Exposing The Strategies Of Others

Everyone collects competitive data.  The web has provided a  glut of qualitative and qualitative information you can quickly acquire on competitors to use to your advantage. The truth, though, is most stop at simply collecting this data or using it as a barometer for themselves.  In other words:  they usually just report on it.  Some analyze it.  These things are well and good, but ultimately stop short of something larger that’s possible if you are cunning enough:  exposing the strategies of others.

It’s a powerful play to orchestrate if done purposefully.  And it can carry great rewards if the outcomes of such a situation are designed to tilt a market away from an incumbent.

Some of you are probably uncomfortable with this idea already, but as I noted in a previous post on using enemies, as strategists we can’t be closed off to possibilities simply because they carry taboos or risks.  That’s not what being a strategist is about: it’s about being unafraid of all possible approaches and having a creative, open mind.

To a trained eye with the right tools, the digital strategies of others can be quite clear.  That’s due to the nature of the web, and companies becoming more public.  Industry leaders pushing companies to open up, share more and become transparent presents opportunities, as many of these companies will blindly follow advice of consultants who merely push them to be open since that’s the trendy thing to do without much real rationale.  If you’re smart, this spells an opportunity:  exposing someone else’s strategy for a desired outcome.

If you’re going to do this, proceed with caution – it will require careful planning and follow through.  Here’s a skeleton of what you’ll need:

1) A rationale/outcomes what do you have to gain by exposing the strategy of someone else?  Clearly outline what the outcomes of such a move would be.  Understand what approach to take that will create a desired outcome.

2)  Enough competitive data points to build a case – you can’t expose the strategy of someone else without solid proof they are following a certain design.  You’ll need enough data/proof points in order to build a case.

3)  Ability to frame their strategy in an “us vs. them” mindset – or position it in some way which causes others to defect or rally against the competitor.  If the competitor already has a group of those who hate them, this will be easier than going after a loved brand and you’ll have to work harder at this aspect.  The good news is the web is large enough there are almost always some detractors.

4)  The manner you want the strategy exposed probably the most common way to do this is to have others go about it for you, but in certain cases it makes sense to approach directly.

5)  Seeding the message – we’re getting tactical here, but you’ll need a base to start seeding your messages and publicizing the target’s strategy.  Again, you need to already know your outcome and have a plan in mind.  Merely seeding messages without a proper design can spell danger.

6)  A way to keep your hands clean – maybe – this is a tentative maybe:  it might be a part of your plan that the exposure of someone else’s strategy by you actually works to your advantage.  We can’t know this without more detail, but don’t be closed off to it.  If you’re going to draw it back to you, have next steps planned.  If you’re going to keep your hands off it, make sure you’re careful.

7)  Continue the dialogue, make it referential – bearing you’ve done your job, don’t stop at successfully exposing another brand’s strategy:  make it referential.  In other words, don’t let it get buried, keep it in the minds of others long enough that they reference or link to the situation when mentioning the brand in the future.

The above is just an outline to get you thinking – there are of course steps in between that can be filled in for your specific case.

I’m sure not all of you are comfortable with such a move, nor am I necessarily advising it (especially without knowing the details of your situation).  But I want to get you thinking of what’s possible and open you up to the fact there are many potential approaches to creating a digital marketing strategy.