The marketing mission: Borrow
Borrowing attracts less comments, less attention and invites less retribution than stealing. This is as true in your everyday life as in marketing. So, find a way to borrow. Share space with channel or even competitors.
If you are a small company struggling to make an impression in a market dominated by established competitors, try to “borrow”. Create some complementary product or solution offering or find a niche where the big company is not as focused or has profitability pressures. Then “take the pain off” the big company by completing their product offering to the market that they are present but not too keen on. Very soon, you will gain market acceptance and do so without inviting retribution from your competitors.
Here’s a “big-company” secret. The big company product manager has a vested interest in ignoring the existence of small competition. His market share model, is programmed to show small but profitable growth year after year. The trick lies in how he defines his market. Do not take him on frontally and he will ignore you! Give him a reason to say that “Yes, ABC is a good product but they are in an adjacent space to our XYZ”.
Sometimes this denial-game carries on till ABC becomes really big. This is particularly true in the high tech B2B product markets, where if you really insist, all products are same or very different depending on how you define the target market and product-fit. The tendency in this market is to define markets under the product name headline; as in multimeter market or oscilloscope market. You would think that would at least make market share numbers easy to compute, but by ignoring upstarts, “too cheap”, “only local” or basically anyone that does not belong to the “club”, the product manager manages to hold on to his market share number.
Agilent Technologies woke up to the danger of National Instruments after many years of being in collective denial. NI was happy to play the game as it suited them. Generations of Agilent product managers kept pretending that NI makes only Data Acq Cards and some software which is not “quite the same thing” as measuring instruments. Classic case of headlining a market by a product name. NI did not make the mistake, it kept focusing on the market while being careful to not frontally attack Agilent till they became big enough to do so. Today, NI is bigger than 2 of the 3 business units Agilent has in terms of revenue.
So, focus on the market and solving the customer need in niches lying ignored by a big established competitor. Chances are, you will not be noticed by the competitor till fairly late.