How to Devour the Competition: The ONE Big Idea
Why stop there?
This article will teach you how to devour the competition – with the unequaled ferocity of a Great White Shark. It will teach you how to glide smoothly and effortlessly through the water — like the perfect killing machine you wish to be — until marketing success is a foregone conclusion. And it will teach you how to do so without sacrificing pricing or profitability.
And you will learn to accomplish this important goal, by using ONE big idea.
First some background:
Since time immemorial, marketers of every type have been struggling with their competition.
According to an article by David Aaker, writing for the Harvard Business Review, the process works like this:
“When a brand sallies forth into the marketplace, there are essentially two bases on which it can compete. The first is competing on brand preference by convincing buyers to opt for Brand A over comparable Brands X, Y, and Z — and it is a tough and constant slog. The second, competing on Brand Relevance ( a link to the author’s book), involves presenting customers with a choice compared to which competitors’ offerings seem irrelevant. This is the route that breakthrough brands take, and is for most marketers the only route to growth and profitability.”
Mr. Aaker’s book “shows how brands such as Prius, Whole Foods Market, SalesForce.com, Zipcar, Wheaties Fuel, Muji, Asahi Beer, GE, and Apple have turned away from destructive brand preference competition to focus on winning the brand relevance war.”
So what is the One Big Idea?
Does it involve, to use HBR’s example, the “constant, incremental enhancements to the offering’s attractiveness, reliability, or price, in hopes of getting buyers to take a second look at a familiar brand?” Certainly not.
Does it require “more clever advertising, more impactful promotions, more visible sponsorships, and more involving social media programs than the competition’s?” Again no.
It does involve making the competition irrelevant.
That does not mean that you will be floating above the competition as if they were made of stone — although that would certainly feel like success.
In fact, it involves making them disappear altogether.
But what are the practical methods for doing this, particularly for the small entrepreneur who lacks the time and resources of a major company?
Not to detract from Mr. Aaker’s exceptional book, but the One Big Idea I am referring to is a complementary concept I have been recommending to CEOs and entrepreneurs, as well as marketing managers at all levels, for over two decades.
Put simply it is this: To devour the competition, the first step is to remove yourself completely from the shark-infested waters.
Sound good, but impossible? Well, it isn’t easy. But with creativity, imagination and innovation it is a marketing target you can hit.
JUST ONE EXAMPLE
Let me use an example from my own professional background. In the late 80s and early 90s, I was a Senior Vice President of a new marketing subsidiary of very large — and profitable — multinational insurance company. At the time, the company was home to 40,000 employees and an enormous asset base. Among my functions was the creation and implementation of marketing and sales strategies for a new series of voluntary, employee-paid insurance plans, for large employee groups. (I know that sounds hopelessly boring by today’s standards, but bear with me.)
The immediate problem, as a new entrant into an already saturated market, was to gain any traction at all against well-established competitors, with long-standing customer connections. The simple, traditional approach would have been to bulldoze the competition, by improving on their products and then out-spending them. But even with our size advantage, the sales process ultimately came down to a basic sales dilemma. Our regional managers and brokers found themselves in long lines of similar sales people, standing in a hopeless mass outside the office of the corporate employee benefits managers. The waters were shark-infested with competing sales people — arguing over price, products and services.
The solution required innovation, so total as to remove all of the sharks from the water.
After extensive research, I discovered a little known federal statute in the ERISA law, (Employee Retirement Income Security Act), called the 79-41 ERISA Exemption. It provided that under certain circumstances, and after filing for approval by the Department of Commerce, exempt companies could make a profit from their own employee benefit plans. We developed a process by which the exempt company, through its offshore reinsurance entity, would reinsure the resulting policies and share in the underwriting profits.
Here was the result: All of the other sharks continued to circle around the employee benefits managers, arguing price. We bypassed the shark-infested waters altogether — meeting instead with the CEOs and CFOs. The other sharks were debating cost — often price differences in pennies with each other. As a total departure, we were offering the client companies substantial profits instead. There was no contest.
We had made the competition irrelevant.
We had removed ourselves completely from the shark-infested waters.
HOW YOU CAN USE THE SAME BIG IDEA
Regardless of your product, service or market, with a little creativity you can find a hidden competitive edge to exploit. It doesn’t have to be as complex or technical as the above example — it can be a very simple. Just find something compelling and exclusive, that sets you apart from everyone else.
For example, my personal competitive edge is the fact that I have run online businesses successfully for twenty years, and before that ran major, multinational marketing efforts as a corporate officer. Very few of today’s Social Media strategists can say that. Given the choice, most entrepreneurial customers would choose long experience over little. Often, that effectively removes me from the shark-infested waters. (An ocean, incidentally, replete with “Social Media sharks” — currently numbering in the thousands.)
With a little creativity and innovation, you can do the same.
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