May 2, 2019

Attack and Defense Strategies in Marketing Warfare or Competition

Marketing Management Revision Article Series

Philip Kotler and Ravi Singh described this topic in an article in Journal of Business Strategy (1980; 1(3); 30-41).

Marketing Attack Strategies

Frontal Attack

Example of a successful frontal attack: S.C. Johnson's promotion of Agree bond of hair conditioner.  In 1977, it promoted the Agree brand with a promotion budget of $14 Million. This amount was equal to the promotion expenditure being spent by all the other competitors. It distributed 30 million free samples. It grabbed 15 percent of the market share in the first year.

Similarly it entered shampoo market in 1978 with $30 million promotion budget and grabbed 6 percent market share.

Modified Frontal Attack

In this attack strategy, the challenger claims that his product is as good as that of the competitor but is available at a lower price providing value for money to the buyer.

Helene Curtis used this strategy to increase its market share from 1 per cent in 1972 to 16 percent in 1979. It beat P&G's Head and Shoulders and Johnson's baby shampoo in the process.

Flank Attack

In flank attack, challenger searches and finds out the weak spots in the leader's or target's product and market segments. In the product segment, he identifies the needs not met by the existing product portfolio of the target and introduces products to satisfy the unmet need. In geographical segment or market segments, he identifies areas that are under-served by the sales channels of the target and increases his marketing and sales efforts there. This way the challenger tries to increase his profitable business without fighting a direct battle in the areas of the target's strength.

Honeywell focused on rural areas not given much attention by IBM salesforce.
Japanese and German auto manufacturers focused on small cars in USA instead of bigger cars produced by leading American producers.

Encirclement Attack

It is an attack on all fronts of the target. The attack is mounted in all product segments and geographical segments where the target is present and also more segments are covered by the challenger.

Bypass Attack

In bypass attack, the challenger does not attack the competitor directly in any product or market, but identifies products or markets where the competitor is not present to increase his revenue and thus strengthen himself for direct confrontation later.

Colgate followed this strategy from 1971 to become a strong competitor to P&G in 1979.

Guerilla Warfare

In guerilla warfare, very small battles are fought to inflict a greater damage on the competitor. The challenger withdraws quickly from the battle thus thwarting the counter moves.

Marketing Defense Strategies

 Philip Kotler and Ravi Singh in their paper, "Marketing Warfare in the 1980s" (Journal of Business Strategy, Winter 1981) identified six defensive strategies that a market leader can implement to ward off competition or challenge.

1. Position defense
2. Flank defense
3. Preemptive defense
4. Counteroffensive defense
5. Mobile defense
6. Contraction defense

Google Book Link Page

Al Ries and Jack Trout, Marketing Warfare, McGraw Hill, 1986

Guerilla Warfare

The enemy advances, we retreat. The enemy camps, we harass. The enemy tires, we attack. The enemy retreats, we pursue.  Mao Tse-Tsung.

Trouble a leader, survive, injure a leader, survive, defeat a leader, win.

Guerillas need to have a survival plan. If they survive they can fight the battle once again on a different day. The cost incurred in defeating a guerilla is very high for the opponent.

Al Ries and Jack Trout give the following as principles of guerilla warfare in marketing.

1. Find a segment of the market small enough to defend.

There has to be market from which you can earn revenues. Guerilla marketers may have a diffuse market which the leaders cannot even identify.

2. No matter how successful you become, never act like the leader.

Don't declare victory early. Guerilla strategy and tactics are essentially opposite of what's right for Fortune 500 companies.

3. Be prepared to bug out at a moment's notice.

Whenever you venture into the main visible markets, get out at the first instance of trouble. Conserve your resources.


Al Ries and Jack Trout, Marketing Warfare, McGraw Hill, 1986

Updated  26 October 2016, 1 June 2014

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