If you’re a market leader, challenger brands are coming for. And when they do, don’t take the bait. It’s a trap. Public brand clashes are lose-lose situations for industry favorites and win-wins for the underdog. Starbucks has little to gain from a scuffle with a local coffee house. Amazon can’t win a war of words with a mom and pop book store. When you’re on top of the mountain, there’s only one way you can go. Down.
Brand battles like these play out much like they do in sports. When a traditional college football powerhouse like the University of Michigan beats a smaller school, they receive no credit for the victory. In the minds of fans and the media alike, the Wolverines were supposed to win, so what’s there to talk about? Nothing. But when the opposite happens and Michigan unexpectedly loses to one of those heavy underdogs, all hell breaks loose. As was the case in 2007, when number-five ranked Michigan, a 33-point favorite hosted small school, Appalachian State and lost.
The media’s reaction was relentless in its criticism of the slayed giant from Ann Arbor. Sports Illustrated called it “The greatest upset of them all,” while Pat Forde of ESPN.com claimed the game was “the most astonishing college football result I can remember.”
The reality is that Michigan, playing the role of a market leader, had nothing to gain and everything to lose that day. A win over an opponent perceived to be far inferior, would have generated little for the program, while the eventual loss changed the brand’s perception and future for the years following. On the other hand, the Mountaineers of Appalachian State, college football’s version of a challenger brand, reveled in its newfound attention, enjoying a 15% increase in applications to the school and a 26% jump in ticket sales for all sports between 2007 and 2008.
The underdog laid a trap and the favorite stepped in it. Don’t make the same mistake.