Executives in many markets must cope with a rapid-fire barrage of attacks from rivals, such as head-to-head advertising campaigns, price cuts, and attempts to grab key customers. If a firm is going to respond to a competitor’s move, doing so quickly is important. If there is a long delay between an attack and a response, this generally provides the attacker with an edge. For example, PepsiCo made the mistake of waiting fifteen months to copy Coca-Cola’s introduction of Vanilla Coke. In the interim, Vanilla Coke carved out a significant market niche.
In contrast, fast responses tend to prevent such an edge. Pepsi’s announcement of a mid-calorie cola introduction was quickly followed by a similar announcement by Coke, signaling that Coke would not allow this niche to be dominated by its longtime rival. Thus, as former General Electric CEO Jack Welch noted in his autobiography, success in most competitive rivalries “is less a function of grandiose predictions than it is a result of being able to respond rapidly to real changes as they occur. That’s why strategy has to be dynamic and anticipatory.”
So…We Meet Again
Multi-point competition adds complexity to decisions about whether to respond to a rival’s moves. With multi-point competition, a firm faces the same rival in more than one market. Cigarette makers R. J. Reynolds (RJR) and Philip Morris, for example, square off not only in the United States, but also in many countries around the world. When a firm has one or more multi-point competitors, executives must realize that a competitive move in a market can have effects not only within that market, but also within others. When RJR started using lower-priced cigarette brands in the United States to gain customers, Philip Morris responded in two ways. The first response was cutting prices in the United States to protect its market share. This started a price war that ultimately hurt both companies. Second, Philip Morris started building market share in Eastern Europe where RJR had been establishing a strong position. This combination of moves forced RJR to protect its market share in the United States and neglect Eastern Europe.
If rivals are able to establish mutual forbearance, then multi-point competition can help them be successful. Mutual forbearance occurs when rivals do not act aggressively because each recognizes that the other can retaliate in multiple markets. Southwest Airlines and United Airlines compete in some, but not all markets. United announced plans to form a new division that would move into some of Southwest’s other routes. Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher publicly threatened to retaliate in several shared markets. United then backed down, and Southwest had no reason to attack. The result was better performance for both firms. Similarly, in hindsight, both RJR and Philip Morris probably would have been more profitable had RJR not tried to steal market share in the first place. Thus, recognizing and acting on potential forbearance can lead to better performance through firms not competing away their profits, while failure to do so can be costly.
Responding to a Disruptive Innovation
When a rival introduces a disruptive innovation that conflicts with the industry’s current competitive practices, such as the emergence of online stock trading, executives choose from among three main responses. First, executives may believe that the innovation will not replace established offerings entirely and thus, may choose to focus on their traditional modes of business while ignoring the disruption. For example, many traditional bookstores such as Barnes & Noble did not consider book sales on Amazon to be a competitive threat until Amazon began to take market share from them. Second, a firm can counter the challenge by attacking along a different dimension. For example, Apple responded to the direct sales of cheap computers by Dell and Gateway by adding power and versatility to its products. The third possible response is to simply match the competitor’s move. Merrill Lynch, for example, confronted online trading by forming its own Internet-based unit. Here the firm risks cannibalizing its traditional business, but executives may find that their response attracts an entirely new segment of customers.
Fighting Brands: Get Ready to Rumble
A firm’s success can be undermined when a competitor tries to lure away its customers by charging lower prices for its goods or services. Such a scenario is especially scary if the quality of the competitor’s offerings is reasonably comparable to the firm’s. One possible response would be for the firm to lower its prices to prevent customers from abandoning it. This can be effective in the short term, but it creates a long-term problem. Specifically, the firm will have trouble increasing its prices back to their original level in the future because charging lower prices for a time will devalue the firm’s brand and make customers question why they should accept price increases.
The creation of a fighting brand is a move that can prevent this problem. A fighting brand is a lower-end brand that a firm introduces to try to protect the firm’s market share without damaging the firm’s existing brands. In the late 1980s, General Motors (GM) was troubled by the extent to which the sales of small, inexpensive Japanese cars were growing in the United States. GM wanted to recapture lost sales, but it did not want to harm its existing brands, such as Chevrolet, Buick, and Cadillac, by putting their names on low-end cars. GM’s solution was to sell small, inexpensive cars under a new brand: Geo.
Interestingly, several of Geo’s models were produced in joint ventures between GM and the same Japanese automakers that the Geo brand was created to fight. A sedan called the Prizm was built side by side with the Toyota Corolla by the New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated (NUMMI), a factory co-owned by GM and Toyota. The two cars were virtually identical except for minor cosmetic differences. A smaller car (the Metro) and a compact sport utility vehicle (the Tracker) were produced by a joint venture between GM and Suzuki. By 1998, the US car market revolved around higher-quality vehicles, and the low-end Geo brand was discontinued.
Some fighting brands are rather short lived. Merck’s failed attempt to protect market share in Germany by creating a fighting brand is an example. Zocor, a treatment for high cholesterol, was set to lose its German patent in 2003. Merck tried to keep its high profit margin for Zocor intact until the patent expired as well as preparing for the inevitable competition with generic drugmakers by creating a lower-priced brand, Zocor MSD. Once the patent expired, however, the new brand was not priced low enough to keep customers from switching to generics. Merck soon abandoned the Zocor MSD brand (Ritson, 2009).
Two major airlines experienced similar futility. In response to the growing success of discount airlines such as Southwest, AirTran, Jet Blue, and Frontier, both United Airlines and Delta Airlines created fighting brands. United launched Ted in 2004 and discontinued it in 2009. Delta’s Song had an even shorter existence. It started in 2003 and ended in 2006. Southwest’s acquisition of AirTran in 2011 created a large airline that may make United and Delta lament that they were not able to make their own discount brands successful.
Despite these missteps, the use of fighting brands is a time-tested competitive move. For example, very successful fighting brands were launched forty years apart by Anheuser-Busch and Intel. After Anheuser-Busch increased the prices charged by its existing brands in the mid-1950s (Budweiser and Michelob), smaller brewers started gaining market share. In response, Anheuser-Busch created a lower-priced brand: Busch. The new brand won back the market share that had been lost and remains an important part of Anheuser-Busch’s brand portfolio today. In the late 1990s, silicon chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) started undercutting the prices charged by industry leader Intel. Intel responded by creating the Celeron brand of silicon chips, a brand that has preserved Intel’s market share without undermining profits. Wise strategic moves such as the creation of the Celeron brand help explain why Intel ranks thirty-second on Fortune magazine’s list of the “World’s Most Admired Corporations.” Meanwhile, Anheuser-Busch is the second most admired beverage firm, ranking behind Coca-Cola.
|Co-location refers to a situation when goods and services offered under different brands are located very close to each other. Noting once common example of co-location, a comedian once joked that La Quinta was Spanish for “Next to Denny’s.” Both hotels and restaurants are often co-located alongside freeway exits to allow numerous choices for road-weary travelers.
|Co-opetition is a term that refers to the blending of competition and cooperation between two firms. Toyota and General Motors’ creation of jointly owned New United Motor Manufacturing incorporated (NUMMI) allowed for collaboration on automobile designs while Toyota and GM continued to compete for market share worldwide. The NUMMI experience also inspired the comedy Gung Ho.
Co-location occurs when goods and services offered under different brands are located close to one another. In many cities, for example, theaters and art galleries are clustered together in one neighborhood. Auto malls that contain several different car dealerships are found in many areas. Restaurants and hotels are often located near one another as well. “Big Box Stores” like Target. Staples, Best Buy, Lowes, etc., are almost always found clustered together with other retailers. By providing customers with a variety of choices, a set of co-located firms can attract a bigger set of customers collectively than the sum that could be attracted to individual locations. If a desired play is sold out, a restaurant overcrowded, or a hotel overbooked, many customers simply patronize another firm in the area.
Because of these benefits, savvy executives in some firms co-locate their own brands. The industry that Brinker International competes within is revealed by its stock ticker symbol: EAT. This firm often sites outlets of the multiple restaurant chains it owns on the same street. Marriott’s Courtyard and Fairfield Inn often sit side by side. Yum! Brands takes this clustering strategy one step further by locating more than one of its brands—A&W, Long John Silver’s, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Pizza Hut—within a single store.
Although competition and cooperation are usually viewed as separate processes, the concept of co-opetition highlights a complex interaction that is becoming increasingly popular in many industries. Ray Noorda, the founder of software firm Novell, coined the term to refer to a blending of competition and cooperation between two firms. For example, drug manufacturers Merck and Roche are rivals in some markets, but the firms are working together to develop tests to detect cancer and to promote a hepatitis treatment. NEC, a Japanese electronics company, has three different relationships with Hewlett-Packard Co.: customer, supplier, and competitor. Some units of each company work cooperatively with the other company, while other units are direct competitors. NEC and Hewlett-Packard could be described as “frienemies”—part friends and part enemies.
Toyota and General Motors provide a well-known example of co-opetition. In terms of cooperation, Toyota and GM vehicles were produced side by side for many years at the jointly owned New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated (NUMMI) in Fremont, California. While Honda and Nissan used wholly owned plants to begin producing cars in the United States, NUMMI offered Toyota a lower-risk means of entering the US market. This entry mode was desirable to Toyota because its top executives were not confident that Japanese-style management would work in the United States. Meanwhile, the venture offered GM the chance to learn Japanese management and production techniques—skills that were later used in GM’s facilities. NUMMI offered both companies economies of scale in manufacturing and the chance to collaborate on automobile designs. Meanwhile, Toyota and GM compete for market share around the world. In recent years, the firms have been the world’s two largest automakers, and they have traded the top spot over time.
In their book titled, not surprisingly, Co-opetition, A. M. Brandenberger and B. J. Nalebuff suggest that cooperation is generally best suited for “creating a pie,” while competition is best suited for “dividing it up” (Brandenberger & Nalebuff, 1996). In other words, firms tend to cooperate in activities located far in the value chain from customers, while competition generally occurs close to customers. The NUMMI example illustrates this tendency—GM and Toyota worked together on design and manufacturing but worked separately on distribution, sales, and marketing. Similarly, a research study focused on Scandinavian firms found that, in the mining equipment industry, firms cooperated in material development, but they competed in product development and marketing. In the brewing industry, firms worked together on the return of used bottles but not in distribution (Bengtsson & Kock, 2000).
Innovation Strategy [04:16]
The video for this lesson explains innovation strategy.
You can view this video here: https://youtu.be/B-tY6citUHw.
- Cooperating with other firms is sometimes a more lucrative and beneficial approach than directly attacking competing firms.
- Divide your class into four or eight groups, depending on the size of the class. Each group should select a different industry. Find examples of competitive and cooperative moves that you would recommend if hired as a consultant for a firm in that industry.
- What types of cooperative moves could your college or university use to partner with local, national, and international businesses? What benefits and risks would be created by making these moves?
- If a new alternative fuel was found in the auto industry, what are two ways existing car manufacturers might respond to this disruptive innovation?
- How might a firm such as Apple computers use a fighting brand?
Bengtsson, M., & Kock, S. (2000). “Coopetition” in business networks—to cooperate and compete simultaneously. Industrial Marketing Management, 29(5), 411–426.
Brandenberger, A. M., & Nalebuff, B. J. (1996). Co-opetition. New York, NY: Doubleday.
Ritson, M. (2009, October). Should you launch a fighter brand? Harvard Business Review, 65–81.
Figure 7.11: Cantnot. “Older design of Taco Bell restaurant currently in use, adjacent to sister Yum Brands restaurant KFC, near Burlington.” Public Domain. Retrieved from en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TBOldDesign.JPG.
Kuczmarski Innovation. (2016, May 17). Innovation strategy [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/B-tY6citUHw.