This book argues that communication in modern business is essentially a competitive activity, a rhetorical venture in which writers and speakers attempt to gain advantage over other forces that contend for their audience's attention. Of course, nothing is new about the concept of competition, particularly in contemporary studies of business and especially in discussions of strategy, industry analysis, and marketing. 1 However, this concept has yet to be used much in studies outside of these more traditional areas of business. This is unfortunate. Competition can provide a familiar and illuminating way of understanding activities that are not in the mainstream of business studies but are nevertheless essential to its successful practice. One of these activities is business communication. 2 This book presents modern business communication as significantly competitive and offers competition as a conceptually useful way of thinking about it. 3
"Competition" is used in this book in a combination of general and specialized senses. In its general sense, competition follows a typically abstract dictionary definition: "an effort made by two or more parties acting independently to secure the business of a third party by offering the most favorable terms." 4 In this sense, writers in business are realistically viewed as agents who compete to secure the "business" of the reader, the third party. "Business," of course, may be any number of things but routinely includes attention to the message, cooperation, approval, agreement, or action as a consequence of it. The "most favorable terms" may also refer to many things -- ease of understanding and quality of reasoning among them -- but they take on more specific meaning when competition is discussed in its more specialized sense.
In its more specialized sense, competition may be further understood as it is used in contemporary discussions of industry analysis and strategy. There it is viewed as a way of gaining advantage along two lines: low cost or differentiation. 5 A firm may gain advantage by offering a product or service that is lower in cost than a competitor's or by offering a product or service that is different in a way that is valuable to its customers. Similarly, writers and speakers in business may gain competitive advantage through messages -- the literary equivalent of products or services -- if they are differentiated in the sense that they offer the audience something different that is of value. These messages also compete if they offer "reduced cost," in the sense that they require from the audience the least amount of rhetorical investment or effort for what would otherwise be an equivalent return in meaning.