Don’t take your enemy’s lunch – create a new one

October 1, 2020

In 1968, Dick Fosbury set the Olympic record for the high jump at the Mexico City Olympic Games. It was the first time most of the world had seen someone do the high jump and land on their head. But Fosbury, who invented his method in high school, found it allowed him to get more initial running speed, leap less, and get higher.

While the rest of the world was doing inefficient straddle hops, Fosbury saw a better way to get over the bar. By 1980, no world record was set without The Fosbury Flop. Today, 52 years later, Fosbury’s revolutionary method is still the sport’s mainstay.

Don’t try to take your enemy’s lunch – create a new one

If Dick Fosbury had kept doing straddle hops, nobody would know who he is. He had to be different to beat the dominant high jump method of the times.

The American Revolutionaries did the same thing. In the 18th century, much of the world’s warfare was done according to British standards – opposing armies lining up across from each other, firing, then fixing bayonets and charging. British discipline was key to their many victories around the world.

The Continental Army and their allied militia had a different idea. They fought from behind trees and stone walls, confounding the British on the battlefields. They also engaged in a sophisticated public opinion campaign domestically and in Britain that guerrilla warfare historian Max Boot described as having revolutionized insurgent combat.

George Washington wasn’t the first leader to refuse to play on the enemy’s turf or by the enemy’s rules. Sun Tzu’s Art of War laid out similar principles for success. Small business owners should follow their lead.

First, know thyself

Dick Fosbury had trouble coordinating a straddle hop; George Washington’s military was less supplied and not as well trained as the British soldiers. Knowing these facts were the first steps on the road to success.

The same is true in business. Is your company well-armed with an established target market and branding plan, strong finances, and a desired product or service? Can your supply chain keep up with demand? What are weak areas you need to shore up, and how will you do it?

Microsoft’s success is built upon knowing what it wanted to offer the world. Bill Gates and Paul Allen developed an operating system that wasn’t fancy – but worked. They didn’t sell IBM the rights to use the system – they licensed it, thereby creating long-term revenue and keeping ownership. A few years later, they developed a marketing campaign around their upcoming Windows program which kept customers from switching to Apple’s Macintosh program.

Allen and Gates knew their strategy: Build mediocre technology around the revolutionary goal of putting a computer in every home. And it worked.

Second, know your enemy

Small businesses have several inherent weaknesses when going against larger, better-established competitors:

  • They have better purchasing power.
  • They may have the inside track on the next-generation products that make their purchases even cheaper for the same value, or new office space that puts them in a better geographical location for your competitive target markets.
  • They’re better-known. Your ideas, services, products, and prices may be better – but you’re trying to break into an established market against a reputable and connected competitor.

Uber faced these challenges when it first launched. Taxis had owned the everyday person’s vehicle-for-hire market for decades. They had the inside track on business relationships, public brand recognition, and even preferential government policies.

Uber’s advantages were that it was agile and based upon new ways to use technology. You didn’t have to call for an Uber; you just had to press a few buttons. Wait times were shorter, payments were faster and more secure, and the company’s costs were lower because drivers owned their cars. Like Microsoft, Uber knew what it wanted to do and how to do it, and their strengths were built on the taxi industry’s weaknesses.

By targeting young people with cell phones, appealing to them through technology, and saving billions through avoiding car purchases, Uber created a simple and effective transportation process. Drivers and passengers are all linked to the same system, passenger credit card information is pre-processed, and the customer is just a click away from a ride at any time of the day.

By knowing its enemy, Uber blossomed across the country and the world, birthing the “gig economy.”

Create a new lunch

George Washington, Microsoft, and Uber literally changed the world. Dick Fosbury changed one event in track-and-field. But the principles of creating a new lunch – instead of fighting to get to the front of the same line everyone else is in – are the same, and they are how Chick-fil-A has taken the fast-food industry by storm. Unlike the other companies profiled here, however, it literally created a new lunch and delivered it with the oldest, most basic form of communication – words.

In 2016, QSR Magazine ranked Chick-fil-A the most polite drive-thru chain in America. This key differentiator led to Chick-fil-A 2,500 franchises averaging over $4.5 million in sales, according to QSR in August 2020 – about $1.6 million more per year per franchise than McDonald’s. It is the third-largest fast-food franchise in total sales, up from #8 in 2018.

Chick-fil-A does other things well – starting a franchise costs just $10,000, compared to competitors who require anywhere from $200,000 to several million dollars. In 2018, it accepted just .15 percent of franchise applicants – allowing it to pick the cream of the crop. But its core competency is providing you chicken with a strong side of good manners.

Your lunch is your brand

Almost 240 years after the American Revolution ended, “independent” still defines the American brand. Microsoft is a technological leader, Uber is a verb, Chick-fil-A has a cult following, and “The Fosbury Flop” is the way high-jumpers conduct their sport.

Your lunch is your brand. Taking somebody else’s lunch requires overcoming their strengths by cutting in line, shoving them aside, and risking direct confrontation. Maybe you’ll beat them head-to-head, or maybe you’ll just lose because they’re bigger, stronger, and in a better strategic position. Inventing a unique lunch nobody sees means getting in while nobody’s looking. This strategic method creates new markets, adds new value in existing markets, and implements new ways to provide old value in existing markets.

And, suddenly, your lunch is a powerful brand nobody saw coming.

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