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Street Fighting Strategy

[excerpt from our ebook, The 13 Deadly Sins of Marketing]

On the mean streets of marketing, where thugs lurk in every alley and aisle, your choices are few. Five strategies, that’s it. Of those, only two of those are worth pursuing. Of those, neither will succeed if they haven’t been built with a keen understanding of the competition as they will exist tomorrow.

  • Slug It Out means going up against an opponent who is fairly evenly matched with you. You stand toe to toe and try to hurt them more than they hurt you. This is probably the most common strategy, and it’s a bad one. A marketer convinces herself that her product has a unique selling point, launches, and only too late finds that the difference isn’t perceived or valued by customers/consumers or that the competition can quickly adapt. In the end, it’s a war of attrition, and luck has a lot to do with the outcome. Yuck. Don’t bet the company on this one.
  • Loser Loser Loser is where you go when you either are a masochist or haven’t done enough homework to notice that your enemy has deeper pockets, better product, better value, better connections, or a better brand. If you want to go there, send me an email. I want to watch the fun. I’ll bring popcorn.
  • Dancing in the Dark means you’re hoping to win before anyone notices. Maybe you’ve found an underserved niche, or an unaddressed need. Maybe a new channel. From there only three things can happen. First, you might be wrong and thus fail. Or you might be right and  succeed … if your market is too small for your competitor to care about. Or maybe they have just been snoozing, in which case your little success will eventually wake a tiger.  So before you go here, you’ve got to ask yourself one question, “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do you, punk?
  • Shock & Awe is about engaging where you have overwhelming competitive advantage. Your battlefield may be the heart of the market, or it may be a niche. Either way, the outcome is predetermined. Congratulations, soldier! General Powell salutes you.
  • Change the Game leaves your competitor either fighting the wrong war or scrambling to catch up. Done badly, this can degenerate into Dancing in the Dark or Slug It Out. But if you’ve studied the competition, consumers, and market dynamics, you may find several winning ways to change the game:
    • Go Up-Market: Vodka is pretty much of a commodity. So Grey Goose, Kettle One, Belvedere, and a few other upstarts started whispering that anyone not paying a hefty premium was a social loser. The old brands lost.
    • Go Down-Market: Don’t want to pay extra for a pre-assigned airplane seat? Southwest has a deal for you! Don’t need a store with fancy shelves and snooty sales people? Go Old Navy!
    • The Best of Both: Redefine the category by redefining the value equation. If your brand promises (and delivers!) all the quality of premium Brand X at the price of value Brand Y, what’s not to like? You’ve just collapsed a two-segment market into the middle.
    • Sandwich Shop: Again, you redefine the category by redefining the value equation. You go up-market and down-market simultaneously with two differentiated products, targeting both the segment willing to pay more for higher performance and the segment willing to accept less performance at a lower price. You position the heart of the market as mediocre, satisfying no one. You’ve just segmented an undifferentiated market. But remember, if you make a sandwich, you want to be the bread.
    • My Team’s Bigger than Your Team: Find allies. Maybe there are distributors who have been frozen out by the staus quo. Or suppliers. Or maybe you can create some. iPhone gave a platform for app developers, and having thousands of apps incented purchase of iPhones; everyone won, except Nokia, Blackberry, Palm, and Microsoft (who did the same thing to Apple in the 80s and 90s).
Bottom line, vigilance and imagination are fundamental for success. Don’t get taken by surprise. Do your homework. Know the competitors’ weakness. Anticipate their reactions. Be confident of your competitive advantage. Then go have fun. Even though you already know the outcome.


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