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Win the competition by studying how other teams play and keeping your curiosity alive

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One of my mentors always says :

It is important not only to play, but to study how other teams are playing”. 

He’s essentially saying that  it is not only important to do something, but also to study different tactics and approaches in a highly competitive environment

Thanks to Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash

This quote came to mind while reading the 4th chapter of Eating The Big Fish

This book is the second marketing book that was suggested to me during my onboarding period in Collidascope.

Unlike How Brands Grow I am not planning to write a series of essays for each chapter, because I want to focus only on the key aspects that I enjoyed. Moreover it was not quantitative and solid like Byron Sharp’s book and for a Data Scientist is not a negligible point.

Back to the book, I am going to share some considerations on this chapter that I found relevant.

These are things I felt were particularly true and important to keep in mind when we are talking about innovation or introducing a new product in the market. 

This all acts as a personal memorandum.

The Never-Ending Race

In the never ending market race winning the competition is always tough. 

Plus, when you are competing on intangible value, or when, apart from the technical product specification, intangible value can move the needle this is even more complex. 

Some of the strategies suggested in the chapter that you can use to develop new product  can be summarised as follows:

  • Overlaying
  • Asking Upstream Questions 
  • Breaking with the past (I am more scared than sceptical about this last one)


Overlaying consists in crafting experiences or designing the service using techniques and ways already successful in other industries.

Ikea is one of the best examples to explain this concept, the other one is Lush

Ingvar Kamprad opened in 1965 the Ikea store in Stockholm inspired by the Guggenheim museum in New York. In this museum you are forced to follow a specific path. The same idea was applied to the Ikea store and in that way you have to walk through the entire store. This way IKEA increased the in-store purchases compared with other furniture brands because people saw more products.

Thanks to Claudia Lorusso on Unsplash

The other successful example is Lush, the British cosmetic retailer. 

Living in a time where some people didn’t lose the connection with nature and handcrafted products, Lush transposed the experience of the genuine food market, such as when you buy cheese, to cosmetics.

When you visit Lush you will try their products with a sales assistant, they will cut the soap in front of you in a similar fashion to a cheese maker slicing samples for you to taste; furthermore, the products will be handmade.  

In addition, to recreate this market-vibe, if you go to a Lush shop you will see writing on blackboards in chalk as a cue for freshness.

This because handwritten messages seem more traditional compared with defined and printed fonts.

Quoting the book: 

Lush is taking the principles and codes of a delicatessen or a fresh fruit and vegetable shop and overlaying them onto cosmetics and bath products

Is it the same as the mozzarella maker in my Italian market?  Not at all. 

Does it work? With more than 900 shops around the world I would say yes! 

Personally I have to say that I really enjoyed buying a liquid soap some months ago and seeing the name of the guy who crafted it. 

It made the purchase experience less transactional and more human

Asking Upstream Questions

Never see your product from the same perspective. Stop looking at it from a strictly defined point of view. 

The same need or problem can be solved differently for example through a new technology.

Thanks to Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

MP3 readers replaced CDs and later Spotify replaced iPods and other MP3 readers.

This is something also discussed in the Purple Cow, a famous book written by Seth Godin


When I think about this I also think about the personal experiences that happened in my purchase decision journey. 

I usually like to try different soaps, I am always curious about the FMCG products.

Recently I bought one, but I didn’t remember the brand name, but I clearly remember the shape.

When I was reading the book  I came across the business case study of “method”, a soap producer. The authors explain how the founder crafted the branding around cool design and packaging. 

This was exactly my reason to buy, but I was completely unaware of that.

While I was reading in my mind I was thinking “I saw this hand soap in the bathroom, it was called “method”? I don’t remember that, but the shape seems the same!” .

I stopped reading, I went to the bathroom and yes I bought the same product. 

This chapter also gave me the opportunity to study better “method”’s story.

When Eric Ryan, the founder, started his company he didn’t choose to produce the cheapest or most efficient germ killer, he wanted something cool to have at home with an outstanding perfume. 

Honestly I am not a perfume expert, I am not able to tell you if it is one of the best, but I liked the hand soap design and when I bought it I didn’t know the story behind it.

In 2005 method revenues were $ 35M and in 2012 $ 150M. 

The author, leveraging a successful story, highlights the importance of evaluating “how one could create a much higher degree of emotional involvement with a brand in that category” 

As you will read later I struggle when it comes to the creative side of marketing.
I am always a data guy with a strong engineering past.

Breaking With The Past

This point is highly controversial for me, I would say I strongly disagree on encouraging this behaviour. 

The book here pinpoints how Market Challenger brands “see and realise places to stand in the market that other brands have not seen or realised before”. 

According to the author, Challengers are betting on brand equity avoiding to protect what they already have for its own sake. 

To a market challenger preserving the status-quo is out-of-date thinking.

On this last point I don’t know honestly, brand equity is easy to destroy, hard to build. 

And we are all aware of what happened recently to Google when it shipped his product too fast: 

Please don’t make me wrong, while in a startup environment I encourage shipping as fast as possible, brands with established products should be more careful

Of course the risk of being too late is very high, but established brands should find a way to mitigate this kind of risk.

Additional Notes

I need to say that when the author says that one of the key ways that challengers transform a category is transforming our relationship with that category I struggle. 

Now after reading and thinking about it several times I suppose he means something like introducing peculiar elements in the product that make it relevant, like the design of a product or a new customer experience. But sometimes when he talks of “introducing a whole new emotion into the product category”  I think it is a bit exaggerated, because at the end of the day soap remains soap and a vacuum cleaner remains a vacuum cleaner.

This is my personal thought and it is not supported by data.

For sure this chapter reinforced the idea that you can always find a spot, a niche where to start, but I am very careful to use winning examples to make general marketing statements (don’t make me wrong also the author doesn’t believe in one-fits-all). 

Lessons Learned

To wrap up and providing actionable insight, some not strictly related to the marketing field:

  • Always try new products from soaps to restaurants and figure out why you chose them, what makes them standing out of the crowd
  • Go to museums, maybe you will find the inspiration for a new app or building a new Ikea. Visit them is always nice 
  • Discover new cultures and listen on how people do things differently
  • When you are at dinner, listen and  ask questions about everyday life “what apps are you using in this period?” “What is stressing you at work?” “How do you choose soap?”

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