Flying Seraph
Here’s Why The Market Leader Has To be the Challenger

Everybody wants to be the Challenger. Everybody wants to work for a Challenger.

The Virgin taking on BA.

It’s the romantic and/or sexy thing to do: be David versus Goliath.

People like Adam Morgan have done  work which makes Challenger strategy highly seductive. It’s also very good.

What most don’t realize is the Market Leader – assuming it wants to remain leader – has the most pressing need to behave like a Challenger. Pretending it’s number 2, desperate to beat number 1.

The only strategy the Leader has – given they’re already out in front – is to continuously challenge and supersede themselves. If attack is the best form of defense, go ahead and attack yourself.

Here’s a practical example:

Years ago, working with the breakfast cereal leader, we would divide the team up – that’s everyone – media, advertising, sales, NPD, packaging etc folk. We’d become the ‘shadow’ team for a competitor. Each team would make believe they worked for an enemy. They’d do factory visits, apply for jobs and try to get an interview, talk to friendly retail buyers, etc.

Then they’d develop the strategy they thought would most harm their real employer.

We’d gather after a few weeks, review the stuff most likely to harm us, and do it to ourselves, first

But you dare not – as leader – let yourself start being led by followers. With one exception: threatening competitive moves should be countered – swiftly and determinedly (more on that in ‘Marketing Warfare’ by Ries and Trout: an oldie but a goodie).

Here’s a shocker I was involved with:

I was embedded as a strategy consultant in our leading grocer. There are 2 major newspapers available to the grocers in Sydney. Each reached 50% of newspaper readers. My client only advertised in one of the titles – the Telegraph. So I asked why that was so. Could it be that our shoppers are skewed to the Tele?

The answer horrified me – as it will, you:

‘Coles (smaller and weaker at the time) have shown no interest in using the Herald’.

The obvious conclusion is that Coles had become – by proxy – the authors of Woolworths’ strategy. Woolworths’ strategy had become derivative. And so it continues: Coles did a big red hand. Woolies did a green boxing glove. Coles did ‘Down, Down’. Woolies followed with Cheap, Cheap.

The Leader becomes the follower. At best they’re ‘Colesworth’ (consumer language, not mine). At worst, Coles is now seen to be the thought leader.

Which is lethal given a pattern I’ve seen all too often: Thought Leader becomes Brand Leader. Brand Leader becomes Share/Sales Leader.

To both of them I’d say Aldi is looking very dangerous. Can you bring yourselves to ‘Aldi yourself’ before Aldi, Aldi’s you.

Who among you most wants to lead?

Go on. Challenge yourself. Attack yourself. Supersede yourself.

Please follow me on Twitter: @MarkSareff

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