Ángel, Isabel, Virginia, Miguel, Maya, Rob, Matt, and Lola.

The evening started rather ordinary, with my usual prompt questions written in sloppy blue on white cards (how poetic)… To what extent should brands be build in response to their competitors? * Can brand building afford to ignore competition? * Who is not a competitor? * What is the new competition? * Is collaboration more important than competition? * How can both happen at the same time? * How about ecosystems? * Is fitting in the new standing out? * Whom (or what) does branding compete with?

But then Pablo came in and completely turned the questions on its head. We somehow went from locusts to endorphins to forests to the pill to Trump and back to grasshoppers. How do I convey into an intelligible bunch of sentences the dynamic of a round table without taking away the charm of dissecting a rather abstract concept? Buuuh.

  • There are two ways of looking at competition: on one hand there’s the physical, real competition — over things like food or mating partners between peers of one species — and psychological, mental competition — gaining advantage over someone or something else over something that might not be directly relevant. These are two very different ways of competing that generate two different ways of behaving.
  • Whom (and how) you chose to compete with mentally also transforms you physically. You physically become what you mentally compete with. Think grasshoppers turning into locusts. (do read on, it’s pure nature going bonkers).
  • An example is the language we use in a competition. The object of our competition determines the kind of language we use. In turn, the kind of language we use influences our behaviour. And eventually, we become the very thing we wanted to compete with. Basically, fake it till you make it.
  • Translating to brands… The terms on which one brand choses to compete with another determines the language it will use and how it will behave. And that language and behaviour will end up transforming not only the brand itself (remember, perception is reality), but also the consumers of that brand. We are, as Pablo put it, “las marionetas de los dioes” — and Gods are Brands.
  • If competition makes one transform and evolve into something that you wanted to be, it means it is something good, right?

Does this make any sense? Anyway, read on…

So that’s competition… But why?

  • In the same way grasshoppers turn into locusts because of serotonin (have you read that article?), turns out we, humans, compete with each other because of endorphins. The idea we’re challenging ourselves excites us.
  • Competition — as we know and understand it today — is very much something intrinsic. It’s a rationale that we create that gives us endorphins.
  • So, in a way, competition, is the fight over endorphins. In other words, we compete because we like winning.
  • Brand exists and compete inside of our imaginations.
  • All startups are born hoping they will be bought by their largest competitor.
  • Competition in the world of branding is like going to a party where everyone is dressed the same, but you know there is a personality behind that.

To wrap up out conversation, we landed on a couple of open-ended, rather philosophical questions, that I encourage you to explore in your own frame of design thinking.

  • Innovation is where competition disappears. But then why do we innovate?
  • And what is winning useful for? Does winning create innovation? (guess is the chicken and egg dilemma once again)

If these thoughts left you pondering, I’d like to invite you, dear reader, to join the conversation by writing your own answer to the ideas above. Bring in your own brand perspective — of a strategist, a designer, a marketeer, an end-user, a wild card, a lover or a hater. Publish your point of view on your company’s blog, here on Medium, in a tweet, an instagram photo, in a vlog or in whatever format you’re more comfortable with. We’re using #brandandbread to keep track of them.

Brand+Bread is a thought collective asking (and hopefully sometimes also answering) tough questions about the future of branding. It offers the time and space for conversation and knowledge exchange on the issues facing this discipline, hoping to evolve our thinking and practicing of it.

Design Strategist. I analyse stuff and have opinions about it.