How to Take Your Competitors Customers

Taking Preference

By Tom Dougherty

sb10067679w-001Growing your brand’s market share demands taking customers from the competitor’s camp meaning that you need to change a purchase behavior and break what may very well be a long-standing and habitual pattern. Change is the keyword and change is the key. It is not an easy thing to accomplish—nothing of great value ever is.

Napoleon once said, “If the art of war were nothing but the art of avoiding risks, glory would become the prey of mediocre minds.” Too often, we are our own worst enemy. Because we lack the ability to look at our own business dispassionately, we deceive ourselves and begin to believe our own rhetoric.

It is, after all, human nature to believe in those things that provide us with the greatest comfort. Victory belongs to those who are intellectually rigorous and are willing to challenge the core of their own business beliefs.

How is Preference Created?

Do you believe that you can create a preference for your brands because you have a better product? Do you believe that you can initiate trial (which is the first step in stealing market share) by claiming that your product is better or by demonstrating some intrinsic product benefit? To those that agree with these statements, we believe there is a flawed assumption in that logic. (Read how research fits into this strategy)

It assumes that the customer you are targeting has already developed dissatisfaction in the choices they have already made. Think about this flawed idea logically.

<p style="color: #666666;">If you are trying to encourage a Budweiser drinker to switch to Coors, can you get them to switch by telling them that Coors tastes better? Impossible. There are no beer drinkers who hate the beer they currently drink. Believing that the customer chooses their beer based on taste is simply another fallacy.

In research that we have conducted with blindfolded beer drinkers, they cannot correctly choose their own brand of beer out of a choice of similar styles. Obviously, there is something else going on here besides product attributes and efficacy. Choices are made and more importantly, re-made, based on factors that are not always cognitively recognized by the customer. Understanding those factors is the leverage you need to change their behavior and make prospects into customers. (Read more on creating preference here)

Objectivity is Key 

Step back, look at your business as objectively as possible, and acknowledge that much of what you currently believe that differentiates your brand in the minds of customers is “wishful thinking” on your part. A good start is to acknowledge that your competition claims to own the same things.

Next, acknowledge that your target market has a difficult time discriminating between competitors by purely rational measures. Marketers agree that a good strategy to influence a prospect’s choices is by delivering a better solution to their needs. We agree with this— however, we have a different opinion as to what they actually are buying. For the most part, brands are obsessed with category benefits and yet customers choose within that category based on much more personal criteria. This turns out to be the foundation of a strategy to influence your competitor’s customers and make them your customers.

An Example of BRAND

Let’s use next day delivery as an example. We all have a choice of providers when we wish to send a letter or package and have next day delivery. When the need arises, we know of FedEx, DHL, UPS, and even the postal service come to mind. All of these companies offer quite reliable “next day delivery” services. All are reliable and all of them perform well. Our list of choices forms because of a “category need” yet none of these providers are able to differentiate themselves by cognitive measures. None can own “reliable” because all of them are.

taking preferenceNone can own convenient, because all are convenient. None can own low cost provider, because all of the prices are similar. In fact, within the category, the providers offer no cognitive advantages over one another. We all know that we can reliably ship with any one of them and do so within pennies of each other.

They will all deliver our package as promised. Why then, if I absolutely need to have a package delivered the next morning do I choose FedEx? Is it because they are cheaper? Is it because the others have failed me in the past? Is it because they are more reliable or more convenient? Not at all. I choose them for this important delivery task because I am buying who I wish to be at the moment that I need the package shipped.

I wish to be a man with “no worries” and I bought the BRAND, not the service. It is this BRAND that enabled FedEx to buy KINKOS — a company most assuredly NOT in the next day delivery business but a company very much in the ”peace of mind” business, which is the core of the FedEx BRAND.

Category Benefits = Commodity Markets

If you wish to capture your competitor’s customers, fix any CATEGORY deficiencies you might have (like taste, if you are a beer, service is you are a hotel, and selection if you are a retailer) to bring your product offering up to par with the competitive set. But remember, parity does not build preference or margins.

If you wish to steal your competitor’s customers, you need to uncover the precepts (beliefs) that drive your prospect to find more meaning in their lives. You need to align your messaging with that new understanding. Napoleon summed up the importance of such subtle changes when he said, “Sometimes a single battle decides everything and sometimes, too, the slightest circumstance decides the issue of a battle. There is a moment in every battle at which the least maneuver is decisive and gives superiority, as one drop of water causes overflow.” 

A Better Way to Taking Preference

When done with clarity, objectivity, and focus, the customer entering your category of offerings is faced with a choice of like products and/or services. One choice represents their highest personal aspirations.

Faced with such a choice, they are in fact choosing between themselves and an inanimate object. When executed properly, this infusion of meaning creates a covetous relationship between your brand and the prospect’s self-identity. To choose otherwise would be a form of emotional suicide.