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.

How to Beat Larger Competitors at B2B Marketing and Sales

the winner is...Let’s face it – there is only one leader in every business category: Apple in smartphones, Wal-Mart in retail, Cargill in food processing, Microsoft in computer software and Wells Fargo in banking. This is equally true in smaller market segments. More often than not, you are not going to be the biggest company in your space and will have to adjust your strategy accordingly.

I’ve spent a lot of my career as a so-called market “underdog.” I actually enjoy being in this position.

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In the B2B World, Market Awareness Trumps Sales Skills

sales skillsEarlier in my career, I was VP of marketing for a mid-size software company in the content management space.  There were a couple of very large competitors, who we termed “gorillas” in the marketplace.  The VP of sales used to say something to the effect of: “When we get invited to the dance, we can beat our large competitor, but too often, we don’t get invited because they don’t know who we are.”

In this case, the big companies got the business not because they had better products and services, but because they were better in another respect: name recognition.  The marketplace gorillas got invited because potential prospects knew who they were, and they did not know our company.  Although our sales force was just as talented and experienced, they could only win if they had the opportunity to compete.  A big part of our job was to create enough market awareness to get our products and services onto the consideration list.

Remember that not all sales result from a paid sales lead. Ideally, a fair portion of your revenue occurs because a prospect finds you. In other words, they have market awareness about you.  This doesn’t mean they know exactly what you offer, or why you are better or worse than your competitors, but simply that they know you exist and have a vague notion about what you do.  Sometimes, this is all you need to get that invitation to the dance.

Here are some of the non-paid ways prospects can learn about you:

  • Referrals (the best source of all)
  • Press releases
  • Articles
  • Product review sites
  • Cyber mentions
  • Word of mouth
  • Organic web search
  • Industry analysts
  • Community outreach
  • Reputation of your key staff
  • Social media

Don’t overlook the power of the last two items.  The known talent and experience of your staff (especially executives) can be leveraged to drive business.  Similarly, a strong social media initiative can get your name and brand position disseminated to a wide audience.  For example, Fusion Marketing Partners and our clients, have both generated significant revenue (and great new clients) by making ourselves known through free social media sources.

Yes, sales skills are important, as is lead generation, and many other attributes of a finely-tuned marketing and sales operation.  But market awareness is often the factor that decides whether you get a chance at the business.  Get yourself known. Get invited to more dances.  Close more business.

Carpe Occasio