Don't Compete

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If you are launching a new product, don’t bother competing.

Unless yours is a new and completely untapped market, odds are you face stiff competition.

Studies by think tanks and corporations indicate that over time every market becomes dominated by three or four huge firms. They have money, mindshare and enough marketing savvy to crush newcomers faster than the hot chick at the end of the bar crushes every cad with a sorry come-on line. Going toe-to-toe with market gorillas is painful.

I know from experience (well, at least a good analogy).

For years I studied Krav Maga, the Israeli Defense Force style of hand-to-hand combat. My instructor taught Krav Maga in the IDF. He stood maybe five foot eight and might have weighed 150 pounds fully clothed … wearing boots, carrying a backpack and smuggling bricks. Some of his students easily cleared six-two, massed in over two-forty and were composed of nothing aside from bone, muscle and mean attitudes. Yet my instructor could make any of them whimper for mercy in mere seconds.

He never went toe-to-toe with them.

When direct competition is too tough, you have options to succeed, and none involve competing. All require situational assessments and strategic decisions. And most have a correlation to an old fashioned street fight.

Duck, weave, pop: One basic Krav Maga move allows you to duck an incoming punch while weaving to your opponent’s side (most of Krav Maga teaches to move to your attacker’s side). When you rise from the duck, you punch, turning his assault into an instant counter strike.

Market gorillas throw slow punches. Your job is to be positioned anywhere except where the market gorilla is throwing fists, and then rapidly pop them from his blind side.

Control the head: Once you have an attacker off kilter, controlling their head allows you to limit what they can do. Leading a market’s thinking leads the market’s head. You can’t outspend a billion-dollar competitor, but you can cost-effectively lead the market to think new and different thoughts that in turn lead the market to you.

Throat poking: It is easy to dissuade a belligerent drunk from a fight by firmly pressing two fingers into the soft area under his Adam’s apple. Where he is ready to throw punches, you take control by “fighting” differently. In all markets, you have to be different. Differentiation is essential because it redefines the market and thus what are competitors. If you are waltzing into a market filled with gorillas and you cannot name three very different things about your product, you will be gorilla chow.

Run: Nobody ever wins a bar fight. Once an attack is not an immediate threat, there is no harm in running away. In markets where gorillas already own most of the customers, it may be better to take your products into an entirely different market. Companies used to sell alcohol-laden elixirs to tea-totaling old ladies for a reason.

The marketing lesson is that competing stinks. That is why so many big companies buy politicians and legislate away their competitors (which is why interstate commerce in health insurance has been illegal since the 1940s). Don’t compete. As with Krav Maga, maneuver in ways that you never face your opponent directly, never trade blows, never fight their fight.

Guy Smith is the chief consultant for Silicon Strategies Marketing. Guy has led marketing strategy for a variety of technology companies vending high-availability backup software, wireless middleware, enterprise software, infrastructure software, mobile applications, server virtualization, secure remote access, risk management applications, application development tools and several open source ventures. Before turning to marketing, Guy was a technologist for NASA, McDonnell Douglas, Circuit City Corporate Headquarters and other organizations.

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