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bigfishsmallpondIn 1980 Michael Porter transformed the marketing world with his text on Competitive Strategy. It remains a brilliant work in its simplicity, a fundamental approach to analyzing the competitive landscape.  Porter’s five forces brought clarity to a topic muddied by countless unproven approaches.

But there’s even a simpler approach: Three words that inspire even the smallest competitor to dream big.

Be big somewhere.

If you can’t compete with the big boys in their space, make a smaller space. Control the scope of your solution to one only your brand can satisfy. Of course it has to be realistic and meaningful to customers. But by the fundamental laws of mass merchandising, customization of solutions will almost always be rewarded with greater target attention and higher profit margins.

Many marketers mistake market opportunity for market size. But consider this: Would you rather own a 1% share of a market that’s 1 million strong or a 30% share of a market that’s a tenth that size…with higher profit margins?

I know. It’s against a marketer’s very nature to think small, but as a strategic consideration, it can be the best fuel your small or middle-market brand can get. And with all you’ll learn at a lower risk inherent in a more tightly defined market, you’ll be far more efficient at expanding to larger ponds later. This kind of long run approach drives long-term brand profitability.

If you can’t be a big fish in a big pond, shrink the pond.

You can’t put a whale into a fish bowl. But it doesn’t take a huge fish to rule there. So here are a few tips to shrink your way to success.


First focus on your customers.

Draw careful distinctions between what customers think they WANT and what your expertise tells you they truly NEED to satisfy that want. For example, people have long searched for their favorite radio station that plays the kind of music they are in the mood for, when they are in the mood. What they really needed was a way to access a personally customizable music playlist without buying all the recordings.  Enter Pandora. People couldn’t “want” it because they didn’t know the technology existed. The magic lies in the way you analyze and interpret a customer stated want.

Next focus on your offer.

Second, focus your offer and positioning so tightly that the offer itself actually defines a segment, albeit smaller. Competitors tend to disappear when your brand appears to be the only one that can satisfy a very specific set of needs. This strategy done right can make your brand appear as prominent as the giants, to those who matter.

Then focus on your motives.

Be authentic. If your brand is truly customer focused in the most authentic way, you have no competition in the traditional sense. In its place, you have a commitment to serve your customers in a way they cannot be served elsewhere. That demands being constantly connected to your customers as well as non-customers. Anticipating their needs. Developing solutions based on your thought leadership around the application of new technologies, techniques, and trends.

And don’t forget about alignment. Aligning your business goals with those of your customers and your employees makes for a self-perpetuating success. Be sure to conduct a strategic alignment exercise at least once a year to be sure your brand is keeping up with changes in technology, regulation, competition, and other market forces.

For more on this topic, see Getting There From Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution, by Greg French.

GroPartners Consulting



For more perspective on bridging strategy and execution, including practical tools and processes for brand operationalization, get a copy of Getting There From Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution, by Greg French, founder of GroPartners Consulting. E-book at iBooks or hard copy from Amazon.com.