Digital Marketing – How to Use it to Beat Large Competitors

CompetitorsBeing a smaller fish in a pond full of big fish can be a daunting position. Fortunately, there are a few advantages to being the underdog. First of all, your competitor probably doesn’t know you as well as you know them (see below). You can pivot on a dime where it takes the big company much longer. Also, you can often fly under the radar and implement new targeting, messaging and media before they know you exist.

From a digital marketing standpoint, here are some of the options you have when faced with larger competitors:

  1. Give up. No, I am not being funny here. There are situations when the competitor has so much marketing firepower (dollars and people) that you have little chance of moving the needle in your favor. In such cases, a strategic retreat is not such a bad idea.
  2. Compete on price. This is an oft-used strategy that usually backfires. It makes you out to be a ‘commodity’ player and you still don’t get a fraction of the mindshare of the big company.
  3. Take a head-on approach. Sometimes, the best option is to analyze the competitor’s weakness and attack this loudly and publically. I worked for an enterprise software company where we successfully used this tactic to take on a company 12 times our size. It worked because the industry giant had issued a new release that had more bugs than new features.
  4. Be a specialist, not a generalist. This is the niche marketing, “go where they aren’t” strategy and it is the one that I usually recommend.

Before going to war against a large competitor, it’s vital that you thoroughly understand the battlefield. As Sun Tzu stated in The Art of War “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Keeping this sage advice in mind, one of the things you need to know about your competitor is how they are using digital marketing. What are they saying, to whom and on which media? For clients, we often do in-depth research on our their competitors’ usage of both paid and non-paid media. This can produce some very useful insights and help us target our efforts where the opportunity is strong and the other company is weakest. We also take a close look at what is being said in cyberspace about our product and/or services area. This is real, roll-up-your-sleeves work, not just quick analysis made on a few Google searches.

Digital marketing has a broad definition, so we’ll save the detailed how-to discussions for later. But you had best analyze all the tools and media available and choose a few that you can really focus on, instead of being very shallow in many media. As an example, we have a client in the B2B services space that is putting 90 percent of its efforts (and budget) in just four areas of digital marketing:

  • Highly relevant content related to its niche market (including consistent blogging).
  • Compelling landing pages that convert at over two times the industry average.
  • Tightly targeted (and long-tail) pay-per-click promotions with a cost-per-click (CPC) of about 40% of what competitors are paying for more generic search terms.
  • LinkedIn content, company and showcase pages, and sponsored InMail.

By the way, last month Merkle released its Q4 2016 Digital Marketing Report analyzing trends across paid search, social media, display and organic search, while providing highly regarded insights into the performance of major industry players like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo. It’s worth a read.

Beating Large Competitors in Your Marketing Campaigns

marketing campaignsIn my recently published article in Colorado BIZ magazine titled How to Hit Hard and Clean in Your Marketing Campaigns I drew a number of parallels between how the current presidential candidates are handling their campaigns and how b2b marketers should go after their competition. Here are some highlights.

On political marketing:

Another high-stakes presidential campaign is now playing out before us, bringing cyclical feelings that range from hope to nausea. This year displays the same high rate of spin and cut-to-the-bone negativity as always. While B2B marketers may not have the bare-knuckle messaging latitude that the presidential campaigns do, this season does have us thinking a lot about messaging and incumbents. Even if you’re not in the hunt for political office, you do have competition, and they are out there trying to woo your prospect base every day.

On comparative campaigning:

In presidential campaigns, attacking the incumbent is the default strategy — after all, there’s only one other “product” to compete with in your market. In marketing campaigns, attacking the incumbent can be a rewarding activity for a smaller company going against a larger, more established company, but you have to do it the right way.

First of all, the upside: If you are the little company in your market, you can leverage the brand equity of a larger competitor by loudly and compellingly comparing yourself favorably to a much better-known brand. For example, when I led the marketing team at a web-based (SaaS) content management solution that completing against industry giants like Documentum/EMC, FileNet/IBM, and Microsoft, we did just that. In our marketing campaigns we loudly beat the drum about the ease and cost savings of our web delivery model and invited head-to-head comparisons by stating that we had 80% of the larger competitors’ functionality at 20% of the price.

On fighting against the big guy:

When faced with dogged determination from a small rival, a CEO I worked for stated “I don’t care what it takes; we will never lose a bid to Company X.” Our CEO planned to crush the other company with low bids, eating into our margins, but keeping them out of the accounts.

This is the premier hazard of being the terrier that chases the lion. What do you do if you catch a large predator? This is why differentiation and positioning is so critical to making an ‘attack the incumbent’ strategy work. You need to have a defensible position in your marketing campaigns so that, when you do attract the industry giant’s attention, you’ve got them beat on terms that favor you. As Sun Tzu advised in The Art of War, you should never attack superior forces head on.