How to win the PR battle using military precision…
To give you an idea of what a business strategy looks like, we’ll explore ways in which you can achieve success with military precision. First, we take the idea of ‘strategic directions’. Every strategy (which we will construct over the following chapters of this book) will have a general direction that it will go in. These general directions can always be broken down into six main areas:
- Approaches to attacking bigger competitors.
- Approaches to attacking equally small competitors.
- Approaches to attacking smaller competitors.
- Approaches to attacking large equal competitors.
- How to arrive late in a marketplace and still succeed.
- How to defend against copycat and late-entry businesses…
These strategic directions will have ‘stratagems’. These are basically the tactics that are used when deciding on a strategic direction. The dictionary definition of a ‘stratagem’ is: “a manoeuvre in a game or conversation,” or “an elaborate or deceitful scheme contrived to deceive or evade.” Stratagems are the ‘tricks’ that accompany a strategic direction, and the ones that are usually used with the strategic directions outlined above are:
- Full frontal attack
- Flanking attack
- Surround and cut off
- Blocking attack
- Guerrilla attack
- Niche defence
- Territorial defence
- Mobile defence
- Stealth defence
- Diplomatic nous
What you need to do is decide which strategy best suits your business. This will depend on what size you are, what your market is like, how big your competitors are, and how long your business has been around. First we are going to look at what these different strategems are, then explore some business scenarios where they can be used.
Guerrillas are good at five things: surprise, speed, economy, flexibility and self-knowledge. Guerrilla strategy is about co-ordinating these strengths to your maximum advantage against a competitor, on a micro basis. Guerrilla attack is commonly used by smaller aggressive businesses and superb publicists.
Typically, this may involve a hostile PR campaign, issue-based marketing that generates widespread publicity, or highly localised aggressive attacks on super niche markets.
Online, you’ll need a top-notch publicity machine and, probably, specialist areas on your site, which may exist for only a matter of months before being archived and replaced with the next guerrilla campaign. A strong customer community that is well-informed by your email programme is likely to underpin this strategy.
Niche strategy is about specialising – using highly advanced skills, or very specialised products or services. It’s a perfect defence against larger competitors, but it’s also a perfect attack against lazy or complacent competitors. At its heart, this strategy depends on a strong customer proposition. Many companies mistakenly believe that if they’re small they must be niche; in fact it is skill that makes a niche specialist.
Niche defence is almost entirely used by highly skilled or highly specialised companies. It’s also a great opportunity for premium pricing, and many nichers do charge higher prices. Through PR you’ll need a snappy image which communicates an attention to detail in order to demonstrate that you are a supreme specialist.
This strategy depends on your ability to develop a superb local market or community knowledge, and is very similar in some respects to niche defence. Territorial defence is commonly used by smaller businesses with a geographic focus, or a specialist, community-based business or portal, such as suppliers to football fanzines, or cosmetics companies serving lipstick collectors, or toy stores serving model railway enthusiasts.
If your territory is regional, you’ll need to underpin your business with phenomenal local delivery and service. And, if your territory is community-based, you may need to underpin it with broader services or products which deepen the appeal of your offering and the loyalty among your community. Your PR campaign will need to create a regional or community flavour.
Full frontal attack
This is all-out war. Expensive, risky, long-term and winner takes all. You need money, courage and a strong product or service proposition that probably can’t be beaten but maybe can be matched. It’s a war of focused attrition – you pick a fight with a particular competitor, and throw everything you have at them. Naturally, as you can’t take your eye off your business, this requires extra people and resources.
Full frontal attacks are less common than other strategies but are used in online industries where comparative marketing is common – such as computer hardware, cars, lawnmowers and telecoms. You’ll need an enormous PR and promotional campaign to persuade customers of your superiority. When you deploy this strategy, you develop a reputation for aggression and leadership.
This is striking at an area where a competitor is already weak, and therefore less likely to respond aggressively. You need to attack quickly with your most powerful weapon (perhaps price, perhaps service, perhaps innovation), and achieve an early, conclusive victory. This attack is more economical than full frontal, but delivers smaller results.
You may need a special part of your business dedicated to the attack. This is likely to be a special price offer, a new product or service, better technology or better delivery. If these are areas where your competitor is weak, then your campaign will have bite.
Surround and cut off
This strategy is simply about surrounding your competitor – or a particular product of theirs – with a variety of products, product features, or offers. You need to be very focused and innovative to pull this strategy off, and chances are that you’ll be in a fairly mature market, with years of experience in creating innovative variants from a standard product. Like the frontal attack, this is a long-term war of attrition. You will need deep pockets and plenty of resources to successfully pull this one off.
Surround and cut off is effectively used by large businesses against individual niche specialists. Customers are bombarded by choice, price or alternative products, while the customer of the niche specialist is bereft of options. It’s a very effective strategy for larger businesses attacking smaller ones. You’ll need a highly segmented PR programme to target different segments with different messages and different benefits, thereby surrounding your competitor.
In this strategy, you are seeking to close out your competitor from important market segments, channels, affiliates or distributors. And the way you achieve it is by broadening your product or service range to supply everything that the customer, channel, affiliate or distributor desires. In effect, you’re turning yourself into a one-stop shop, not just for customers but also for intermediaries.
Blocking attack is perhaps most effectively used by customer-led organisations, who are better skilled at listening to customers, identifying their needs and going straight into production to satisfy them. More production-focused organisations tend to hesitate at strange or unfamiliar requests, or grow cautious when confronted with the need to expand core competencies. You’ll need to expand your product catalogue, broaden your services to channels or affiliates, increase your appeal to new market segments and quite possibly reposition your entire business as a one-stop shop.
This strategy is akin to permanent innovation. It involves keeping your business and your site constantly ahead of the competition. It’s a tricky strategy to pursue if you’re a mediocre business, but, if you’ve got a genuine reputation for the cutting edge, then staying ahead is already a natural part of your business.
The mobile defence strategy is ideal for the avant-garde, the style gurus, rebellious businesses and red-hot innovators. Software companies, technology businesses and opinion-forming organisations often pursue this strategy. You’ll be constantly reinventing yourself, and demonstrating leadership where others have copied, plagiarised or licensed your ideas.
You’ll need visual and functional evidence of your advanced approach – possibly a new-technology dominance and a publicity machine that is geared towards cranking out groundbreaking stories.
Stealth defence is an underground strategy, like the French Resistance in World War Two. The idea is to make yourself invisible to competitors and press and rely totally on word of mouth. It differs from guerrilla strategy in one key way: marketing, communications and delivery are all underground, silent and unannounced, whereas the guerrilla uses publicity as a main weapon.
Stealth strategy is used by, among others, the entertainment, personal services and surveillance industries. It’s an excellent way to create a buzz, without a large budget, and with an opportunity for premium pricing.
You’ll need experience in starting a word-of-mouth effect, knowing how to reach opinion formers and how to create strings of influence. To complement the secrecy, online you’ll need a site unpublished on search engines, largely password-protected, and a heavy reliance on email and discussion-forum communication.
Diplomatic-nous strategy is about using deals with third parties to create more commercial power. It’s about outmaneuvering your competitors and collaborating with them! You need excellent negotiating skills to pull off this strategy, but it’s so very effective that it’s worth a go.
Commonly, diplomatic nous is used by innovative and enterprising smaller businesses looking to find fast routes to growth, such as seeking licensing or distribution deals to get quick growth established.
You need to forge joint PR programmes which will result in joint licensing, distribution, production, research and/or communication deals. Online, you’re looking to create functional and content links (not just brand associations or hyperlinks).