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Don’t play their game

don't play their gameMany years ago as a marketing novice I learned the first rule of competing against giants: don’t play their game. This was long before I entered the job board world. I was a marketing director at a niche publishing company that produced magazines for developers. As you might guess, our market was dominated by a couple of large publications – and I was constantly thinking about how we could compete against them. They had very large audiences – and ours was not so large. They appealed to everyone – and we only appealed to elite developers. They had dozens of salespeople – and we didn’t.

But I was determined to win, anyway. The bravura of the young, as it was.

Then an older – and wiser – friend pointed me to a marketing classic: ‘Positioning‘. I read it. And read it again. And then I felt very stupid.

Why? Because I realized that I could never win. Not by competing on the large publications’ terms – which were reach and volume. It just wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I had to redefine the field of battle. I had to reframe the discussion that we had with advertisers. They had reach; we had focus. They had volume; we had quality and response. They reached everyone; we reached the best.

It worked. We grew – a lot. So much that we created 3 more magazines. And a book division. And a training division. In face, we were so successful that one of the large publishers ended up buying us.

I’ve followed the same advice for my work in the job board industry. It’s the same model I used at Dice, and I’ve given this advice to clients. I’ve seen it work over and over. When competing with other job boards – particularly Indeed or LinkedIn – don’t play their game. Create a new space for your site – start a new discussion with employers. Do what Glassdoor and Stackoverflow and Archinect did with their markets. Don’t just sell job postings. Those sites used anonymous company reviews and Q&A and community to win. Reframe your market – and dominate it in a way that a large generalist board simply can’t or won’t.

And enjoy!

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