MT's Ten Top Tips: Using speed as a competitive weapon

Just because your competitor is bigger than you, doesn't mean they're better. Stephen Denny explains how to out-manoeuvre them at every turn...

by Stephen Denny
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
This week, Yahoo announced depressing profit figures yet again. But it doesn’t have to be like that: the company may be smaller and have less reach than its main competitor, Google – but that also means it’s lighter, and more agile, giving it a significant advantage.

Just because the competition spends more on coffee than you do on R&D, doesn’t mean that you can’t win. In this newer, leaner normal, ideas are more powerful than budgets. We asked author and consultant Stephen Denny for his advice on using size to your advantage.

1. Lure them out over your ‘thin ice’
Giant Killers make arguments the giant doesn’t want to contest. Chinese search engine Baidu’s argument that it spoke Chinese better than American search engines propelled it to the top spot in the country because most Chinese Internet users couldn’t spell ‘Google’.  It was an argument Baidu knew it could win.

2. They can’t kill what they can’t catch
Small businesses execute faster than the big guys. Instant messaging platform Xfire, for instance, was launching a new version every two weeks. By the time its larger competitors assembled their competitive response teams, Xfire had already moved on.

3. Concentrate on winning in the last three feet
Smart brands know that the fight goes to the one that finishes well. Oslo University was happy to watch its larger competitor outspend it 200:1, because its online campaign was based on their keywords. Enrollments skyrocketed 500%.

4. When in doubt, fight dirty
Pick unfair fights. Instead of relying on a large ad campaign for its anti-arthritis drug, Arthrotec, Searle Canada endowed a $1 million grant to anyone who could diagnose ulcers caused by traditional arthritis treatments. It won the hearts and minds of the medical community.  

5. Do the unthinkable
There are certain things a giant just can’t bring itself to do. Vibram’s outlandish ‘Five Fingers’ shoe – with five ‘fingers’ for your toes – was something its competitors hadn’t even dreamed of. Thus, the door to the branded athletic shoe market was opened – and Vibram was unopposed.

6. Make the figures work to your advantage
It’s not about lowering your price. Food manufacturer Kozy Shack competes with global giants by providing a higher return on inventory investment.

7. Force a clear choice and polarize them on purpose
Know who you are – and who you’re not. New Zealand’s 42Below vodka mixes premium quality with a brash, irreverent image that alienates some – but to its fans, it’s the choice that speaks to their desire for personality and fun.  

8. Seize the microphone
When no one’s speaking to the market, step up and seize the microphone. Domain name registrar Go Daddy had a 16% share when they decided to launch the first of their attention-grabbing advertising campaigns. Now, Go Daddy is the only name you likely know in the space.

9. Get it right across the board
It’s never enough to be good at one thing. Method combines design aesthetics and user experience with earth-friendly formulation to create a nuanced competitor that’s hard to copy. All that, in a company that makes soap.

10. Don’t get out of the bigger kid’s way
When you’ve got the facts, the product, and your army surrounding you, don’t get out of the bigger kid’s way. Cott Beverage told cola drinkers not to pay the "brand tax," delivering a product that cost less - and it beat the big boys in the taste tests.

Stephen Denny is a consultant and the author of Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath In Your Industry (Penguin UK).

- Talking of giant-killing, MT has been having a look at the practice itself. Read our feature, ‘How to take on a giant’, from the latest issue of MT, here.

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