Marketing Warfare: Offensive Strategy
With an offensive marketing warfare strategy, a company needs to target the weaknesses or one specific weakness in the competition – making sure to emphasize their own strengths as well. You shouldn’t ever try to challenge a market leaders strengths – you will not win that battle. A business needs to attack where the competition is most vulnerable.
An offensive strategy is most appropriate when your company is the 2nd or 3rd in the market. Sometimes it may be that no business is strong enough to offensively challenge the leader. In that case, the market leader should be playing defensive, and the smaller firms should be flanking or actively pursuing guerrilla marketing tactics.
Fundamentals of Offensive Marketing Warfare
- Challengers should focus on the market leader, not their own strengths or weaknesses.
- Challengers should find weaknesses in the market leader’s strength, not just a weakness in their position in the industry. Simple weaknesses are easily solved by a large market leader.
- Be sure to always avoid broad attacks – execute a focused attack.
When developing an offensive marketing campaign, first identify your competitor’s advantages and disadvantages. An attack on any old weakness in a market leader is not enough. To give you an example, perhaps the market leader’s price includes a larger profit margin than necessary – if you attack their price – they could very easily lower the price in defense – negating your entire strategy, and getting rid of your main strength. Remember, market leaders have the resources and strength to defend against simple attacks on their weaknesses. However, there may be inherent weaknesses in their own strengths. Other times, weaknesses in the market leader arise from the fact that they have major asset investments that cannot easily be updated or adapted to drastic changes
One major flip-side to the popularity of a business market leader is that it could be crowded with customers on a daily basis – allowing a challenger to exploit the success and make a foothold in an industry by offering a better customer experience. When competing with car rental market leader Hertz, Avis Rent a Car went with a campaign focusing on the fact that Hertz was the number one market leader and that their own company was second.
Putting away your ego to refer to yourself as the number two brand is a brilliant strategy. Instead of looking like a second-tier company – they were able to pull off the idea that the market leader was so busy, they were letting things slide. They focused on the motivation which being second best can inspire, leading to Avis’s famous slogan: “we try harder.” Their slogan is simple, effective, and memorable. They promised to please their customers more than the market leader, Hertz, and people have responded well to their campaigns over the years.
Market challengers should be sure that they always attack on as small and narrow a front as possible. Instead of attacking the entire business and all products, attack a single product. Consider the principle of force and pressure. When a challenging business concentrates its resources and strength on a narrow area, they actually presents more force and pressure on a leader. Many challengers make this mistake, trying to compete with a market leader on every angle, with every single product line. It typically does not work out well for the challenger.
Federal Express (FedEx) made this mistake early on, not focusing on any one offering, instead trying to offer the same exact choices and options as their competitors. FedEx was only able to succeed when they quit focusing on the entire product line, and instead focused solely on the next-day delivery market and businesses who “need it yesterday.”
When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.
Remember the Burger Wars?
Whether it’s online, on TV, or in print, these two competitors don’t hold back. In one print ad, Burger King was promoting their new sandwich, the Big King – attacking McDonald’s most popular sandwich – the Big Mac.
Like a Big Mac, except it’s got 75 percent more beef– and it’s flame-broiled.
This intense rivalry and offensive marketing style, though at its peak in the 80’s and 90’s continues today (from both sides).
When the Hefty brand wanted to overtake the competition in the 80’s, they never once called out their competitors by name – simply focusing on the material the bags were made out of. They were in fact playing to their product’s main advantage – while indirectly suggesting that all the competitors sell “wimpy” bags. They didn’t need to a full comparison campaign between them and their competitors, which, for all we know, could have backfired – they only needed a general offensive campaign. Not only did this campaign succeed, it helped make the Hefty brand part of pop culture, with their memorable tagline.
Narrow attacks are most effective when leaders try to be all things to all people with one product line. In those situations, challengers can identify segments within the market, offering products that only serve that segment. Challenging businesses stand a chance of actually winning a strong position in that segment.
When executing your offensive marketing strategy, be sure to always closely monitor response, survey customers, the public – be sure to find out if your marketing even has the desired effect.
• Hauser, John and Steven Shugan. Marketing Science, Vol. 27
• Ries, Al and Jack Trout. Marketing Warfare.
• “Marketing Strategy Models.” Venkatesh Shankar. 2010. Wiley International Encyclopedia of Marketing.
• Guiomar Martín-Herrán, Shaun McQuitty, Simon Pierre Sigué. (2012) Offensive versus defensive marketing: What is the optimal spending allocation?. International Journal of Research in Marketing 29, 210-219.