You’ve worked hard to build your competitive positioning. Here’s what you should do in response to an aggressive competitor – and why.
Counter-attack with 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. If you need inspiration, here’s 50 ways to differentiate your brand.
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.
You must defend your positioning strategy
The temptation is to do nothing. To lie low. But is that a good idea? Is there any reason why you wouldn’t defend yourself in the face of an attack on your market share or reputation? No. Because failing to do so means simply handing over hard-earned loyalty and turnover to someone else on a plate. Here’s what happens if you don’t defend your competitive positioning and therefore why you must act:
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.
8 rules to keep you focused on what matters
So often, when brands are attacked, they focus their response on the attacker instead of their positioning strategy. It’s natural to see rebutting the other brand 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 eight rules for defending your brand and making sure you stay positioned strongly and competitively (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.
8. Draw up a perceptual map. Know where and how you want to be positioned when you emerge from the attack. This will help keep you focused.