Is there any reason why you wouldn’t defend yourself in the face of an attack on your market share or reputation? None that I can think of off-hand. Because to do so is to simply hand hard-earned loyalty and turnover to someone else on a plate. Nevertheless, faced with a concerted effort to take market share from them, too many brands defy rational behaviour and either carry on with business as usual or simply ignore what is going on in front of them.
Here are my five reasons why you shouldn’t behave that way:
It telegraphs weakness or at least vulnerability: Failure to respond decisively and aggressively tells your competitor(s) that you are not in a position, physically or emotionally, to do so. As such, it simply encourages greater activity on their part.
It tells your customers you don’t care: When you fail to fight for your customers, it tells the people who buy from you that you either take their loyalty for granted or that you don’t care if they leave.
Delays push you into taking more drastic actions later: If you don’t respond quickly and with determination, allowing your competitor(s) to build momentum, the investment and effort required to win back ground later will be much harder and probably more expensive.
It compromises your reputation: Depending on what is being brought into question (your pricing, quality, dominance, commitment or competitiveness), you can be a less trusted and trustworthy brand. Buyers and distributors can take the view that if you were vulnerable once, you could be so again, at their expense.
It’s bad for morale: There’s nothing worse for a culture than seeing their brand attacked, and management not rallying the troops and leading the brand out to do battle with the adversary. Commitment wavers quickly in the face of indecision.
In this post from some time back, Jack Trout offers his views on how brands should play defence. A defensive position is called for, he says, when your organisation is the clear market leader, and even then the best defensive strategy is attack. You should also strengthen your position by introducing new products or services, have a proactive acquisition approach and look to increase the size of the pie, rather than of your slice.
I don’t disagree with any of that, but what happens if someone brings the fight to you, how should you respond? The successful approach for a counter-attack lies in the four Rs:
1. Redirect – if you are challenged in an area where you are susceptible, shift the focus of the argument to an area where you know you are stronger, and pitch your battle there. Go after your competitor on that point single-mindedly, and dismiss their attempts to turn the argument back as an inability to respond. You can do this with humour, you can do it with humility or you can do it with candour. The key thing is that it gets done.
2. Refute – if they come at you with “evidence”, go after their facts. Summon your own experts, draw up counter-arguments, pick holes in their points, or expose stupidity or naivete. Be dispassionate about it – calm, cool and cutting.
3. Re-position – recognise that you have indeed fallen behind, and use the attack as a much-needed prompt to change how you are perceived in the market. Being under attack puts people under pressure but it also gives them good reasons to focus and for teams to act decisively. If your business model needs revamping, the attack could well serve as the “business case” you need to get change happening quickly. The difficulty is that you will be changing at the same time as you are reacting. That’s never fun.
4. Remind – tell your customers why you are such a valuable asset and why they should remain loyal to you. This is a particularly effective approach if you are being harangued by a challenger brand. Use your heritage and credibility to your advantage. Reach out to your current customers and remind them what you have done for them and for the industry. Position leaving you as a risk or at the very least as an uncertainty.
So often, when brands are attacked, they focus their response on the attacker. It’s natural to see rebutting them as the right defence approach. However, the more effective approach is to engage your customers and the media and to look to convince them that you are in the right. Here are my seven rules for defending your brand (interestingly, several of them are the same as for attacking another brand):
1. Talk to the customer about what they stand to gain by staying with you.
2. Refute the competitors’ principles rather than focusing on people or details.
3. Show buyers that your key concern here is them and the things they care about.
4. Use a mix of media (and messages) to make your point.
5. Involve senior management in protecting key relationships. Try and do this before any stories break in the press.
6. Take any attack seriously, but don’t over-react.
7. Set a timeframe, budget and clear measures for seeing off the attack. Assess progress continually and act on it.
Photo of “Drill Sergeant Giving Orders”, taken by UK Ministry of Defence, sourced from Flickr