And now, the main event.
In one corner, the reigning industry champion, weighing in at a few billion in revenue, with massive budgets, headcount and resources.
In the other corner, the local favorite – considerably smaller, home grown, and a dangerous scrapper. The heavy weight versus “one of us.”
My money’s on the little guy.
The importance of “we” has been with us since we descended from the trees and walked upright.
Competition for scarce resources, knowing the difference between your tribe and “others,” and protecting your bloodline all spring from this need to identify and prioritize us versus them. We’ve evolved plenty since then, but without a doubt, the nature of people is to favor those we know and like – those who are “like us,” even if the definition of “us” changes from time to time.
Look at Baidu, the search engine that sees more search traffic in China than Google does in the US. I’m not qualified to discuss the relative merits of their Chinese language search results versus alternatives, but I can point to the fact that they’ve clearly captured the imagination of their home country’s growing base of internet users.
Their marketing paints US-centric competitors as bumbling stereotypes who can’t handle the complexities of the Chinese language. Baidu, therefore, wins because it understands the Chinese people and language better. When I had a chance to ask Robin Li about this during his recent trip to Stanford, he concluded that, “this was an argument we could win.” And they did. Resoundingly. Baidu now has over 70% of the Chinese market’s estimated search volume.
Look at Black Like Me, the cosmetic line founded by South African entrepreneur Herman Mashaba. From its beginnings as a brand sold door to door, Black Like Me has grown to an over $100 million brand focusing on black consumers in Africa and competing for share with the same cosmetic multinationals one would expect to see anywhere else in the world. Black Like Me is now expanding to international markets where there they can market to African expatriates, starting with the UK.
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. How do you define “us”? Being on the inside is comfortable and inviting – we all like to be included, whether it is being in the know, of a group, or even just in on an inside joke.
. The definition of “us” shifts from time and place to role and function. What works in the supermarket doesn’t work at the opera, even if it’s the same person. Where the rituals are different, the communication must follow along. Being “one of us” means you know the rituals and speak the insider’s language.
. When you are “one of us,” there’s usually “them.” Your competitor doesn’t know us as well as we do. The higher the level of contrast, the more separation you will achieve. Often, it’s best to let the consumer come to this conclusion, so showing often beats telling.
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What Robin Li says in his advertising is what Herman Mashaba put in his brand’s name: “we.” We are like you, and they are not. We come from where you come from, understand your rituals, habits and preferences.
Baidu offers lessons for any company defending its home market against an international behemoth where language and cultural fluency are paramount for success – with the influx of multinational expansion into the China market, one would assume that any advertising or marketing agency with local ties would do well to study what Baidu has done.
Black Like Me offers lessons for anyone marketing to an immigrant community – with Hispanics now at an estimated 15% of the US population, Herman Mashaba’s experiences should be a beacon to budding entrepreneurs from Mexico seeking to serve the Hispanic population in the US.
It’s hard to compete against an insider because they know the lay of the land better than you do and the crowd wants them to win. Knowing your customers from the inside out – linguistically, culturally and personally – always beats the less tangible assets that only come from functional or technical experience.
My money’s on the home town hero.
He’s one of us.