A challenger's guide to running a two horse race

Have you been inspired by the Taco Bell breakfast story, and now you're raring to take on the big guy?

Establishing a head to head battle with a single powerful competitor is not for the faint-hearted; with it obviously comes a series of complex issues and difficult decisions about how to manage potential countermoves by the opposition. And this potential threat and complexity is clearly the reason that many challengers often reject this course as a strategic opportunity, ignoring the very real upside potential.

So for now let’s keep it simple. Let’s work through the six steps that will prepare us for our Two Horse Race. And only once we have the clarity on the upside opportunity and how it might work, only then make a decision about whether to lean into it or not.

Step One: Basic Discipline

Ensure that you can articulate your brand’s overall ambition, identity and what success looks like before beginning your battle. We are using this exercise and strategy to amplify those, rather than define them. This will in turn help you choose the most valuable and appropriate competitor to go into battle with.

Step Two: Assessing the Landscape

List all the brands the consumer has to choose from in your category. Write down the benefits of reducing this choice to just two, in terms of:

  • Your own business case (heightened awareness, consideration set, switcher opportunity etc)
  • The consumer benefit
  • What makes it compelling, for both sides?

Step Three: Narrowing down the competition
List the two or three candidates to pitch yourself against.

Consider the Market Leader on the list, but also consider the Thought Leader – clearly whoever you take on needs to be a player that is powerful and salient enough for your battle to be a visible struggle, a competitor which positions you as the underdog. And of course a brand large enough such that winning share away from them represents a significant increase in traffic for you.

Step Four: Understanding strength and weakness

  • Which of these brands could you juxtapose your attributes with for best effect?
  • Which of your attributes would their qualities best amplify?
  • How could you simplify this to define a ‘new’ criterion for choice in our category, one that wholly favours you?

Step Five: Pick your Horse
Public enemy. Number one.
People’s Favourite. Number two.

  • Why would you be the people’s favourite?
  • What’s going to make them root for you?
  • Why do your community win if you win?

Step Six: Consider your Public:
Think of your consumers as your audience. This needs to be entertaining to get their attention.

  • What is going to make this particular two horse race watchable and rewarding?
  • Over the first three months?
  • Over the following three years?