When should you target a competitor?

Companies must choose how their marketing will address their competitors. Some choose to ignore the competition, while others publicly target them. And some companies do both simultaneously.

Trellix et al: targeting competitors

Trellix, the company that emerged from the combination of McAfee Enterprise and FireEye, chose the to target its competitors. Trellix’s website contains two pages that target two specific competitors.

  • Trellix vs. CrowdStrike claims that Trellix delivers “earlier, better protection across all phases of the attack chain.” It follows this with a comparison chart that claims security lags.
  • Trellix vs. SentinelOne makes the same claim, but with a different comparison chart that claims a lack of expertise.

For its part, CrowdStrike offers comparisons against both SentinelOne and “McAfee,” while SentinelOne offers comparisons against both CrowdStrike and “McAfee.” Apparently these firms need to update their pages to reflect the new company name (and possibly new features) of Trellix.

Obviously the endpoint protection industry demands these types of comparisons to sway buyers to choose one product over another.

Apple: targeting industry leaders (and ignoring other competitors)

But competitor targeting is also used by upcoming firms to displace established ones. I’ve previously talked about (then) Apple Computer’s famous “Welcome, IBM. Seriously” ad “welcoming” IBM to the personal computer industry. This was part of Steve Jobs’ multi-year effort to grow Apple by targeting and displacing IBM. But while IBM was the clear target, Apple also targeted everyone else, as Bill Murphy, Jr. noted:

Added benefit: There were actually other personal computer companies that were just as successful as Apple at the time, like Commodore, Tandy, and Osborne. The Apple ad ignored them.

From https://www.inc.com/bill-murphy-jr/37-years-ago-steve-jobs-ran-apples-most-amazing-ad-heres-story-its-almost-been-forgotten.html

By framing the circa 1981 computer industry as a battle between the Apple and IBM, Jobs captured the world’s attention. Not only by positioning Apple as David in a battle against Goliath, but by positioning Apple as one of only two companies that mattered. This marketing would reach its peak three years later, in 1984.

From https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R706isyDrqI

When the targeter becomes the target

After 1984, the computer world changed dramatically (as it always does), with other companies creating what were then called “clones,” as well as the massive changes at both IBM and “Apple Computer” (now Apple).

Eventually, small spunky outfits challenged Apple itself, with Fortnite in particular targeting Apple’s requirement that Fortnite exclusively use Apple payments.

From https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHLuKumkASg

So when should you target competitors?

The decision on whether or not to publicly acknowledge and target competitors varies depending upon a company’s culture and its market position.

  • As seen above, some markets such as the endpoint protection market demand competitor comparisons. Others (Apple 1981-1984, Fortnite 2020) target competitors to buttress their own positions. And don’t forget how Avis targeted Hertz in 1962, and Hertz subsequently responded.
  • Then again, sometimes it’s best to not acknowledge the competition. Again note that Apple only acknowledged one competitor in the early 1980s, refusing to acknowledge that the other competitors even existed.
  • In some cases, companies don’t acknowledge the competition because they don’t believe they measure up to the competition on benefits, features, or even price. For these companies, their challenge is to identify some advantage over the competition and promote that advantage, even if the relevant competitors are not explicitly mentioned.

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