Sometimes your competition is not what you think it is. 

It’s always easiest to identify competitors within your vertical market space (those that offer similar products to meet similar customer demand.) We can all name competitive brands in soft drinks, automobiles, breakfast cereals, airlines, and many other common consumer products. If you are in the product development or marketing space you probably know well who your most direct competitors are.

But what about your indirect competitors? What about the alternative ways your customer base might spend their time or funds instead of investing in your brand.

In the non-profit marketing world, the majority of our competitors are indirect.

I ran across this commercial over the holidays. It’s three years old, and a great example of an ad that targets indirect competitors.

The US Forestry Service (and AdCouncil) clearly realize the impact technology like Alexa and the Internet have on our lifestyles, and the way we spend our time. All of us are potential forest explorers! But all of us also know how easy it is to find answers to nature questions online rather than spending the time to go explore for answers.

The ad highlights the beautiful, curious questions children often ask, and for which the Internet still cannot provide an adequate answer. It’s a great ad approach, and a really memorable one.

In the nonprofit world where I have spent the majority of my marketing time, indirect competitors are everywhere and often the bigger obstacle. Most donations of finances or time come from discretionary giving. Competitors to local charitable causes are not most often other charities, they are indirect competitors like a night out to the movies, an extra streaming service, the family trip to a theme park, and other ways we all spend our discretionary time and finances. Often, the most important first goal in non-profit marketing is not getting a person to pick your charity over another, it is getting a person to care about your cause over some alternative way they might spend their time or finances.

So, what are your most obvious indirect competitors? What does your product or service offer that the indirect competitors just can touch?

Spending some time to reflect on these questions might help you see some hidden value you bring to your customers.