Beware the Arrogance of Dismissing Competition

Sometimes it’s possible to lose sight of and/or minimize something really important:  the competition also wants to win.

Most marketing plans include discussion about the competition and/or a competitor analysis; and most new product gate processes require a competitive assessment as well.  Yet, smart people can fall into the trap of dismissing real competitive threats.  The latest example is a case where $26 beat $5 million.  How?  Read on.

A front-page news report last week provides a distressing case study about the pitfalls of underestimating the competition, and in this case the implications are more than just a change in market share.  They concern the safety of US and allied military forces overseas.  According to The Wall Street Journal, a simple $26 software program was used by enemy forces in Iraq and Afghanistan (competition) to gain access to live video surveillance feeds from unmanned Predator aircraft.  What’s startling, though, is the apparent dismissal that the enemy (competition) would be able to develop a capability to fight back against the $5 million unmanned aircraft.  Here is an excerpt from the news report:

  •  “The potential drone vulnerability lies in an unencrypted downlink between the unmanned craft and ground control.  The U.S. government has known about the flaw since the U.S. campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s, current and former officials said.  But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn’t know how to exploit it, the officials said.”  (emphasis added)

Predator Drone – photo from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. Web site

It’s one thing to not anticipate an event or course of action.  That can happen to the best of us.  It’s something altogether different to know about a threat and to dismiss it.  Yes, all business and marketing plans are based on assumptions.  But assumptions should be fact-based and built on learning from real events.  In this case, military planners and aircraft manufacturers should have known better than to dismiss enemy (competitor) capabilities.  This is especially true because of all the learning to the contrary that was available.  There is a tragic record of the enemy (competition) being creative (e.g., 9/11 tactics and implementation) and finding inexpensive solutions to complex problems (e.g., IED warfare – improvised explosive device – that has wrecked havoc on US and allied military forces).

There are always excuses (sometimes valid) and hindsight is 20-20, but in this case the benefit of foresight was available, but not acted upon.  Here’s one explanation for ignoring the enemy (competitive) threat:

  •  “Fixing the security gap would have caused delays, according to current and former military officials. It would have added to the Predator’s price. Some officials worried that adding encryption would make it harder to quickly share time-sensitive data within the U.S. military, and with allies.”


Don’t underestimate your competition and don’t ignore your weaknesses.  A determined competitor may very likely find a way to beat you on your business playing field.  At the same time, don’t allow perceived competitor strengths to cause paralysis of action either.  Move forward if you need to, but address and fix any issues along the way that might prevent success.   And be thankful during this holiday season that, in most cases, your business and marketing decisions do not have life and death consequences.

Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.



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