Q: Your last Friday’s column on the different kinds of competitive attitudes got us at first playing a guessing game. Those of us who took our lunch last Friday at our company executive dining room took turn guessing each other’s competitive attitude. That’s until someone asked what sort of behavior toward the competitor accompanied each type of attitude.
For the “ruthless attitude” everyone was more or less in agreement. But for all the other types, a debate ensued. The executive who threw in the question on behavior suggested that you may want to share with us your experience on this issue. So please tell us how competitive attitude translated to competitive behavior and strategies?
A: Without your asking, we were actually planning to write on this issue. It’s not only the accompanying behavior that we thought we should deal with but also the consequences of the behavior. We wanted to do this last Friday but our allotted space did not allow it.
We’ll start with the “ruthless attitude” even though you indicated there was agreement among you. But there seems to be no unanimous agreement because you qualified the agreement as being “more or less.” At the same time, this was the attitude type whose behavioral companion was easiest to identify. That’s in its believer’s attitude statement: “When dealing with my competitor, my response rule is simple: It’s always better to over-react than to under-react or wait. My attack rule is just as simple: You don’t just hurt your competitor. You come in for the kill. Annihilate the enemy.”
The likely consequence or consequences of such a competitive offensive are alarming to say the least. It’s the kind of action that readily translates to a marketing warfare. As we all know, the worst warfare version is the price war. It’s a zero-sum game. The gain of one is the loss of the other. The total result sums up to zero.
But lately we’ve not witnessed a price war; at least not a prolonged one. The marketing warfare waged nowadays has been a promo war, an advertising war, a PR war, a packaging war, a new next generation product war and the like. It looks as though competing companies had learned the futility of frontal attack and the use of brute force to grab “too much” market share. We’re likely to see this happening sooner rather than later with the adversarial and predatory priced goods from mainland China. Labor and raw material costs are rising there.
So in what direction is the “ruthless attitude” evolving? There’s every indication that it will take either of two paths: (1) “the realistic and accepting attitude” or (2) the game and fun-loving attitude.” We’ve seen marketers with either of these competitive attitudes behave defensively more than offensively. Both simply want to take care of their existing customers. They want to protect their current market share.
The most effective defensive strategy is to have a customer retention program under a customer retention manager. The obvious implication of having such a program is to provide it with a budget. How much? The larger your market share, the more customers there are to protect, and therefore the larger the budget. We saw this in the recession years of 2010 and 2011 when detergent buyers started shifting to the local detergent brands of Champion and Pride. The global brands of Surf and Ariel took the defensive strategies of heavy enough promo-and-advertised sachet marketing.
In its specific behavioral manifestations, “the game and fun-loving attitude” is likewise also fun to witness. The competitive “flanking maneuvers” that you will observe among pharma company medreps during a PMA (Philippine Medical Convention) is a case in point. During one convention, we saw a local pharma company who probably did not have the kind of budget to enable its medreps to gift doctors with expensive giveaways. After observing that a good number of doctors did not have a large enough bag to contain their many gifts, these pharma company medreps came to the rescue. They gave the large bag with of course the pharma company brand on it. With grateful eyes, the doctor also agreed to accept the help of the medrep in loading the doctor’s many giveaways into the bag.
There are also “guerilla H-R-H maneuvers.” That’s one guerilla tactic variant characterized by its quick and repeated Hit-Retreat-Hide moves. A classic case is Asia Brewery when it decided to challenge San Miguel Beer’s dominance and market leadership. It came in with one beer brand after another. Then there’s Jollibee who in the early years tried matching or outdoing McDonald’s store expansion with what its CEO then called “strangulation tactic.” For every one large McDonald’s architecture, Jollibee surrounded it with three to four small Jollibee stores. Incidentally, these examples tell us that contrary to popular understanding, guerilla marketing is not only for small companies. It’s a competitive behavior available and availed of by large marketers.
The fourth attitude that we talked about was “the Hamlet attitude.” By definition, it has no behavioral companion. As we saw, a Hamlet-kind of marketer would rather wait things out because this marketer believes that “in 80 percent to 90 percent of the cases, nothing really bad comes out of those competitor moves.”
And finally, we have the “welcoming and benevolent attitude” whose behavioral translation is just as clear by definition. The marketer with this attitude acts in sharp contrast to the marketer governed by the “ruthless attitude.” Whereas the ruthless intensifies competition to become fiercer and more destructive, the benevolent does things to make competition more and more benign. The benevolent is a marketer of peace. Pray that his tribe may grow and flourish.