How to out-sell your competitors and dominate your market
by Ben M. Bartlett
Let’s cut to the chase shall we? To succeed in business you need to constantly out-think and out-maneuver your competitors in order to out-sell them. Business success is about identifying a market segment you can dominate and then owning that segment.
How? As suggested above, it starts with effective strategic thinking. Let me show you what happens when you get the thinking right.
Shown below is a retro print ad from the 1960s. But it’s not just any old print ad. It’s from Volkswagen and was part of that company’s campaign to aggressively grow the VW Beetle in the US market. Now this ad and the overall campaign kicked some serious ass. Fueled by the power of this campaign, VW sales in the US went through the roof, with over 177,000 sold in 1961 alone, compared with 50,000 cars sold in 1957. (Actually, VW sold a grand total of just 390 Beetles in the US in 1951).
More importantly the campaign was crucial in building the Beetle brand’s cult-like status, not just in the US, but globally. Which is a reason why the Beetle campaign was ranked by Advertising Age magazine (the leading publication for the ad industry) as the #1 advertising campaign of the 20th century.
Hell’s bells, let’s put this ranking into context. Of every prominent advertising campaign ever produced during the 20th century (we’re talking 1,000s of campaigns over that 100 year period ), the VW campaign was voted #1. Anyway, here’s one of the ads from that campaign:
So why was the Beetle campaign so successful? First we have to look at the US car market of that era, which was dominated by gas-guzzling tanks. Indeed, during the 1950s-60s bigger was considered better, as these two ads illustrate:
So, here you have US carmakers building and promoting their large, powerful vehicles…and then Volkswagen comes along with its small, uninspiring Beetle. What contrast. It’s a classic case of what I call “attacking the empty space.” In other words, entering and filling a gap in the market.
Now here’s the reality of the situation. Great as the campaign was, it would not have succeeded if there was no empty competitive space to start with. At the time there were few small vehicles, so VW had a huge product advantage which just needed to be exploited.
Bill Bernbach, the creative director of the ad agency that created the campaign, describes the importance of the product advantage this way: “Advertising doesn’t create a product advantage, it can only convey it….No matter how skillful you are, you can’t create a product advantage that doesn’t exist.” -Bill Bernbach
What you have read highlights one of the most important marketing principles you will ever learn, which is that to be successful in business you must first have a product advantage. Moreover, this advantage must be sustainable and it must be easily conveyed into a benefit that consumers will value.
VW had a product advantage and this advantage was brilliantly conveyed.
Closer to home, here’s another case study for a project I completed in the early 2000s. With this project for an accounting firm I analyzed the accounting industry, then identified some empty space I believed this firm should attack. Here’s a strategy grid that highlights where the space was:
Once I showed the client the empty space, and showed them how to attack it,we then re-positioned and re-branded the business with a new name that most accounting firms wouldn’t have the balls to give themselves:
Good news is that StreetSmart has grown in leaps and bounds since its re-positioning and is a leader in the innovative accounting space.
To reiterate the underlying message of this blog post, the magic wasn’t in the new name or brand (although I must humbly admit my project design partner and I did an awesome job there). The magic was actually in the analysis, identification of the empty space and development of a product concept to enter that space.
Key lessons for you
To out-sell your competitors you need to out-strategize them. And, to do that you need to:
- Analyze market trends and consumer tastes
- Identify a market sweet spot, which is a stage where the market is starting to emerge from novelty to mainstream
- Identify and establish a monopoly or leadership position within the market sweet spot you’ve identified. In other words, creating ownership of uncontested or lowly-contest market space.
Next comes the skill of filling that space. This is part and parcel of the product development process, which entails creating products that have high perceived-valued product advantages. Actually, the product development role is many and varied and encompasses:
- Inventing and positioning new products and product categories
- Re-inventing, refining and enhancing existing products
- Re-positioning competing products
- Quickly recognizing when a product is a dog and ditching it before it drains too many resources.
You need to position your products in such a way that you can dominate or even monopolize a category. It is only when you have identified the empty space, created the right positioning and built the right product can you move on to conveying those advantages with your brand and marketing communications program.