Yes, competitors are stakeholders. No, a company shouldn't consult with competitors when developing marketing strategy, nor should it replicate a competitor's successful strategy. But you, as a marketer, should carefully study what others are doing, anticipate trends and be ready to make adjustments as the competitive landscape changes.
Here are the top four reasons why competitors are stakeholders:
- A competitive move can affect the entire industry. Whether it's a pricing change, a new product or a company going into administration, what a competitor does can significantly influence each company in that industry. Think of Apple's iPad and how the introduction of those innovative new devices affected competing firms. Suddenly tablet computers were the hot new category, and competitors had to race to catch up. Then Apple was feeling the competitive heat when competing devices flooded the marketplace with new features and functions.
- A competitor that appears weak or small may become a strong or immediate influence overnight. Snapchat didn't make much of a competitive impact when it initially introduced its "disappearing" photo feature. Now that Snapchat has attracted millions of users, however, others want to add similar functionality for competitive reasons. So a startup that appeared on the periphery at first has now become highly influential and a factor to be considered in many competitors' marketing plans.
- A competitor's unscrupulous move can affect other stakeholders who are critical to your company or industry. One unscrupulous company can make customers suspicious of an entire industry, which may hurt your business as well. One firm's unethical action can prompt regulators to change the rules, affecting every firm that serves the same market. Remember, you can't control what stakeholders such as competitors do, but you must be aware of their policies and actions and, when necessary, make your voice heard about the situation.
- A competitor can lead others to be better corporate citizens. Walmart gave its reputation a green boost when it began to aggressively support sustainability initiatives, in part by participating on industry councils with competitors. Now Walmart's marketing clout is behind many new products and services, bringing together suppliers and competitors for environmental improvement initiatives. Whether your firm supplies Walmart or competes with Walmart, the retail giant's sustainability activities will affect what you do.