If you’re in a market space where there are one, two or three dominant players and you’re not one of them, what should you do? Sadly, too many companies and organizations try to compete head on. They go on strategy retreats and come home with vision statements about being the "premier" or "dominant" or "number one," player in their market space (even though the giant does, let’s say $500 million or $5 billion in revenue and they only do around $5 million). It’s almost comical when you observe this.
A better approach would be to do what England has chosen to do with the 2012 Olympics, which they’ll be hosting. Up front they’ve decided that their goal for the 2012 Olympics is to finish FOURTH in the gold medal standings. Yes, you read that correctly, the stated goal is to come in fourth–which I think is brilliant.
Why? Because they’re not going to outrun the United States, Russia or China. In the 2004 games in Athens, England only won nine gold medals, which placed them in 10th place. If they can double that or more (18-20 gold medals), they should have a real shot at placing fourth–which would be huge. But how can they do that?
Answer: by choosing to go after the more obscure sports. In other words, instead of trying to win lots of medals in the main sports of track and field, swimming and gymnastics (which the big three dominate), they’re going after "less competitive" sports like flatwater canoeing, women’s sprint kayaking, and team handball. After all, a gold medal is a gold medal (just as a dollar is a dollar or a member is a member).
Moreover, to implement this new strategy, they’ve created a number of initiatives like "Sporting Giants" where they’re recruiting tall men and women in England for sports like rowing and volleyball. Or "Project Swap Shop" where they’re getting athletes to switch their sport (like a gymnast becoming a diver). In other words, they haven’t just established a goal and a strategy, they’re actually executing their strategy (what a novel concept). From my perspective, it’s going to be interesting to see if they actually accomplish it.
But for you, what is your market space like? Is their a giant (or two or three) that are so dominant that you’ll just never catch them? If so, would it make sense for you and your company or organization to acknowledge it and then compete in a different arena (like Enterprise renting cars outside of airports or Cirque du Soleil creating a circus for adults or Southwest flying to second tier cities point-to-point).
At the end of the day, no one is remarkable by being like someone else (unless you’re a comedian/impersonator). Being a "me too!" company or organization (or church) just isn’t remarkable. So if you’re in a market with a dominate player, don’t compete head-to-head. Admit that you won’t catch up to them by being like them. Instead, become something different. Compete on a different field of battle. And watch how you can accelerate your growth because now you’ll be the innovative and dominant player in a different field.