Competition is real. For attention, eyeballs, resources, clicks, follows, promotions, elections… Somebody is always facing off against someone else. When we’re the ones in the arena, we don’t just want to think about who we‘re competing against, but how we’re competing against them. This isn’t about the underdog winning with heart and luck, it’s about the underdog winning with brains and strategy (and yes, some heart and luck too).
Charlie Songhurst says it pays to be a heavyweight fighting lightweights. We don’t want to face off against our peers in size and skill, because equal skill reduces the outcome to luck. Instead, we want to deliberately put ourselves into the fights we can win, and ideally, only those fights. There are two ways to do this. We can either 1. Pick opponents we can easily beat, or 2. Change the terms of the competition we’re in. Option #1 might sound like mean older kids stealing little kids’ lunch money but this isn’t where Songhurst is focused. #2 is, and it’s a superpower. It forces us to not just be better, but to be different.
Since most of us are competing with some form of products and services, this is where knowing our category becomes essential. Christopher Lochhead explains the product/service hierarchy as: category > sub-category > brand. As an example: drinks > liquor > your favorite whiskey, or drinks > kids juice > their favorite juice box. The only time people jump to brand is when the brand has so clearly defined and embodied the category, the customer already knows it’s the answer to their needs. Classic examples include soda and Coke, fast food and McDonald’s, tissues and Kleenex, etc. Even still, there’s wiggle room, but only if we go back to the category.
Where there’s a need, there’s a question. The way we position ourselves to knock lightweights out in the ring is to only pick fights with questions, and therefore categories, we can own the definition of. While brands are already heavyweights, they don’t have a monopoly on the questions people ask. They may have a great and proven answer, but they don’t own every question. The first step to picking our battles is to not just be great problem-solvers but to be great problem-finders.
Problem-finders listen to the market and move without the bondage of brand. They let the customers talk first, and then they answer. In the category ring, a potential customer question is the invitation to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Think of it as heavyweight listening. This is how we find the lightweights to position against. As we learn why people want, we’ll start to earn victories and work towards owning our own space in our customer’s minds and hearts. If we do it really well, we can even build our own brand.
It all starts by asking questions. The goal is to honestly and thoroughly offer answers at the category level with heavyweight listening. It’s not just about the fight, it’s about understanding and reinforcing our advantage. There’s more than one ring, there’s more than one opponent, and there’s more than one weight class. Zoom out and let’s pick our fights accordingly.