One of our clients introduced a new product to the marketplace 10 years ago. The product was wildly successful—and for most of the decade, they had the marketplace to themselves.
Then, suddenly, a couple of competitors released their own versions of the product. Unlike the client—a relatively small and independent manufacturer—the competitors have big marketing budgets designed to quickly capture a sizable share of the market.
It may not be an existential threat to the small manufacturer, but it’s a real one. They’re upset. They did the hard work of introducing a new product and creating a market that hadn’t previously existed—and now their competitors are swooping in to profit from their hard work.
Reporters have started asking the smaller company about those corporate giants. The small company doesn’t want to project anger or anguish—neither is in their company’s DNA—but they feel disingenuous pretending that they’re happy about it.
Here’s one approach I recommended, followed by an explanation of my thinking.
“It’s no surprise that after releasing our product 10 years ago, others would take notice of the customer response and come out with their own versions. We’re going to continue doing what we’ve always done—making the highest-quality product in the marketplace while refusing to take even the shortest of shortcuts. Our customers value our track record of investing in our employees and our community and know what quality looks like—and we’re going to keep delivering it for them.”
We hoped this message would achieve five things:
1. Diminish the reporter’s storyline
The opening three words, “It’s no surprise,” is intended to shift the story’s narrative by acknowledging the obvious. Without those words, the storyline would almost certainly include a dash of David-versus-Goliath hyperbole with phrases such as, “Challenging turning point,” “Major new threat,” or “Can they survive?” Beginning with “It’s no surprise” is an attempt to recast this story as far less dramatic and thoroughly anticipated.
2. Cast the story as one of leaders and followers
The clear implication in the opening line is this: We’re the originals; they’re hitching their wagons to our star.
3. Invoke the notion of shortcuts
This statement focuses squarely on the company’s commitment to quality and never accuses its competitors of taking shortcuts. And yet…the mere mention of the term “shortcuts” injects a contrast into the public mind and media bloodstream. If asked in a follow-up question whether they think their competitors are taking shortcuts, the company could plausibly deflect the charge—and offer an example of their extraordinary manufacturing process that sets their product apart.
4. Remind customers that their purchase supports an independent company that treats its people and community well
It’s never stated that many big corporations don’t share that same commitment—but the implication cuts through.]
5. Take the high ground
Given the four points above, this final point might seem like a contradiction. But re-read the statement above. Two of the three sentences focus solely on the company’s commitment to quality. The other sentence (the first) acknowledges the competition but doesn’t attack it. Yes, there are implications and differentiators in the statement—but not a single sharp elbow.