You Need a Villain To Be a Superhero. These Businesses Turned Their Competitors Into Their Biggest Advantage. Here’s How.

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When a Nationwide fast food franchise announced the grand opening of a new store right across the street from Jerry’s Burger Joint, it wasn’t just Jerry who panicked. Every fast food Freddy in the neighborhood was worried about the big bad wolf eating their lunch. When you’re just a small fry sharing a plate with Mr. McTrump, you have two choices, call it quits, or rise to the occasion. Jerry chose to stand up and fight. He gathered together all the other fast food restaurant owners in the neighborhood and formed a plan.

A plan so brave, you might just call him crazy.

A plan only a Superhero could pull off. What did he do? He chose the busiest lunch hour he could think of…and closed his doors. In fact, every single fast food restaurant within a mile radius shut down for that same lunch hour. They put a sign on their doors encouraging their patrons to welcome the new nationwide fast food franchise to town and eat lunch there. Bold. Crazy. Brilliant. Successful. In fact, this tactic was so successful that his customers became more loyal and perceived his restaurant as the quickest service in town. If you are scratching your head wondering what the heck happened?! Well…

The very next day, every single one of Jerry’s usual customers came back to his joint for a delicious lunch and spent the day complaining about the terrible experience they had at the nationwide fast food place.Turns out, nothing annoys a fast food customer more than slow service. Especially when they run out of food when you get to the front of the line. Since all the other restaurants were closed, the nationwide franchise wasn’t prepared and couldn’t handle the sudden volume.

Superman might not have been so super if he wasn’t up against the eccentric billionaire Lex Luther. Batman needed his Joker, and David needed his Goliath.

Jerry took a seemingly perilous and doomed situation and turned it into a big advantage. He used his villain to become a superhero.

Running a small car dealership isn’t easy, especially when the jumbo-sized dealership spends a fortune advertising a huge sales event at their prime location. In an effort to make it even easier for customers to find the big dealership and their bigger sale, they bought a huge blue balloon and ran all their ads saying, “Just look for the big blue balloons.” Larry Evans was worried sick about keeping his small dealership open and he had to find a clever way to compete with this huge sales event.  So, he bought even bigger blue balloons and basically hijacked his competitors advertising. These are a few of the great strategies and stories Jeff Slutsky discusses in his great book with Dan Kennedy, “No B.S. Grassroots Marketing.”

Sally owned an exterminator business, but couldn’t afford the big costs of advertising like the nationwide brands. She had to find a way to find free prospects. So, she followed her competitors trucks around town as they gave their free estimates, and chatted up the prospects after the competitor left.

 How Can You Leverage Your Competitors For More Traffic to Your Website?

 I Spend a lot of time picking apart my clients competitors websites and strategies online. You can spy on pretty much everything your competitors do online…and you should.

Here are some great strategies to leverage your competitors marketing online to basically steal customers from right under their noses. The first obviously is bidding on your competitors brand names in Google. There are some trademark policies to worry about, but for the most part you can bid on their brand name, you just might not be able to use their trademark in your ad. Another popular option is PPV ads, which basically pops up your advertisement on top of your competitors website. How? When a user downloads a toolbar to be able to play free games or get free coupons, that toolbar sees what websites they visit, and shows your ad when a user visits your competitors website. If you are rolling out a new affiliate program, sometimes the simplest way to find affiliates is to find the people promoting your competitors offers, and make them a deal they can’t refuse.

Want to know who built your competitors website or who does their marketing, often a simple search in Google on their brand name and “Portfolio” will turn up all the websites that claim to have done work for them.

Want to know where your competitors ads are running? Whatrunswhere will show you.
Want to know what keywords your competitors are bidding on? Keywordspy has you covered. Want to know what analytics your competitors use, Builtwith will show you every technology running on their websites, including advertising services, like retargeting providers or which plugins they are running. Want to know which websites are linking to your competitors and helping them outrank you? Opensiteexplorer.org has that to. Want to know what your competitors old website looked like, waybackmachine will show you. Want to know what your competitors are emailing their customers, why not sign up for their newsletters?

The only question is how creative you can get with your competitive strategy. Sometimes you are better off being where your competitors aren’t. That’s the strategy I used to generate $2.00 leads in a $12 click industry. My client offered discount international first class tickets, so I targeted english speakers everywhere but the United States. While their competitors burned through their budgets in the most competitive markets, I went to where they weren’t, and scored big.

I work in some of the most competitive search verticals, often with clicks exceeding $65 and I need to always find ways to leverage my competitors to grow my clients. One thing I noticed is that offline media greatly influences how people search online. So, if I see competitors commercials, print ads, billboards, etc… use a certain verbiage, I can often discover trending high impact keywords that have yet to become as expensive as the high commercial intent keywords in a vertical. In fact, I once led a campaign to fundamentally change the $35 keyword, “donate your car” to a five cent keyword “donate your lemon” by running a large billboard campaign… and of course optimizing our sites to rank organically for “Lemon Keywords”  long before anyone got wind of the idea.

Probably my favorite “steal-your-competitors-advertising” strategy out there is running ppc ads in gmail, targeting their customer communications.

Here’s what you do. First, sign up for all your competitors email newsletters, and search through them for a unique string of words you can exact match target in adwords. Once that is set,  It’s as simple as setting a managed placement targeting mail.google.com, and you will start reaching customers who just started communicating with your competitors. You can even run an ad offering a directly competing offer. For example, “We Guarantee to beat Company X by 15%”. If you are really smart, you can make an ad that is focused just on getting the click, so you can drop a cookie on their browser and retarget them with a smart sequence.

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Sometimes you may not have the luxury of manufacturing a bad experience at your competitors burger joint or don’t have the time to follow your competitors around town. Sometimes your competitor sneaks into town and starts sucking your business dry before you even realize somethings wrong. What should you do if you are on the verge of going out of business?

That’s the challenge Mom and Pop’s Pizza in Colorado had to face. Their business had a steady flow of customers calling in for pizza delivery from their yellow pages ad. Advertising in the yellow pages is quite pricey, and if it doesn’t produce for you, it can cripple a small struggling business. Yellow Pages makes you sign a one year contract regardless of how your ad produces. One January, Mom and Pop’s Pizza suddenly noticed their phone stopped ringing and couldn’t figure out why…Until they opened their Yellow Pages, and noticed their quarter page ad was hidden behind a Huge Full Page advertisement for a new Dominoes Pizza that opened up in town. This ad was killing their business, and they had to figure something out. So, they took out a local newspaper ad running a promotion. “Buy One Get One Free Pizza if you tear out the Dominoes ad from your Yellow Pages and bring it into our store.” Needless to say, their phones started ringing again all year long, and the best part was that Dominoes still had to pay Yellow Pages for the entire year, even though their ad wasn’t in most people’s phone books anymore.

Sometimes in life there is a gloomy cloud hanging over your head, but there is always a silver lining, always a way to flip the odds in your favor. Sun Tzu advocates being on dangerous ground. When you cut off your retreat, you have no choice but to succeed.
These brave business owners went up against the big boys and came home with more than a trophy. They found a way to turn their Villains into the stuff legends are made of.

Personally, I like competitors for many other reasons. Here’s Why.

They help develop the market for you by generating demand. Competition breeds excellence, so it encourages you to excel. With competitors you can learn from both your mistakes and theirs. Most importantly though, they create an opportunity for you to differentiate yourself. You can see what their customers complain about and solve that problem, and suddenly you have a better business, one that is so different, why wouldn’t they choose you?

In every adversity is a seed for an equal or greater opportunity. Next time you catch yourself worrying about a competitor, why not think about ways to turn the tables and see the opportunity just waiting to be discovered. Who knows, it might just be the trick that puts you over the top.

What are your favorite “Stealing competitors customers” strategies, tools and stories?

About David Melamed

David Melamed is a Thought Leader on Search Engine Optimization and Marketing featured on Mashable, Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, Adotas, and Shoemoney. David writes regularly at DavidMelamed.com offering tactical tips, tricks, and startegies to find, engage, nurture, and retain customers. David Melamed is the Founder of Customer Hunter Corp. A content development and promotion agency and Tenfold Traffic a search marketing agency.

36 thoughts on “You Need a Villain To Be a Superhero. These Businesses Turned Their Competitors Into Their Biggest Advantage. Here’s How.

  1. Eli

    Great post, David. Excellent anecdotes, and I especially agree with your last comment: I’m always more scared of an industry with no competitors than one with too many. For RankAbove, competition helped explain and normalize the SEO SaaS market, and actually made it easier to pitch to clients; due to our competitors, they already understood what SEO software did.

    1. David Melamed Post author

      Thanks Eli…The only downside to letting your competitors define what a product in a category does is that it might create a preconceived notion you need to fight. It is super important to make sure they can’t directly compare you to your competitors, or they might not be able to differentiate other than by price. In your case, DRIVE, your SEO saas product has a much smarter “Brain” making SEO recommendations than your competitors…In other words, they can just help you visualize your seo data, DRIVE can actually interpret that data.

  2. TJ

    Hey – this is a great article – surprised there’s not more comments – but screw ‘em – keep up the great work !

    1. David Melamed Post author

      Thanks TJ. There is an important lesson in the lack of comments. In general, for every comment, complaint or compliment from a customer, there are 20 others thinking the same thing, but choosing to remain silent. Businesses need to listen closely to the few who do speak up, they would be surprised how many people share that view, but just move on without sharing their thoughts.

  3. Edgar

    Great Article Dave. Everything you said was true, you cant give up.. you have to think outside the box…

    specially if your a small business trying to outrank the bigger chain.

    thanks

    1. David Melamed Post author

      Thanks Edgar, i concur that it’s a great article :) … Sometimes you don’t even need to think outside the box… You just need to open your eyes and look around.
      It is so easy to pigeonhole yourself into a limiting belief, and it super important to recognize there is often truth beyond your perceptions.

  4. Olin

    This reminds me of when Chic Fila moved into our city. The city went nuts and I went there and man I was not impressed. They hyped it up so much for the launch that I think it hurt them.

    1. David Melamed Post author

      You gotta love their billboards though!!! eat mor chikin :)

      Probably the contract principle in play there… With too much hype, even if your experience was decent, it would still be a disappointment.

      There is a great exercise you can try to see the contrast principle in action. Take 3 bowls of water. one should be cold, one should be hot, and one should be lukewarm. Put one hand into the cold bowl and one into the hot bowl and than put both in the lukewarm bowl. Both hands will feel like they are in very different temperature water even though they are both in the exact same bowl. A bit messy, but the feeling is always a pleasant surprise.

  5. Delaney

    Trashing your competition only makes you look like the bad person. Just out smart them like what the small pizza place did to Dominos. Play hardball but dont go slandering a business

    1. David Melamed Post author

      A good example would be the Walmart commercials where they challenge you to bring in a receipt from another grocery store and see how much you would have saved. If Walmart feels a need to play hardball with their competitors, certainly we should too.

  6. Edmond

    I think that companies will always have their loyal customers no matter what business pops up over town. That is why it is so important for great customer service and showing appreciation to them

    1. David Melamed Post author

      So So True!!! A Business at its core is a series of processes and relationships. The process can be done by many, but the relationship is unique to you. This is probably why the PAR program is doing so well for so many businesses, it is all about nurturing a long term, value added relationship.

  7. Errol

    “They help develop the market for you by generating demand. ” agreed, many people don’t realize that either.

    1. David Melamed Post author

      I probably didn’t realize this until I became a search marketer and had the ability to see search volume of keywords and how they trend.

      In fact, if you are starting out, they validate the market and product/market fit for you as well. As Daymond John from shark tank says, “Pioneers get slaughtered, but settlers prosper.”

      Every penny your competitors put into promoting themselves can help your cause.

  8. Aine

    Signing up for their newsletters, why the hell have I never though about that, I feel like an idiot.

    Thanks for the advice!

    1. David Melamed Post author

      you should probably buy something from them as well to make sure you see what all their customer correspondence looks like. If you want to get really clever you can submit buy a few different products or sign up with different info. and see if and how they segment their list as well.

  9. Sam

    What a great post, this is the kind of thing that got me reading shoemoney in the first place. I hope you will become a regular here.

    Do you do PPC management? I have a small ecommerce business and I could use some help. How can I contact you?

  10. Sydney

    These were some great stories, really got me thinking throughout the day about what I can do different for my company.

  11. Lalita Bisht

    Wow, what a title that “you need a villain to be a superhero”. I have the same opinion that our competitor helps us in many ways. Thanks David for sharing this wonderful post.

    1. David Melamed Post author

      Yeah, I was really proud of myself when I came up with that title. The problem with patting myself on the back though is my hands aren’t free to break my fall.

      My pleasure sharing the post. Thanks for reading and appreciating it.

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