Success Is Relative

Who do you think would be happier – a silver medal winner or a bronze medal winner?

Second place is better than third. So, silver medallists should be happier than bronze medallists, right?

Wrong. Silver medallists aren’t happier. In fact, they are often miserable.

How do we know this? It has been researched. Researchers studied the facial expressions of Olympic medallists on the podium. They rated each medallist on a 10 point “happiness scale”. The bronze medallists averaged 7.1. The silver medallists just 4.8.

In a follow up study they analysed the expressions of judo medallists at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Nearly all gold medallists smiled – 93% (maybe the other 7% were too busy crying?) Most of the bronze medallists smiled – 70%. The silver medallists? None of them smiled. Not one.

The researchers ended up naming this the “Silver Medal Face”.

Why so miserable? Athletes compare their achievements to their nearest competitors. For silver medallists the most salient comparison is with the gold medal winner. They compare upwards. In their mind they haven’t won silver. They failed to win gold.

In contrast, bronze medallists compare downwards. If they had finished 4th there would have been no place on the podium. So, they are happy to have won a medal.

In athletics (as in life) you can do better and feel worse. Success is relative.

Why are we talking about this? In our industry success is also relative. Is your 5% sales growth good? It depends on whether your competitor has delivered 3% or 7%. Are 100K Instagram followers for your brand good? It depends whether your competitor has 50k or 150k.

It used to be easy to do this comparison. If you were Coke you had to beat Pepsi. If you were Persil you had to beat Ariel. However, competition has changed.

Most retailers don’t have one direct competitor to beat. Tesco are competing against Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrison’s. Against Waitrose and M&S. Against Aldi and Lidl. Against Home Bargains and B&M. Against Ocado. Against Amazon.

The same is true for brands. Heinz Ketchup is competing against Hellmann’s. Against private label and discounter brands. Against Stokes and other premium players. And that is just in ketchup. What about all the other sauces?

So, if competition is fierce. And success is relative. How do you compete and win most effectively?

Know who you are competing with. This is about identifying your competitive set. For some categories the competitive set might be pretty narrow. For instance, razors & blades. You are competing against other razor and blades manufacturers. Win that battle and you win the war.

For some categories (many food & drink categories) you need to start narrow then go broader. For instance, if you are a black tea your immediate competitive set is other black teas. Then other teas. Then coffee. Then soft drinks. Then all drinks. Winning the battle in tea may not be enough if tea is losing the battle with other drinks.

Know who you want to be compared against. This is about identifying, within the competitive set, who you want shoppers to have in mind when they are making choices. This could be broad. For instance, if you are selling chicken your competitive set may be all other meat. Or it might be pretty specific. If you are Clean Co making a low alcohol gin you want to be compared to gin. Hence their strapline “If you like gin. It’s like gin”.

Know what your advantage is. This is about identifying the battleground. On what basis do you want to compete and how do you win? So, if you are Harry’s and you want to be compared to Gillette, your battleground is price. That is your advantage. If you are an established brand like Tanqueray or Smirnoff facing competition from smaller, craft alternatives your battleground is heritage. That is your advantage.

Frame the choice effectively for shoppers. This is about dramatising your advantage in your communication. Tanqueray leads on an “unchanged recipe since 1830”. Smirnoff on “infamous since 1964”. Harry’s talks about “a quality shave at a fair price” and being “£2 or less per cartridge”. None of these brands mention the competition. They don’t need to. Their competitive advantage is implicit in the message.

Shoppers don’t judge things in isolation. They judge them in the context of what else is around them.

Just as we do in the rest of life.

Remember that next time you come third. It could be worse. You could have come second.

Feel free to forward. Have good weekend. Speak to you in a fortnight.

© 2020 by Insight Traction