When Facing Down Giants, You Need To Go Where Giants Cannot

It happened again. 

A client of mine called in a panic. He found out a big national competitor just signed a lease in his town. What are we going to do? And let me tell you, he did not like my answer: Nothing at all.

Now keep in mind, his reaction is perfectly reasonable. In his mind, something in the competitive landscape has changed. Thus, we need to change the marketing to reflect this new reality. Perfectly rational, right?


A big national chain infiltrates his territory. Everything’s different now. What are we going to do differently to deal with this new set of circumstances? This is his line of thinking. And believe me, the big national competitor would love for you to change what you’re doing. Play by the new rules. Their rules.

A new competitor is not automatically a good reason to change your marketing plan. I will now show you a list of the reasons why you should change your marketing strategy.

  1. You have no plan. (you’ve been winging it)
  2. Your plan was wrong all along.

That’s the end of the list.

But understand, this is a tough thing to convince a business owner who is afraid. New circumstances demand a new approach, right? Well, only if your current approach is wrong and always has been.

Consider another time this exact thing happened to me. The year is 2010 and my client is a family-owned building centre in Sudbury Ontario, population 150,000. Client in a panic. Lowes just announced they’re opening. What are we going to do? My answer? Nothing at all.

But they’re coming here to destroy us. No they’re not. They’re coming here to destroy the weak. Those with no plan, or those with a bad plan. And make no mistake, they’re going to gobble up a lot of business in this town. They didn’t come here to play. So what do we do? Nothing. What, just give up? No, I mean keep doing what we’ve been doing all along. 

How can that be?

Because our plan was already a good one, and Lowes doesn’t change that. Here’s what he thinks we should do. I’m not making this up. This is what he told me we should do. “We need to tell people about our selection. Lowes is a big store, but in many ways our store has just as good a selection as they do. They have six different power drills; we have six different power drills. It’s just that they have fifty of each one. Besides, their prices aren’t that much better than ours in most cases. We need to tell people our prices are just as good as…”

Can’t you just imagine the smiling over at Lowes. This is exactly what they want. Make the local competitors to play the game on Lowes’s terms. Selection. Price. Two places they always win. Why do you think they’re so successful? Because when they come to town, everybody stops what they’ve been doing and says, “Tell everyone we’re just like Lowes only better.” Guaranteed to fail. If you’re planning on doing this stuff, just sell your business now. Don’t wait for them to crush you. You’ve already lost.

My advice was… change nothing at all. Because I’d spent the last ten years building their brand on something other than selection and price. Why? Because you don’t have to be the Amazing Randi to predict that Lowes will come to your town someday and try to beat you with selection and price. So what was my client’s brand based on? Something real.

Real matters.

Their brand was based on their people. They had very low staff turnover. The new guy had been there ten years. And they were all building nuts. They all loved to build stuff. So our messaging was all about how if you need to talk to someone about building a gazebo, just ask the nearest staff member. They probably built a gazebo last year. They’ll help you with any gazebo pitfalls. Smart, experienced experts. And lots of them. That was my client’s strength.

Now let’s consider Lowes. They have lots of strengths. Size, which means selection. And size, which means price. Now, where do they suffer? When you have a hundred thousand square feet to manage, you need a lot of workers. And they can’t possibly hire enough smart ones. There just aren’t enough of them to hire. And if you’ve ever been to one of these giant Boeing Aircraft hanger sized stores you know, most of the people there are not experts in… well, anything. They can barely find the light bulbs if they work in the light-bulb department. Volume businesses work on volume and that includes staff. In many cases the criteria for getting hired is that you can fog up a mirror. 

When it comes to quality staff members, my client beats Lowes, easily. And obviously. And that’s what we’d been talking about for ten years. So what should we change it to now? Don’t change a thing. Don’t play their game. Lowes is VERY good… but only at their game. And they’d love for you to play it. Don’t. Play your game.

So let’s talk about your game. In my example, the messaging was based on something real. Something unchanging. Real matters. If your message is based on something real, then a new competitor coming to town doesn’t mean real is now wrong. It just means something has happened that’s scary. And scary sucks. But it’s not a reason to change.

But if you’ve been doing it right all along you need to keep doing that.

If you’ve been doing it wrong all along, then yes. Let this be your wake-up call. Change. But change in a strategic way. Which means for crying out loud, don’t change your message into something that resembles a big national competitor. That’s the only thing they’re good at!!! Stop that. 

Very often when a company doesn’t have a strong plan, they simply look at what the large players do. This is a very dangerous path. Because inevitably you’ll discover a plan that works for a big business doesn’t produce results with a smaller operation. If my building center had focused on selection and price, they’d be setting themselves up for destruction the moment Lowes came to town. 

So you need to take a good hard look at what you’re doing now. Winging it worked in the nineties. Not anymore. You’re in the big leagues now. Because everyone is in the big leagues now. You can hide under the radar for a while but not for long. You don’t have to go after them to get noticed. They’ll find you. 

Do you have a strong creative plan that can hold its own with a large national competitor? Just because they’re not here now doesn’t mean they won’t be in a few years. The day to start winning this war is today.

Begin the process of developing your own unique message. Do it now. And get some help; you can’t do this yourself. Get a headstart on them. Get it working right away. Be months ahead of them. Years if you can.

Don’t wait for something scary to happen before you solve this problem. Find someone who can help you. Someone… like us. Someone who is trained to extract a compelling, persuasive message that is truly authentic. Something that’s true to your values. Your values aren’t the same as Lowes. What’s the matter with you.

Top ten reasons to change your marketing plan.

  1. You don’t have a plan. (you’ve been making it up as you go)
  2. Your plan is based on something like Price or Selection – a well-funded competitor’s natural habitat. This means, unfortunately, it was the wrong plan all along. Change that. Stat!

Wouldn’t it be great to hear a new big competitor is coming to town and confidently say, “Great. Bring it. I’ve got you beat already.”

Find someone who can build you that plan and then stick to it. Forever. Do not deviate. Even if a big competitor comes to town. Your message. Your game. Your rules. Fuck Lowes.