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BLOGDefensive Strategies when Others Disrupt You…

by Randall CraigFiled in: Make It Happen Tipsheet, Blog, Planning, StrategyTagged as: ,

It happens. You’ve built a robust organization, and it’s been doing well. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, a competitor emerges that appears unstoppable. Or perhaps, will soon be. What should you do?

Defensive Strategies when Others Disrupt You…

The most obvious answer is to have avoided the situation in the first place, but sometimes this is not possible. You have momentum that you think is unstoppable; A change means lower margins; You are locked into long-term contracts, or have significant overheads that would be painful to dislodge. And so on. Yet, when you (and sometimes your entire industry) are being disrupted, the question still stands: what should you do?

Here are nine possibilities:

  1. Is it a true paradigm shift? Before completely uprooting your organization and its processes, consider whether you truly are being disrupted. Sometimes disruption is a convenient excuse, when what really is happening is that for the first time, you happen to have a strong (and new) competitor.
  2. Take advantage of your strategic advantages. This can mean everything from building on existing relationships (suppliers, partners, clients), to taking advantage of data, R&D, employee base, online communities, and so on.
  3. Ensure that data is being collected along the way, and consider how you might use machine learning and artificial intelligence to build a new competitive advantage. Since many disruptors use technology to differentiate, this is a powerful way to beat them at their own game… especially if you have deep (and connected) data.
  4. Use PR and advertising to strengthen your relationship with your market, and highlight your unique advantages. (And to highlight the disruptor’s general disadvantages.)
  5. Protection using the existing legal framework. Sometimes, disruptors take advantage of a grey legal zone, or even directly contravene existing laws and regulations, in order to scale as quickly as possible. While the law is not as effective when there is a serious market imbalance — Uber vs Taxicabs, for example — it is still an important element of a strategy.
  6. Review your cost structures compared to the disruptors. If they are becoming successful at a far lower cost, then this is proof-positive that your cost structure may not be yielding the benefits that the market requires, at this point in time. Changing your cost structures means that you can still be competitive at a lower price point.
  7. Compare your operational model to the disruptors. Again, your “old” operational model may have been refined through years of small improvements, but it also may have locked you into a paradigm that is no longer valued by the market. If you could start with a completely blank slate, how would you redesign your operational processes today?
  8. “Flanker brand” strategy. Instead of changing — and possibly diminishing — your main brand, consider starting a flanker brand that precisely competes with the disruptors. And rather than just re-labelling your existing brand and changing a few parameters, build the flanker brand from the ground up, on the same basis as the disruptor, in order to compete directly with them, in their paradigm.
  9. Become a disruptor too, but on your own terms. Often, when an organization gets disrupted, the question of digital transformation has not yet been deeply explored. Consider the external disruption as a call to action.


Of course, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best time is… now. When a disruptor rears its head, it’s unlikely they will go away, and it’s more likely that others will be attracted to your sector. This week, answer the question: what can we do, so that we are not the disrupted, but the disruptors?

Related post: The 5 Ages of Disruption, Eight Disruptive Business Models

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