There’s a drawback to how we have been trained through school, sports and every competitive venture the industrial system has produced in us. We think we can win by being better than our competition. Working harder at something does work in many endeavors, but it’s not effective when it comes to marketing. Marketing is a completely different game with different rules. One of these rules is:
Don’t try to be better than your competition; be different.
Think about the brands you know. Coke has always been number one. So has Hertz in rental cars and HP in printers. These brands do not get displaced despite massive amounts of money and energy spent by their competition. They own their categories in the mind of the market.
Marketing is about perception, not your products. It is what the prospect thinks and believes about your category and they are looking for who the leader is. If you are not the leader in your segment, then the best strategy is to be number two and play off of the leader. The next best strategy is to differentiate and occupy a new niche or category that you can be the leader within. Unseating the leader is a losing battle. It’s hard to change the mindset of prospects that already believe they are right in what they perceive. The number two position is reserved for whoever wants to play off of the leader as an alternative. Think how Avis talks about “We try harder,” as their motto acknowledging their position and speaking to the prospect that favors an alternative to Hertz.
So how can you be different rather than better? Find a way to narrow your category even further and create a new defined leadership role. This creates separation from your competition and allows you to occupy open real estate in the mind of the prospect. Finding a category which has demand for your products or services that you become the default choice in the mind of the prospect is a much easier endeavor than trying to best competitors who already have mindshare.
Looking at the game you are trying to play, how can you be different rather than better?