Avoiding the Mushy Middle

Finding Your Strategic Advantage

All too often, businesses and brands react to the success of a competitor with a “me, too” response that attempts to duplicate the strategy that made the positive difference. What actually happens instead is that the “me, too” brand/business winds up in a worse position than before because identifying the difference between it and the market leader becomes even more difficult. Without a strong strategy of its own, the “me, too” brand/business gets lost in the “mushy middle” of every other competitor that follows suit.

An effective basic strategy of differentiating yourself in the marketplace is to be the opposite of your closest competitor. As marketing expert Laura Ries points out, “Listerine was the bad-tasting mouthwash, so Scope became the good tasting mouthwash. Home Depot was male and messy, so Lowe’s became female and neat.”

By finding a strategic advantage in some trait that is not shared by your competitor, you position yourself as an alternative. The example Ries provides is Starbucks vs. Dunkin’ Donuts. “Starbucks is…slow and snobby…Dunkin’ Donuts is…fast and down-to-earth.” And while Dunkin’ Donuts’ cup of Joe doesn’t have fascinating stories behind the origins of its beans, it admirably holds its own on the flavor front. Ries concludes her observations by noting that Dunkin’ Donuts could position itself as “The place to stop for busy Americans who don’t have the time (or money) to waste at Starbucks.”

Once you find that the differences between you and your closest competitor can be your greatest strength, you can start building a distinctive brand identity on one or several strategic fronts – and leave all the rest wallowing in that murky, mushy middle.