Brand Positioning for a Competitive Edge – Part 3: Competitive Offense and Defense

So far in the Brand Positioning for a Competitive Edge series, you’ve learned what brand positioning is and how to create brand differentiators to effectively position your brand against competitor brands. In Part 3 of the series, you learn about competitive positioning attacks — both proactive and reactive. There are many ways to attack your competitors (or for them to attack you) based on your respective brand positions in the marketplace, and this article teaches you all the basics.


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brand positioning competitive edgeThe four broad positions that brands typically take in the market are market leaders, market challengers, market followers, and market nichers. Depending on your broad brand position, your competitive attacks are likely to vary. First, you need to identify which broad brand position you hold:

Market Leader: The market leader is exactly what the name says — the leader of the market where the brand exists. It’s important to point out that the market leader isn’t necessarily the first-to-market. Those are pioneer brands, and they can be surpassed by other brands that enter the market later and steal the market leader position.

Market Challenger: A market challenger wants to aggressively steal market share from the market leader, and invests time and money into finding differentiators and creating marketing programs that enable the brand to exploit opportunities whenever they arise. And if opportunities don’t arise, the market challenger will seek ways to create innovative opportunities. The classic example is the ongoing Coke vs. Pepsi rivalry.

Market Follower: A market follower seeks to gain market share but is less interested in differentiating its brand from the market leader. Instead, the market follower effectively rides on the market leader’s coattails while positioning its brand just far enough away from the market leader to be different. A great example is any young adult novel that’s marketed as “the next Harry Potter.”

Market Nicher: A market nicher seeks to dominate a small part of the overall market where it does business. Market nichers are typically smaller players and smaller companies that can’t effectively compete against the market leader but can succeed in a specific area and with a specific audience by focusing on a specific differentiator aligned with the niche.

Competitive Offense and Defense Strategies

Once you determine your competitive position, you need to create your competitive positioning strategies. There are a variety of offensive and defensive strategies that you can use to build your brand. Following are a number of options to choose from:

Frontal Attack: In a frontal attack, you directly attack another brand’s weaknesses in order to gain market share. This type of attack requires research and resources to be successful. Commercials that pit one stain remover against another provide a perfect example of a frontal attack strategy.

Flanking Attack: In a flanking attack, you leverage another brand’s weakness, not to directly attack them, but to circumvent them and gain market share. For example, Hummer was effectively driven out of business when other brands stepped up the release of hybrid vehicles drawing attention to the environmentally-unfriendly and gas-guzzling Hummer without ever attacking the Hummer brand directly.

Guerrilla Attack: Guerrilla attacks are popular among small competitors who focus on stealing tiny bits of market share that seem so insignificant to market leaders that they’re simply ignored. Guerrilla attacks might be small, but they’re usually repetitive. For example, man-on-the-street marketing where people hand out flyers or free samples can help smaller brands gain new customers when wide scale advertising would be cost prohibitive.

Proactive Defense: A proactive defense strategy requires ongoing competitive intelligence research (which will be discussed in Part 4 of this series). In other words, you need to keep tabs on what your competitors are doing to ensure that your brand marketing efforts consistently help you retain and gain market share. For example, brand extensions can be a great way to secure a brand’s position in its market. Google is a perfect example of a brand that uses a proactive defense.

kindle fireReactive Defense: A reactive defense strategy is usually employed after a competitor has launched a significant attack. The counter-attack must be swift and strong in order to weaken the competitor to stop market share loss. For example, when the iPad was launched and Amazon Kindle e-reader sales began to decline, Amazon launched the Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch to regain some lost market share and gain new customers.

Bottom-line, you need to be prepared to defend your brand position against competitors and you need to attack competitors directly or indirectly in order to steal market share and continue to grow. Naturally, bringing new customers to the market should be a strategic goal, but if you’re not trying to shift consumers to your brand who already purchase brands in your market, you’re missing a significant opportunity to grow. You can bet your competitors will attack you. Don’t let it be easy for them!

Be sure to read the previous parts of the Brand Positioning for a Competitive Edge series by clicking the links below, and stay tuned for the final part coming up soon on the AYTM blog:


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Gunelius
Susan Gunelius, MBA is a 25-year marketing and branding expert and President and CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She is the author of 10 books about marketing, branding and social media, and her marketing-related articles appear on top media websites such as Entrepreneur.com and Forbes.com. She is also the Founder and Editor in Chief of WomenOnBusiness.com, an award-winning blog for business women.