Many leaders in the midmarket space aspire for their businesses to be industry leaders. But there can only be one leader for each industry, or in marketing terms, there can only be one product, brand, or business that controls a category. There are exceptions, of course, but more often than not, there is one business that sets the standard, and others follow.
There are countless reasons why businesses strive to be known as industry leaders. Reasons range from setting industry prices to determining product specifications to clarifying standards for customer service. But in many industries, a large and powerful force has emerged as the #2 player who often keeps the industry leader on its toes in terms of new product development, pricing, and customer service – all in an attempt to chip away at the industry leader’s percentage of market share.
Here are some famous industry leaders followed by the #2 players in their industries:
- Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi (soft drinks)
- Hertz vs. Avis (rental car agencies)
- Google vs. Bing (search engines)
- Ford vs. Chevy (trucks)
- McDonald’s vs. Burger King (fast food hamburgers)
- Duracell vs. Energizer (batteries)
- Home Depot vs. Lowe’s (home improvement warehouses
- Ritz-Carlton vs. Fairmont (five-star hotels)
However, something interesting has happened with many #2 companies. Many #2 companies have used their #2 status as a selling point and competitive advantage. The fact that they are #2 or the little guy (think, David vs. Goliath) resonates with consumers, customers, and prospective customers.
Consider the timeless tagline from Avis: “We’re #2 – We Try Harder.” Avis may not be the biggest car rental agency, but its ads and theme are memorable. Consider the Energizer Bunny – who doesn’t think of the pink bunny when a wireless mouse or keyboard needs new batteries? And despite the fact that the golden arches of McDonald’s appear on almost every corner around the world, Burger King’s constant advertising and emphasis on bigger and cheaper hamburgers have developed a large and dedicated following.
So the next time your leadership team asks, “Why can’t we be number one?” Count to ten and remain calm. Explain that there are genuine advantages to being #2. One advantage to being #2 is the ability to create unique product specifications and/or packaging since no one expects you to be different. Without the responsibility of being the industry leader, you have more leeway to appeal to new customers, and depending on how creative your marketing initiatives are and how well they are implemented, you may develop a more loyal following than the leader in your industry.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.