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.

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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.


Christopher Ryan
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  • Andrew Hershberger July 20, 2012   Reply →

    Good thoughts Chris,

    On top of that I always make sure my clients truly understand the essence of their ‘Brand Promise’ and never promise what you can’t deliver. The fact is that ‘terriers’ are ‘terriers.’ That isn’t a negative just a fact. Don’t pretend to be a lion if you can’t back it up.

    Andrew Hershberger

  • Christopher Ryan July 20, 2012   Reply →

    Good points Andrew. It is important that your message match the reality of what you can deliver, regardless of whether you are the lion or the terrier.


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