Famous Feuds: Learning From Competition in Business


We’ve all experienced the frustration of a competitor encroaching on our territory, copying our products or ad campaigns, beating us to market, or establishing a presence in our domain. Let’s take a look at famous company competitions and what we can learn from their brand battles.

Lesson 1: Brand Equity can be Difficult to Overcome

A new firm may come along that makes superior products or offers top-shelf services, but if their competitor has established widespread name recognition, they will have difficulty making inroads in the market. In the marketing world, this original company is said to have gained a surplus of brand equity; in other words, there is a value associated with having a well-known brand. This is the lesson that we can take away from Bing’s recent “Bing Challenge” campaign.

In an effort to raise awareness about Bing and increase its use among web users, Microsoft introduced the “Bing Challenge.” The company aired commercials asking users to complete a side by side blind comparison test claiming that Bing is preferred “nearly two to one” over Google. They also launched bingiton.com where users can take the challenge at home.

Chances are you’ve seen at least one of these ads. Have you actually tried Bing? We surveyed our office and this commercial didn’t prompt any of our team members to try Bing. Why? They are all familiar with Google. Google not only has a strong-hold on the search engine market, they have become synonymous with it the way Kleenex® has become a colloquial term for any tissue. Furthermore, because of its brand equity, using Google has become a habit and habits are difficult to break.

This is great for you if you’re the Google of the situation, but if you’re Bing, you should rethink your approach. Simply stating “We’re like them, only better” isn’t going to cut it.

Tips & Takeaways:

  • Strongly differentiate yourself to prove that you offer benefits that your competitor doesn’t AND these benefits have to be highly sought after in order to break your targeted customers’ habit of using your competitor.
  • Target a niche market; you could also offer essentially the same product or service, but a targeted audience approach may help your customers connect with your brand. Think back to our discussion of clique marketing. Identify a clique that your competitors are not targeting, or aren’t targeting well, and tailor your marketing – branding, social media pages and posts, eblasts, your website, etc. – to this clique, using their language to speak to them.

Lesson 2: When You Spotlight Your Strengths, You Also Shed Light on Your Weaknesses

The temptation to compare your products or services to your competitors’ in your marketing messages is strong, especially when you have a truly superior offering. However, you must keep in mind, that when you spotlight your strengths, you are also shedding light on any weaknesses that may be lurking in the shadows. Take the rivalry between Samsung and Apple regarding their smartphones, the Galaxy and the iPhone.

Samsung has been known to poke fun at the iPhone and its users in their advertising, depicting users waiting in line for the iPhone 5 and mocking its new features. They then show Galaxy users leisurely walking by, bumping their phones together to share a playlist, leaving the iPhone users staring in awe. To the untrained eye, this seems like a clever and witty commercial showing how the Galaxy is superior to the iPhone. However, we marketing professionals see how Samsung exposed their Achilles heel: the dedicated user base that the iPhone has already earned.

Apple has benefited from the network effect, often known as network externalities, meaning that potential customers recognize the value of the network of users that iPhone has already built. If all of their friends have iPhones then they know that they can take advantage of the benefits of being in the network, like using iMessage and Facetime, if they switch to iPhone. Not only does iPhone hold the majority of the smartphone market share, the March Yankee Group 2013 US Survey revealed that only 15% of consumers planned to buy a Samsung phone in the next six months, compared to the 40% who intend to purchase an iPhone. The network effect is working against Samsung in two ways; not only do customers know that they will benefit from joining the iPhone network, they know that they will only be able to make use of the unique features the Galaxy offers, like bump to share, with other Galaxy users.

Ultimately, by poking fun at the swarms of iPhone users, Samsung actually strengthened Apple’s position as market leader by calling attention to their broad network of current customers. The company would have been better off highlighting the strengths of the Galaxy in isolation, rather than drawing the iPhone comparison.

Tips & Takeaways:

  • Focus on your strengthens as a business. Providing side-by-side comparisons may not generate the awareness you are looking for, and it may remind your customers why they choose your competitor.

Lesson 3: Capitalize on the Competitive Spirit with Internal Competition

If you are simply in the competitive spirit, why not capitalize on competition in-house. Pitting two of your products or services against each other allows you to highlight the features of both offering and keep the focus solely on your company. For instance, consider the Apple’s iPad mini commercial. The company places an iPad and an iPad mini side by side, using the piano app to showcase the iPad’s diminutive nature by playing higher pitched notes. By featuring both products, Apple showed that not only do they offer something for everyone, but also that both offer optimal functionality.

Tips & Takeaways:

  • Competition can be a fun marketing tactic, but you need to understand how to use it to your advantage.

We’ve chosen three tech examples because we can relate, but these lessons can be applied across industries. Focus on your company and what makes you unique rather than simply trying to outdo your competitors. Allow this differentiation to seep through all of your marketing messages: from social media, to your website, to your eblasts.

If you would like some ideas on getting your company in the competitive spirit for a digital campaign feel free to contact us for a consultation.

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