Facing a Dominant Brand -Marketing Martial Arts

Dominant Brands

Facing a dominant brand in your category may be the most difficult challenge in advertising and marketing.  Competing against brands like Apple,  Google, Walmart, Coke and McDonalds is a daily challenge for companies around the world.  We have tackled brands like Bayer, Sherman-Williams, Ohio State University, Hopkins Airport and the Cleveland Clinic.  In each case, the dominant brand is synonymous with its category, enjoying top-of-mind awareness and the status of having achieved market leadership by being really good at what they do.

Do you go head-to-head against these giants with a message of “as good as” or “better than?”  Or do you travel an entirely different route?

David’s Strategies (not me but the other one)

There is much we can learn from the battle between David and Goliath that occurred around 3,000 years ago.  Was this battle intended to be a biblical story with religious and political implications or was it written to enlighten the marketers of the day?  There are too many sound marketing gems about competing with a dominant brand to think the story was written for any other reason.  For example:

Don’t sell yourself short.

The dominant brand may have more resources, but they are not invincible.  David volunteered to fight Goliath and it took some persuasion before his king gave him permission.  Don’t be afraid to get in there and fight.

Identify your own strengths.

While the giant used the conventional weapons of the time, David was armed with a slingshot and a pouch full of stones.  He knew what he was best at and changed the playing field with his choice of weapons.

The dominant brand is generally not very nimble.

David went into the battle wearing a simple tunic without heavy armor or a shield to weigh him down. He was enhancing his own advantage while leveraging Goliath’s strength against him.

Identify your target and don’t miss.

OK, the giant wasn’t exactly David’s target audience, but he did identify a target (forehead just above the eyes) and he didn’t miss.

Today’s Strategies

David from 3,000 years ago and Marketing 101 today both tell us that it’s a big mistake to try to beat Goliath at his own game. Challenging Goliath with an “as good as” or “better than” strategy runs the risk of reinforcing the giant’s superior position.  These strategies can only work if your brand is “as good as” or “better than” for different reasons and/or for a different segment.  Otherwise, go in a different direction.

Looking and sounding like the dominant brand in your advertising won’t get you into their league either.  In fact, since the leaders are top-of-mind and synonymous with the category, they may get credit for your advertising!  (There is nothing like spending money to advertise your competitor’s product or service.)

Above all else, being brave was David’s number one asset.  Without his bravery, there would not have been a formidable contest.  If ever there was a situation where bravery in advertising is crucial, it’s when a brand is trying to tackle a category giant.  We seem to start out with a strong competitive spirit and then through a series of meeting and revisions, we end up giving in to politics, conformity and apathy – right where the giant wants us.

Only by being courageous can you rev up the creativity of your agency and put more than “a clink in the armor” of you know who.


Questions for Reflection

What are the differences between you and your dominant competitor?

Are you comparing your product or service to competition or are you differentiating yourself?

Should you start the fight like Avis, Pepsi and Bing?

Should you mention or recognize the dominant brand in your communication?