By Imitation Only

business strategySent: August 18, 11:00 a.m.

From: Ann, CEO

To: Dan, Director of Marketing

Subject: NWFFPSC Booth


Last year at the National Worldwide Forum for the Future of Professional Services & Consulting, I saw at least twenty of our direct competitors with booths that were far superior to ours. It made us look like some podunk, rinky-dink small business staffed by a bunch of hacks with  AAs from the local community college, trying to compete with the Zeuses and Adonises of Big Consulting. I mean, honestly, are you going to try to tell me that we are going to steal market share when we show up to our biggest industry trade show looking like we did?

Bonafide Consulting had a 50ʹ x 50ʹ booth with a coffee bar, a barista, finger sandwiches, and four parchment-leather sofas to schmooze their potential clients. Hat Trick Services had a full-blown movie theater showing their commercials on a nonstop loop, with a popcorn vendor and an endless supply of KitKats—I mean come on, we didn’t even have a water cooler in our booth! And if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, Premier One Fair Equity was prancing around touting free the band, not the dog. Argh!

Dan, this year I want you to kill it at NWFFPSC! I want to bury the competition with our booth presence. Last year we spent $25,000 on our booth for a three-day show. This year, I’m throwing in an additional

$10,000 because I want you to blow them out of the water. I want a booth that is on a corner or smack dab in the middle of the trade-show floor. I want our entire sales-and-marketing staff to be there, and they are not allowed to leave the booth for more than one bathroom break. That means they stay put for 7 hours and 55 minutes—the more people we have at our booth, the more popular we’ll look. No uniforms, shirts, or name tags because we want them to look like potential customers. Just pack ’em in there.

I would also like to see some sort of very loud and showy entertainment. Last year, Bonanza Consulting had four beautiful “booth babes” in short skirts and four-inch heels demonstrating the latest in artificial intelligence for cloud computing. We don’t do AI, but it’s the hot new thing, and I want us to look like we are on the absolute bleeding edge of technology. So, figure out what AI is and make it happen, Dan. Make. It. Happen.

I’m not going to take another gloating call from that crusty old Harold Sherman at Bonanza asking me if we’ve had budget cuts for NWFF- PSC. Total humiliation from one of our biggest competitors. No way is that happening to ME again, and it’s YOUR job to make sure of it. So, get to work. I expect a plan and booth layout on my desk by next week.

Urgently, Ann, CEO

Now here’s someone who really knows how to stick it to the competition! Paralyzed by fear of not keeping up, she’s got her right-hand man Dan on a mission to out-do every one of her overspending, overindulging, glitzy competitors at the next big event so she’ll look brighter, bigger, better, and—well, let’s face it—smarter!

Ann knows that it’s all about keeping up with the competition, and her strategy is spot-on. She keeps copious notes on their advertising and marketing, she peppers her customers with questions about her competitors, and she’s even been known to poke around for confidential documents and proposals to see if she can get “competitive intelligence.” Her marketing team spends hours and hours doing competitive analysis reports for her, and her recruiting team stalks every one of her top competitors’ senior employees on LinkedIn, so she knows exactly who they are and what they are doing.

Nothing is going to get by Ann. She proudly refers to herself as ruthlessly competitive, and she’ll go to the ends of the earth to make sure her competitors know it.


Our CEO Ann is not ruthlessly competitive; she’s scared to death to face the fact that her business’s strategy, core offerings, and customer testimonials simply aren’t good enough to compete. Her insecurity about where her business falls in line next to her competitors causes her to spend more energy chasing the competition than she does creating her own compelling strategy.

We see this every day in copycat marketing, and if you look closely, you’ll see it right down to copycat headlines. Social strategies have compounded the problem with increased messages to market and trends that change so fast that businesses are executing social marketing without even knowing if it works. Panic sets in when Ann sees her competitors tweeting twenty times a day, so she runs like her hair is on fire through the marketing department demanding a Twitter strategy without knowing or even thinking about results.

We see this in product strategy as well. Beware the leader who sees a competitor launch a new product strategy one day and demands a company-wide rebrand the next day. It’s not to say that being competitive isn’t important or that keeping an eye on your competitors isn’t time well spent—it is. But great businesses are built by leaders who have confidence in their vision and spend more time executing that vision than they do chasing the competition. Customers buy confidence, investors invest in businesses that are sure of themselves, and great talent is attracted to differentiated workplaces.

Rest assured that Ann may be pleased with her glitzy booth next year, but it won’t bear fruit for the business. It will just be a doom loop of one-upmanship year after year. And meanwhile, a smart, stealthy competitor with a confident, sharp strategy will come from behind and blow them all out of the water without spending one dime on a trade-show booth.

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