Choosing a general attack strategy


Given clear opponents and objectives, what attack options are available? We can distinguish among five attack strategies: frontal, flank, and encirclement, bypass, and guerilla attacks.

Frontal Attack

In a pure frontal attack, the attacker matches its opponent’s product, advertising, price, and distribution. The principle of force says that the side with the greater manpower (resources) will win. A modified frontal attack, such as cutting price vis-à-vis the opponent’s, can work if the market leader does not retaliate and if the competitor convinces the market that its product is equal to the leaders. Helene Curtis is a master at convincing the market that its brands—such as Suave and Finesse— are equal in quality but a better value than higher priced brands.

Flank Attack

An enemy’s weak spots are natural targets. A flank attack can be directed along two strategic dimensions— geographic and segmental. In a geographic attack, the challenge spots areas where the opponent is underperforming.

For example, some of IBM’s former mainframe rivals, such as Honeywell, chose to set up strong sales branches in medium and smaller sized cities that were relatively neglected by IBM. The other flanking strategy is to serve uncovered market needs, as Japanese automakers did when they developed more fuel-efficient cars.

A flanking strategy is another name for identifying shifts in market segments that are causing gaps to develop then rushing in to fill the gaps and develop them into strong segments.

A case of Leap Frog Enterprises Inc

Based in Emeryille, California, this small “Davidâ€? of a toy company is using a flank stack against “Goliathâ€? Mattel. In 1999, when the educational toy category couldn’t have been drearier, Leap Frog unleashed a product it touted as “a toy in its shape, but an educational product in its soul.â€? Leap Frog toy, the Leap Pad, is a laptop-like device that teaches children age 4 to 8 reading, math, spelling, and geography in a fun way. Parents happily paid $50 for the Leap Pad consoles and $15 for content cartridges. In December 2000, the product raced past Razor scooter to become the top-selling toy— the first time in at least 15 years that an educational toy was number one. In 2001, Leap Pad was the number-one selling toy in the nation, and so far the company has sold more than 8.6 million systems. Of course, its success has spurred Mattel to compete head-on by launching its own version of Leap Pad an easy-to-use Power Touch Learning System.

Flanking is in the best tradition of modern marketing, which holds that the purpose of marketing is to discover needs and satisfy them. Flank attacks are particularly attractive to a challenger with fewer resources than its opponent and are much more likely to be successful than frontal attacks.

Encirclement Attack

The encirclement maneuver is an attempt to capture a wide slice of the enemy’s territory through a “blitz�. It involves launching a grand offensive on several fronts.

Encirclement makes sense when the challenger commands superior resources and believes a swift encirclement will break the opponent’s will. In making a stand against arch rival Microsoft, Sun Microsystems licensed its Java software to hundreds of companies and millions of software developers for all sorts of consumer devices. As consumer electronics products began to go digital, Java started appearing in a wide range of gadgets.

Bypass Attack

Technological leapfrogging is a bypass strategy practiced in high-tech industries. The challenger patiently researches and develops the next technology and launches an attack, shifting the battleground to its territory, where it has an advantage. Nintendo’s successful attack in the video-game market was precisely about wresting market share by introducing a superior technology and redefining the “competitive space�. Then Sega/Genesis did the same with more advanced technology, and now Sony’s PlayStation has grabbed the technological lead to gain almost 60% of the video-game market. Challengers Google used technological leapfrogging to overtake Yahoo! and become the market leader in search. Now another company is using the same tactic to try to become the Google of e-mail.