Underdog Marketing

Little Dog, Big Bark

So you’re a small player in a market loaded with over-sized competitors.

A David versus Goliath. The ’61 Mets versus the ’27 Yankees. A chihuahua versus a bull mastiff.

No problem, says Vistage speaker Michael Meyers , as long as you, the CEO or business owner, take firm control of the marketing strategy.

“Underdog companies — those with limited resources — can compete against much larger competitors as long as the chief executive does two things,” explains Meyers. “First, get scathingly clear on the firm’s marketing strategy. Second, drive a clear, compelling and consistent brand position in the marketplace.

“In small companies, marketing strategy and brand positioning absolutely fall within the domain of the CEO. Others can do the implementation, but you had better pay attention to these two areas because you’re the only one who will commit the time and resources to make them happen.”

Three-D Marketing

According to Meyers, underdogs must focus their marketing efforts on three specific areas:

1.  Define your market. If you find yourself in a dogfight with bigger or overwhelming numbers of competitors, find a market segment or niche where you can be king of the hill. It may be a small hill, but you have to be king of it.

“In order to pick a fight you can win, first pick where to fight,” advises Meyers. “You can’t be all things to all people. Find a market segment that you can serve better than anyone else and focus on that segment with laser intensity.”

2.  Differentiate until you drop. As an underdog, your sales efforts should never involve a fair fight. If you choose to go after the same customers with fewer resources, you can’t win unless you do something different than the big dogs. The key, argues Meyers, is to differentiate on dimensions that are important to your customers. Before going into battle, ask yourself:

    • Where can we be different?
    • Where can we be distinctive?
    • How do we communicate our differentiation in a way that people find credible and believable?

“Credibility is paramount because customers now have multiple sources to determine whether you’re telling the truth,” notes Meyers. “In an environment where people can check up on you very quickly, you have to be scrupulously honest. Throw out even one little white lie and people will assume you’re lying about everything else.”

3.  Dominate your segment. For underdogs, parity isn’t good enough. In order to succeed, you must dominate your segment, which requires establishing a strong brand. The key with brand-building, suggests Meyers, lies in determining what you will give up in order to establish your brand.

“Most people don’t understand that you have to give up something to have a memorable brand,” he explains. “For example, Dominos Pizza built an empire by surrendering quality for fast delivery. Their pizza doesn’t taste the best, but when you order, you know it will get there fast. Federal Express gave up large-item shipping in order to focus on documents and small items. Before taking your message to market, ask yourself, ‘What are we willing to trade off in order to establish our brand?'”

Establishing a Killer Brand

When it comes to establishing brand position, your people, products and processes determine what you can do. However, to a large extent your customers determine what you should do. To figure that out, suggests Meyers, ask:

  • What do our best customers want most?
  • What turf do they own?
  • Where can we best show value on their turf?”Your brand communicates who you are and what you do,” explains Meyers. “It includes all the tangible and intangible things you do. The tangibles have to do with your product, the intangibles have to do with your people and the service around your product. For many companies, customers consider the intangibles more important than the tangibles. However, in order to have a strong brand you must deliver on both dimensions.”At the end of the day, your brand position must answer four questions:
  • Is it important to the prospect/customer?
  • If so, how important?
  • Is it credible?
  • How will the prospect/customer know it?”To succeed at underdog marketing, become a brand bulldog,” concludes Meyers. “Pick your turf (market segment) carefully and then defend it with the tenacity of a junkyard dog guarding his bone. Forget about parity and go for distinction. Get clear on your brand position and make sure everyone in your company knows it and can articulate it.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Michael Meyers is president of Michael Meyers and Associates, an advertising, marketing and corporate communications firm in Chicago, IL. He addresses Vistage groups on the subject of “Underdog Marketing: How to Succeed When You’re Up Against the Big Dogs!”

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