How to Pick a Fight With Your Competitor and Win

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Lessons from Mac vs PC

In this throwback episode we go back in time to learn from one of the most memorable campaigns in the 90’s: Mac vs. PC.

A battle of two giants that resulted in Apple positioning themselves as the cool, hip and creative brand while painting PC as a boring, glitchy & unreliable brand.

In this episode, we revisit these campaigns and breakdown the lessons you can take from this campaign and how to apply them to marketing today. Check it out:

Are you a Mac or PC Kind Of Person? (transcript)

SHOW NOTE: It’s misstated in this episode that Mac actually surpassed PC for total market share. While they did capture a significant portion – PC is still the leader in personal computing.

Ross Simmonds: So do you use a Mac or a PC?

Talia Wolf: I obviously use a Mac.

Ross Simmonds: I knew that answer, but it’s a question that you have to ask people, because I think you can learn a lot about someone whether or not they use a Mac or a PC.

Talia Wolf: For sure. If you’re using a PC, I’m judging you.

Ross Simmonds: Right, 100%. There’s definitely a certain type of person that uses a PC, and a certain type of person that uses a Mac. That said, don’t get me wrong. I happen to have a PC behind me and a Mac in front of me, because I do rely on both depending on the side of the brain that I need to use.

Talia Wolf: Interesting.

Ross Simmonds: Yeah, it’s really the PC is just for like when I need to hack into things and do things that like Mac won’t allow me to use pretty much.

Talia Wolf: I used to be a Blackberry person, and PC and everything. And then when I went into Mac it was like hardcore Mac, iPhone, iPad, just everything.

Ross Simmonds: Yeah. I was the same way. For years I was a PC guy kind of just because PC’s were cheap and I could afford them, and I could run with them and use them and they were great. But then I got into the agency world, and they gave us these things called Mac Books and the scroll was different. Everything was different. They had these different command keys, like everything was unique about this Mac. And eventually I learned how to use it, and I fell in love with it. It didn’t freeze all the time. It had some amazing software. The computer just ran faster. I loved it. It was a much more intuitive experience. But over time. I definitely have gotten to a point now where I do still miss some of the things of a PC. Like do you remember windows XP? I think that was the last version of windows that I used, but it had such a cool interface and things like that. But yeah, no, it’s definitely an interesting battle that the two brands have had over the years.

Talia Wolf: Yeah. I think PC for me just reminds me of older times, like when there was like mIRC Chat and when it was like ICQ and all that stuff. So it has a precious memory but it’s more like when I wasn’t like a professional.

The ads that broke the 90’s

AKA – How Apple picked a fight with their competitor and won by a landslide

Ross Simmonds: Right. That is fair. That is fair. Well, it’s funny, like I’ve met people who have actually stated straight up that they refuse to use any other type of computer. Like if you’re a Mac person, they’re a Mac person through and through. If they’re a PC person, they’re a PC person through and through. And I think that idea and that concept of being a Mac or a PC, really rooted in the early ’90s during those commercial series that was published by Apple, where they had the Mac versus PC. Do you remember those ads?

Talia Wolf: Definitely.

Ross Simmonds: Yeah, they were amazing.

Still to this day, they are considered to be the go to when you’re looking at how to do positioning of a brand correctly when you have a fierce competitor. And I want to share with our listeners just a quick snippet of the ad for some of those folks who may not be familiar with it. So let’s play the tape.

Ross Simmonds: So relentless. So ruthless wild to watch how they were able to pull something like that off.

Talia Wolf: Yeah, it’s amazing. I guess most companies today would never dream of doing something like that. Right? It’s intimidating.

Ross Simmonds: It is, especially when you put your competitor directly in the cross hairs and call them out. Like that is to me one of the bravest things that you can do. And you have to live up to the story that you’re putting in front of your audience. If you do make that decision that you’re going to call out your competitor.

Apple’s strategy and why it won

Talia Wolf: Yeah, definitely. It’s a big leap of faith, but I feel like when you do it and you do it the right way … And the thing about this as, okay, so we only heard it, but also if you have the time, guys definitely watch the videos, because even the visuals, just everything they use, assist them in driving that point home and making … They don’t say anything bad about them in any way, but they clearly define the difference of like, if you want to be that person that’s great. We’re happy for you. But we’re going to be over here being totally more awesome.

Ross Simmonds: Exactly. And you can see it in the actors’ body language and the way that they’ve dressed them. You can see it in how they handle themselves on the screen. It is definitely one of those campaigns that I look at as saying, okay, this is marketing excellence, and they’ve done an excellent job at this. The campaign itself was without question a success. It spawned off parodies and memes before memes were a thing. It stirred up a lot of dialogue around the water cooler, because this was before remote offices were an actual thing. And there was a lot of discussion and a debate internally.

I can remember people joking and saying, “You’re a Mac, I’m a PC.” And making jokes about who was a Mac and who was a PC in their office. The marketing dynamics of this strategy are simple. You take your brand and incumbent as the cool brand, and you position it in a way that is elevated over the old, or lame, or boring, or tired company that everybody is familiar with. And I think that’s what Mac has done in this campaign and they’ve been able to do it so well.

Ross Simmonds: For years people used PC, but today they use Macs. For years people relied on PowerPoint, but now they use Keynote. For years, people relied on MP3 software and trying to tie all of these various products together, to give them an interesting experience, but now it all exists and lives within iTunes.

By Mac showcasing how difficult life is today by embracing a PC, they’re able to paint a picture for everyone around what life could be like if they made that decision to transition and move into a world where they started to use a Mac.

Ross Simmonds: Did some people stick around and use the PC for years? 100% I just recently bought one. I 100% get the appeal of some of the things that a PC can offer. But the Mac was able to take some market share from PC in revenue and take the crown as being the personal computer of choice amongst creatives.

And it’s no question, when you look at the market cap today, that Apple has become one of the most successful companies on the back of campaigns like this, where they position themselves in a way that connected with creators and creatives, and allowed them to differentiate themselves in the market.

Talia Wolf: Yeah, I love it, and I couldn’t agree more. And I think that what I really love about this approach, is that as opposed to many other things that huge brands like Apple, Coca-Cola, Lego, do that most of us can’t do. This is actually something that every single person, and every single business can do. You don’t have to have a ton of budget and you don’t have to have a ton of resources. You just actually need to understand your value, the value that your prospects see in you, the difference, the differentiators between you and your competitors, and leverage those in a way that doesn’t put your competitor down, but just elevates you. And it can be done in any type of business. B2B, B2C. And I think it’s amazing and everyone should do it.

How to leverage Apple’s strategy and apply it to your own marketing

Ross Simmonds: So let’s dive into that. Let’s take what was old, which is essentially the Mac versus PC world and that campaign, and let’s discuss how it can be applied today.

One great example is Intercom where they had this amazing graphic, where on one side of the screen they’re showing you the old way. And on the old way they had a handful of different software and solutions and tools in different lines, connecting them to one another. And the idea is that the old way of managing chat conversations with your audience, was very complex. There was a lot of moving pieces. But the new way is simple and it just showed the Intercom logo. Since they released that graphic, it has been copied time and time again. And it is a great way to visualize and show people again what life was like in the past, and what life will look like in the future.

So do you know of any examples of companies who have also leveraged this type of experience in graphic?

Other companies who’ve leveraged this approach successfully

Talia Wolf: Yeah, definitely. I feel like Hotjar and Airstory are great examples for that. So Hotjar, essentially what they did, is they had a visual on one side which showed you, similar to Intercom, all the different types of tools that you’re currently using to basically analyze user behavior. But they also added the price to it. So it ended up showing that you’d spend like 300, 400, $500 a month in order to analyze everything. And then on the right hand side they just had Hotjar’s logo, $29.

Ross Simmonds: Brilliant.

Talia Wolf: Very, very specific to their target audience that, A, is smaller businesses that want to spend less, and B, obviously remove that complexity. Another great example is Airstory.

Airstory, actually what they did is kind of pick a fight with your habits.

So what they did is, they showed on one side the different tools that you’re using to get the job done in terms of the different loops you have to do, and the different hoops you have to jump through. And you have to open this doc and then that doc. And just showing them painting the picture of how long it takes you to get something done. So it would say like, “You have 10 steps to get through in order to complete this task. Well, here’s Airstory, and it will help you do all of that in half the time.”

So it’s a cool way of A, on one hand Hotjar talking about the amount of tools, but also pricing. And also Airstory talking about how hard it is and the different process that you have to go through in order to get things done. So I really love both approaches.

Ross Simmonds: I love that. I think the idea of picking a fight with your prospects’ habits, or the processes that they’ve used in the past, is a great way to inspire them to really start having tough conversations, that they may not be having internally. There’s no question that we all have little things that we do on a daily basis that are probably not the most effective. But if your solution in your software can speak to those ineffectiveness, or those inefficiencies, it’s an opportunity for that software company to connect with you in a real way.

Talia Wolf: Yeah, 100%. And there’s actually another really cool example, not of this specific strategy, but a different one. If you don’t want to start naming the different complex tools that people are using. You could maybe go the way that Lane Bryant went.

Lane Bryant are an underwear and clothing store for plus size women. When they launched their first campaign, they used the hashtag, “I’m no angel.” Aiming at Victoria’s Secret. And the whole idea there was to paint a picture of these are unrealistic women and these are real women. So they didn’t have to say, “We’re going against Victoria’s Secret.” They just had the hashtag there, which was so on point. I loved it. It was phenomenal. I think it was done in 2015, and it’s still such a big thing. And it was just a hashtag.

Ross Simmonds: That’s awesome. I think one of the biggest challenges for organizations when they’re thinking about doing this type of thing, is the fact that it can be a little bit uncomfortable to put something in your crosshairs and say, “I’m going to go up against you, and I’m going to battle you.” One of the low hanging fruits that I think is always an option for organizations who are having a hard time with this, is to recognize and start with understanding that their customers are very likely going to Google anyway, and asking Google to help them make a decision between them and a competition. If they can get in front of that search behavior, if they can get in front of that discovery where a customer is trying to figure out, should I use product A or product B, or should I use habit A or habit B? And they can bring that top of mind with their audience, there’s a real opportunity there.

Ross Simmonds: One of the ways that they can do that is by analyzing search data, and actually figuring out, what are people typing in? Are they typing us versus them? And if so, maybe you could develop a landing page that actually is just comparing your product with that other product. And if you can do it before that other product does it, you might be first to the market with this landing page, and be the one who’s the last champion standing when it’s all said and done when you’re trying to rank in Google.

Talia Wolf: I love that you mentioned this, because A, this is a fantastic tactic, and B, it’s a great reminder to the fact that we always compare things.

And in fact psychologically if we don’t have something to compare it to, many times people would just leave without making a decision. So automatically when we are trying to choose if we’re going to use a service or a solution, we want to compare it to something.

So actually giving your prospect an option to compare things, is fantastic. And a cool trick for that is to actually search Quora, and see what people are using. So many times there’s so many questions coming up there about competitors, about different solutions that people are using. And you can use that to know what to write on that page.

So when you’re designing, when you’re crafting that page of us versus them, you can use that type of content in there, to know what to actually say on the page.

Ross Simmonds: That’s awesome. I love that. Quora is one of those channels that I think is an amazing resource for people to gather intelligence from their audience, or their ideal audience in terms of who they’re trying to reach with. So I love that tip. I think it’s an actionable takeaway that everybody should take, run with and use.

So we’ve just talked about a ton of different examples of people who have fought fights with sometimes some big, big organizations, and have been able to overcome and generate a lot of traction, get a lot of brand love, and ultimately even differentiate themselves quite a bit in the market, to create their own lane. What are the different types of fights that an organization can actually pick that you’ve seen?

The 3 types of fights you can pick

#1 Pick a fight with your competitor

Talia Wolf: The obvious one is obviously pick a fight with a competitor. So we’ve spoken about a few of these examples, where people will just like head on, straight ahead, pick a fight with their specific competitor.

So we’ve seen Burger King do it versus McDonald’s, we’ve seen Mac versus PC, we’ve seen Intercom with their different competitors. So that’s the more straightforward approach where you want to say, “This is us, this is them.” And you pick that fight.

#2 Pick a fight with your prospect’s habits

Talia Wolf: However, there’s also another thing which we started talking about with the Airstory example, is when you pick a fight with a habit. So a habit is essentially something that your prospects are doing, the way they perform a certain task, the way the performance job, maybe the way they’re solving the specific issue that you’re trying to solve. And what you want to do is kind of focus on that specific path that they’re taking, and challenge it. And say, “Look at what you’re doing when you could just be doing this.” So those, I guess are my two go-to ways, when I think about the actual picking a fight. What about you?

Ross Simmonds: I love a competitor fight, I love a habit fight. Those are definitely two that I agree with are amazing … Those are two that I would agree are amazing to pick a fight with.

#3 Pick a fight with a theory

Ross Simmonds: So when people are going up against a theory, it’s oftentimes an assumption, or something that has trickled down from generation to generation, to be a belief that we have around how certain things are done.

One of the greatest examples of this in recent times, was the idea of everybody doing sales by completely doing cold outreach. That you could only generate leads by sending emails, by knocking on doors, et cetera. And then organizations like HubSpot come along and they’re like, ‘No, let’s reverse that funnel around, and start to introduce this thing called inbound marketing.” Where you can start to attract people, rather than always yelling at them and trying to get them to pay attention to you from cold outreach and cold calls.

Ross Simmonds: I think that that theory was a great example of outbound versus inbound. And I think that that type of positioning gave them the ability to really own a market. And it’s something that happens often times, especially in B2B organizations where there’s a lot of ideas and concepts that have been around for years. But it also translates into B2C too. Like there’s a lot of organizations that have built up a significant amount of wealth off of using products that have a lot of chemicals, and now you can go along with this belief that chemicals are bad, and you need to use only natural products. And they have taken a stance and a fight against those types of products.

#4 Pick a fight with a process

Ross Simmonds: Another thing that you can pick a fight with, is a process. Now a process is oftentimes very difficult for you to pick a fight with, unless you really get to know your customers. Because the processes that people use on a day-to-day basis, are very much an individualistic kind of ideal. It’s not oftentimes that people are talking about their processes. And the only way to really know what processes people use to achieve things, is to talk to them. So a process is definitely one of the more difficult ideas to kind of figure out how you can pick a fight with it.

Like I said, because it’s so internalized. But I think earlier today when we were chatting, you brought up a company called Woo, and they’re really doing this. Could you tell the listeners a little bit about how they’re picking a fight with a process that may be broken?

Talia Wolf: Right. So I guess the idea of picking a fight with a process, is you as a company saying, the way things have been done until today are incorrect. So maybe we could compare this to the way people used to go outside, try and haul down a taxi, and now you just Uber it or Lyft it. So that’s how picking a fight with existing ways things work. And the HR industry is pretty much the same.

For years the way it would work is, companies would just, I guess publish the different positions that they have and then you would go inside, see if it makes sense and send them your CV. Woo is actually the first of a few other platforms that allow you to just upload your CV, mention what type of companies you’re looking for, what type of positions you’re looking for, and the software finds the right positions for you.

Talia Wolf: So essentially it’s the actual businesses that are hiring that have to do the hard work. They have to prove to you that they are worth your time, and that you should want to work for them. So it’s a way of picking a fight with the way things work. So it doesn’t actually mean that you have to change your entire business, but it could be a cool way to just identify what people were doing so far. The process that people had to take in order to take a specific action, or to achieve a certain goal and say, “This doesn’t work anymore, and here’s what we believe is the right way. And here’s how we’re doing it.”

Ross Simmonds: At the end of the day, we’re sitting here with four different lanes that an organization can pick that they want to go into, and they can definitely go into multiple, in terms of who they want to fight with. You can pick a fight with a competitor, you can pick a fight with a habit, you can pick a fight with the theory, or you can pick a fight with a process. But figuring out which of these you should actually pick a fight with, should be backed by some type of insight, should be backed by some type of understanding of why you’re making that decision.

If you were going to advise how an organization would figure out who they should pick a fight with, what would be the steps that you believe they should take, and where would they even start?

How to decide who to pick a fight with

Talia Wolf: Right. So you know me, I am customer focused. It’s always about the customer for me. So for me the first and only place, you would start when you want to identify who you actually want to pick a fight with, would be customer surveys or interviews. What you want to do is figure out what people were using before they hired you to solve that solution, or they started using your software. And then you can do this with your current clients or your current customers.

So basically survey them, and ask them, “Hey, when you weren’t using this solution, how did you solve this problem?” And you can also reach out to people who are visiting your website right now, who haven’t converted and ask them, “What’s the number one thing you’re trying that now that isn’t working? What’s really driving you nuts, that you call them solve this problem?” And it gives you a better idea of what people are trying out there, what they’re doing.

Talia Wolf: And the cool thing is that it’s never something you expect. Most of us think it’s going to be one of our competitors and it turns out to be like a spreadsheet, or an intern, or I don’t know. So definitely worth starting with interviews and surveys. Actually you start with a survey, you identify the people who are more willing to give more information, and then you reach out to them and ask them for interviews. And your goal is to essentially understand the value that you provide, versus how they felt before using your solution. And that will give you a great idea of who you should be picking a fight with.

So now that we know who we’re picking a fight with, we’ve spoken to our customers and our clients. What do I do once I identify that topic? Once I identify who I want to pick a fight with. Do you have any ideas?

Ok, I know who I’m gonna pick a fight with. Now what?

Ross Simmonds: At this point it’s key to scream at the rooftops what differentiates you from the other guy, the other habit, the other competitor, the other theory, the other process, whatever that may be. It is time to scream and talk about what differentiates you from them consistently. And we saw that with the Mac versus P campaign. That campaign had 65 different ads, saying the same thing over and over. This is a Mac, this is a PC, and this is how we’re different. Some ways that organizations can leverage this in today’s world, if they can’t afford a big TV campaign, are things like landing pages.

A simple landing page where you compare yourself with a competitor, is a great way to show line by line what features you have that they don’t. What benefits do you offer that they don’t. It is a great way to really showcase one product versus the next. In addition, you can do that exact same thing when it comes to just showing a bunch of visuals, and showing this is what the world used to look like.

Ross Simmonds: Similar to what we talked about with Intercom. They’ve done this extremely well. Put that on your homepage. Put that on various landing pages, share that graphic and that visual. Or through social media, whether it’s an ad on Instagram, on Twitter, you name it. You want to spread that story consistently across the platforms and the channels that your audience is spending time on. And then you can also consider how you can incorporate this into blog posts.

A blog post announcing your attack on a certain habit, or your attack on a certain theory, or process, is a great way to not only position yourself well, but also to develop a piece of content that your sales team can start to seed into the hands of ideal customers, and the ideal prospects. And that can be a very powerful way to break the ice, and start a conversation about something that many people in the organization, or in the industry, may not be thinking about.

Ross Simmonds: And then the final one that I’ve been thinking a lot of around picking a fight, it’s the consistency of reports. If you can develop a report, year after year, that showcases a shift and a change amongst your target audience, where more and more people are adopting a certain habit, or adopting a certain process or, getting away from a certain approach. That’s where your report starts to act as a benchmark piece that everyone in your industry starts to look at, and you can use consistently as an asset that your team’s developing, that you’re putting out there, that you’re sharing with press, et cetera. And drive real results from it.

Talia Wolf: Awesome. I love every single thing you just mentioned. I think it’s a great place to end this with all these actionable tips. And I guess we should just talk about the final conclusions from everything that we spoke about today. Because I think the number one thing for me, is the fact that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

I feel like we’re all in this constant rush and battle to try the new things. Like the AI, the machine learning, all these new things. When in fact, you can literally just go back to things that have worked. And they consistently work all the time even, if it’s 50 or 60, or even 100 years back. And there are things that used to work 100 years ago, and still work today.

Ross Simmonds: Right.

Talia Wolf: And you can still find some awesome, awesome strategies to use. What about you Ross? What is your biggest conclusion and take away from this?

Ross Simmonds: I think I’m with you on the fact that old stuff continues to work. Like at the end of the day people change, but the things that inspire them to take action do not. And I think that, that is one of the key pieces that are often overlooked. That humans, as much as we have become more technologically advanced, we’re still just a ball of emotions.

We’re still triggered by the same things that people would have been triggered by years ago. But just the different ways in which you can do that has changed. And I think that for me, that’s why I’m really looking forward to future episodes, where we continue with this format of diving into all things that can work today, and use that to show people how they can leverage timeless ideas, and use them in a time when it’s more important than ever.

Ross Simmonds: In addition, I think it’s important to just reiterate, folks, don’t be afraid to pick a fight in today’s world. When you’re looking at the landscape, it’s more competitive than ever. It’s more noisy than ever. When you go up against that big monster, when you’re going up against the leader of your space, you are taking a position in the market that can open up a ton of opportunity. And I think that’s not something that anyone should take for granted. It’s something that you should lean into and embrace.

Talia Wolf: Definitely. And at the end of the day, if you’ve created a solution that you truly believe in, then you believe in the fact that you are better than that competitor. And even if they are the biggest and the most well known in your industry, pointing out the fact of how better you are, or how more valuable you are is important, for not only just yourself to get more clients, but for your clients and your prospects to know that you’re out there to solve their problem in a real way.

Ross Simmonds: On that note, if you enjoyed this podcast episode, please leave us a review. Five stars only. Really would appreciate that and we’ve put together-

Talia Wolf: Don’t waste your time and us a four. Ross only wants the 5 stars.

Ross Simmonds: Nothing else, we don’t want the fours. I know Talia loves to get the customer feedback, even if it’s negative, not here, not here, not today. That’s funny. But no.

Talia Wolf: Don’t. And another way you can reach us is through our Facebook group. We will be in there listening to you, your feedback. If you have any ideas and things you want us to talk about, then we will definitely be answering questions, and asking you some questions. So definitely go and check it out. It’s

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