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(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Best Defense

Jim Stengel, author of Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies, introduces an excerpt presenting tactics for protecting your market share from Defending Your Brand: How Smart Companies Use Defensive Strategy to Deal with Competitive Attacks, by Tim Calkins.

A company’s success is often determined by how well it plays defense. When McDonald’s was threatened by the relentless growth of Starbucks, it rolled out a premium coffee line that became a huge growth driver and enhanced profits.

There are lots of ways to play defense, however, and in the excerpt that follows, Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at the Kellogg School of Management, describes two of them aimed at limiting customer trial of a competing brand: attacking its benefits and highlighting the risks that customers run in switching to it. He illustrates these tactics with stories involving Pampers, Actonel, and Ariel — three brands that at the time all belonged to Procter & Gamble, my “alma mater.”

I remember the Pampers case vividly. I worked on the Pampers brand for four years, mostly in Europe. We aggressively defended our business against Kimberly-Clark’s Huggies, blunting its introduction of Pull-Ups by leveraging many of the tactics Calkins describes. To this day, Europe is a weak market for Huggies.

I would add one footnote to the Pampers story. Although we temporarily defended our market share by attacking the benefits of Huggies’ new Pull-Ups, we really started winning when we came up with innovations of our own. At the end of the day, the best way to defend your brand is to come up with better ideas for brilliant products and services.

Jim Stengel


An excerpt from Chapter 11 of Defending Your Brand: How Smart Companies Use Defensive Strategy to Deal with Competitive Attacks


A fairly simple form of defense in the area of limiting trial is to attack and criticize a competing product; by highlighting all the problems of a competing entry, an established player can decrease trial rates for the new entry.

There are two effective approaches to this strategy: attack the benefits and highlight the risks. In questioning the benefit, a defending company seeks to reduce the appeal of a new product by eroding its support. If an established company can challenge the claims of a new entrant, then the new product’s overall proposition erodes, and the likely trial declines. Apple CEO Steve Jobs used this approach frequently to defend his products; he would highlight the flaws in competing products and dismiss the threat. In March 2011, for example, Jobs attacked competitors in an analyst presentation, stating, “Everybody’s got a tablet. Is 2011 going to be the year of the copycat?... Most of these tablets aren’t even catching up with the first iPad. But we haven’t been resting on our laurels.” He continued with his basic approach later in his presentation, saying, “Sixty-five thousand apps specifically tailored for the iPad. Now that compares to our competitors who are trying to launch these days with at most 100 apps. And I think we are being a little generous here.”

Procter & Gamble employed the same strategy with Pampers to defend against the launch of a new diaper from Huggies, the brand owned by rival Kimberly-Clark. In the United States, P&G and Kimberly-Clark dominate the diapers category. In 2002 Huggies introduced a new version of its popular Pull-Ups product. It was targeted at moms of toddlers, as the primary benefit of the new diaper was that it was easier to change, since it featured an easy-to-use tab on the side. This was of course quite a benefit when dealing with toddlers who squirm and wriggle when they’re being changed. Unlike infants, toddlers are on the move, so changing a diaper can be a challenge.

P&G could not easily copy Huggies’ new diaper design on its Easy-Ups line, so P&G responded by attacking the new Pull-Ups diaper. P&G ran a commercial featuring a toddler running through a fancy dinner party naked; the little guy had removed his diaper on his own, presumably using the easy-to-use tabs. He was gleefully waving it over his head as he ran, and the elegant guests were, as might be expected, mortified. Mom was mortified, too.

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The Reviewer

  1. Jim Stengel ([email protected]) is the president and CEO of the Jim Stengel Company, a strategy and marketing think tank and consultancy. He is the author of Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies (Crown Business, 2011) and an adjunct professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Stengel was the global marketing officer of Procter & Gamble for seven years.

This Book

  1. Defending Your Brand: How Smart Companies Use Defensive Strategy to Deal with Competitive Attacks (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), by Tim Calkins
  2. Tim Calkins ([email protected]) is a clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and managing director of Class 5 Consulting, a marketing strategy firm. He is the author of Breakthrough Marketing Plans: How to Stop Wasting Time and Start Driving Growth (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008 and 2012) and coeditor, with Alice M. Tybout, of Kellogg on Branding (John Wiley & Sons, 2005).
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