In today’s increasingly crowded product marketplace, it’s essential to have a solid competitive strategy to ensure you stay one step ahead of your competitors in the minds of customers. Implementing marketing warfare strategies is the perfect addition to your overall marketing plans and can help to reshape your standing within an industry.

Developed in 1986 by Al Ries and Jack Trout (considered two of the godfathers of marketing), the theory focuses less on customer-oriented campaigns and more on maximizing all areas of a business towards the goal of outshining others.

The Four Strategies

There are four strategies used in marketing warfare. Each strategy has a specific purpose and can be adopted based on your needs:

Defensive – Most commonly used by the market leader to protect their position. Corresponding tactics include campaign efforts to shift consumer perception closer to their brand and away from other competitors.

Offensive – Also known as the ‘Challenger Brand’, this strategy is valuable for any business holding 2nd or 3rd place in a market or niche. Even if it lacks the resources to compete directly with the market leader, offensive tactics can cause disruption to defensive brands.

Flanking – Companies who employ the Flanking strategy are attempting to capture territory not yet occupied by the market leader. This may include introducing a lower priced alternative, more personalized service, or niche offerings within the market.

Guerrilla – Focuses on creativity and making a statement over the actual campaign costs or traditionalism. Guerrilla tactics are used to get people talking about a brand and create awareness. This is accomplished through AmbushStealth, or Viral marketing efforts.

The strategy you choose to incorporate will depend on the size of your business, industry type, and what works best for your target market. Additionally, you may need to use one, two, or all of these at different times throughout your business.

Here are a few dos and don’ts worth keeping in mind as you get started:

The Dos:

  • Do know your position in the marketplace. This seems obvious but it’s easy to lose sight of where you stand within your industry without looking at the stats. Even though you’re unlikely to know last year’s total profit for your competitors, be sure to understand who they are and what they do.
  • Do study the moves of your competitors closely. Remember that you’re competing for more than just actual sales. Take a closer look at their website, promotions, products, social media, pricing, branding and content– analyze the entire package of what they are offering so you can figure out how to do it better.
  • Do speak to the right market. Regardless of the competitive warfare strategy you’re using, make sure to still get your message in front of the right audience. Businesses using a flanking strategy find this particularly challenging because it requires them to consider markets they may have never sought out in the past.
  • Do focus on the added value your product(s) or brand creates: Essential for market differentiation when using offensive warfare, highlighting what you do better than the market leader can disrupt perception in the minds of many customers and show them they have a different choice.
  • Do set clear measurements of achievement. Be sure to start with the end in sight. Engaging in competitive warfare without a bigger plan may deem not very useful without clear goals. Whether it’s doubling your sales, garnering free press, or getting more social interactions – know your why.

The Don’ts

  • Don’t go defensive if you’re not the market leader. Unless you’re in the leader of the pack, the use of this tactic may appear forceful and slightly mocking of your entire industry. It’s used strictly to retain the largest market share against all threats.
  • Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Guerrilla warfare campaigns have even been used by some of the most traditional brands including KitKat and Sony. The entire concept is about making a statement with your brand more than following the standard rules of advertising. Think: Dare to be daring.
  • Don’t attempt to use all strategies at once. Learn who your target market is, how this campaign can make the most impact on them, then properly execute one of the four strategies accordingly. Some businesses may use each of these throughout the course of time, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll be in a position to ever need them in unison.
  • Don’t forget this is still (sort of) friendly competition. This is not an opportunity to make personal attacks on the owners of competitor brands or publicly take unnecessary shots at their brand or efforts. Focus on the products or services from the customer’s perspective and think of ways you can prove you’ve got what it takes to capture the sale over the rest of the bunch without too much negativity.

Already tried running a marketing warfare campaign in your business? Which strategy did you use and what was the end result? Leave a comment below.

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