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‘Reposition’ Your Competition

Tactics to help you win the battle for consumer mindshare

When it comes to competing in the open marketplace, most sellers think their first job in gaining market share is to launch a superior product or service. Sure, it’s only obvious that you first need a fine product to sell but, as important as the goods and service you’ll offer, you’ll need to ensure you have a space to sell what you’re hawking. This isn’t a matter of securing a physical or even virtual location where you’ll nail up your shingle but, rather, an effective setting up of shop within customers’ minds.

The battle for consumer awareness and preference for particular goods and services is fought daily wherever commerce occurs. Businesses strive to become the de-facto standard within the marketplace—the Kleenex of tissues, the Xerox of copiers or the Coke of colas. Unfortunately, when such preference is achieved, some would-be competitors resolve that they can only participate as an “also ran.” Wrong! That coveted consumer mindshare is up for grabs every day. It’s a fickle preference that can change up whenever a competing business—maybe yours—effectively repositions the current market leader out of the consumers’ minds and snatches up the mental real estate for itself.

Repositioning defined

Repositioning is the strategic tactic of removing a competitor from the consumers’ mindset, and inserting yourself (or your business, product or service) into the vacancy you’ve just created. The “vacancy” is established by directly engaging the consumer—not belittling the competitor—in a way that will cause them to reevaluate a good or service they may currently trend toward.

For example, while the Avis car rental company continued to live in the shadow of long-regarded Hertz, the No. 2 agency launched a campaign that asserted to customers, “We try harder.” This appeal began the process of redefining and repositioning the reigning Hertz as stodgy and complacent. While Hertz was never directly named (therefore never directly confronted), Avis appealed to the customers’ needs, specifically in a way that suggested those needs had changed in a fashion not being addressed by the “other guys.”

First, be clear about why you believe your products are the best, or you provide the best consumer experience

Consumers responded, of course, and Hertz was soon fighting to regain the consumer mindset. In time, Hertz would practice some counter repositioning tactics that would assert its reliability as a mainstay within the car rental industry: “We’re Hertz, they’re not.” The battle, through repositioning, wages on.

Readying your own repositioning campaign

So how do you determine your repositioning tactic? First, you need to be clear about why you believe your products are the best, or you provide the best consumer experience. Imagine you’re selling outdoor firepits, those cozy wood burning kettles perfect for a summertime cookout, marshmallow roast or snuggle time with your significant other. There’s competition, however, that seems to get the lion’s share of the sales. You spot an opening, though, by the fact that your firepits can be manufactured with unique decorative designs that the customers themselves can specify, thereby personalizing their purchase; the competition doesn’t offer this. Electing against a frontal assault of your competition (“Their firepits are mundane, stamped out of the same mold with the same look, whereas ours can be personalized”), you, instead, address the customer directly:

Everyone enjoys an evening seated around a firepit with friends, family, or that special someone in your life. While these cherished times will make for fond memories of cozy goodness, think how truly special your sittings can be when the firepit you gather around bears your own special design elements, from a whimsical design to a revered family emblem. Choose a firepit that evokes personal warmth beyond that of the glowing embers.

OK, so maybe firepits aren’t the sort of thing you’re striving to sell. Nevertheless, the tactic of repositioning the competition works when you establish within customers’ minds that the product they’ve been buying or the business they’ve been buying it from doesn’t meet all of their needs, wants, or desires. To reposition, then, take this approach:

  • Determine what differentiates your products (or services).
  • Develop a campaign that candidly and convincingly redefines the existing competing products.
  • Explain how your product can not only meet, but also exceed, customers’ needs and expectations, above and beyond the competitor’s offerings.

When you can take your case directly to the consumer’s consciousness, you can cause them to recognize how your goods are better than those offered by the current king of the hill. When this occurs, you stand a perfect opportunity to effectively reposition your competition.

Don’t forget the value proposition

Now assume, in the case of the firepit example, that your goods are more expensive than your competitor’s. This can be a difficult hurdle to clear, especially since online shoppers are typically price sensitive (sometimes hyper-sensitive). This can prove to be a challenge but it can be overcome when you assert the value proposition. Simply put, you set about to convince the customers that your goods are worth the extra price because of the higher quality and better overall experience.

This is the basis of success for the numerous coffee chains that cater to an endless flow of patrons who spend upwards of $3 for a cup of brew they could likely percolate themselves for less than 25 cents. The coffee chains asserted—and convinced consumers—that buying a cup of this coffee amounted to a leisurely, even pampering, indulgence that everyone deserves to enjoy.

So, who was repositioned by all this? Easily, the food marts that sell a quick “cup o’ joe” saw their coffee sales eroded because the chains effectively convinced consumers that drinking such indifferent brew must surely be unfulfilling. The food marts have begun countering this repositioning by offering high-end coffees in fancy airpots, and asserting that busy consumers shouldn’t have to wait in line to get a good cup of coffee.

Repositioning isn’t always an easy undertaking. But it’s a tactic that every seller or business should consider, when fully promoting their goods or services, as an effective way of moving aside the competition in the most important realm of all—the customer’s mind.

About the author

Dennis L. Prince
Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay...and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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