If you are a product manager and not managing a product that is a monopoly (i.e. Microsoft Office, Windows, Google Search) or strong number one then you need to figure out your angle of attack.
This could be attacking on a set of different features, attacking from a different channel to flank your competitor, or attacking from the position of an emerging platform. What is a viable angle of attack, lets look at a few:
A Platform Attack
In the gaming space users are moving from consoles to social networks. Zynga realized that and attacked starting with Facebook taking advantage of massive user base combined with a relatively immature platform that they cleverly exploited.
The Channel Attack
In Japan where Yahoo has 56% search market share Google is attempting to flank Yahoo! via mobile search channel — by dominating the mobile search side they believe that overtime they will convert users on the PC. Over the next few months expect many companies to disrupt established players via the mobile channel.
The Missing Feature
Incumbents get fat and lazy and start overlooking important features. Skype attacked the 1:1 communication space from the angle of audio/video communication – free calls anywhere in the world. MSN Messenger and Y! Messenger should have seen this opportunity, they ultimately matched Skype feature for feature but it was too late. Skype had become a verb for talking and video-conferencing. [Skype also fits under the category of platform attack – they were one of the first legal services to leverage the broadband platform – Om has more on this here.]
Business Model Attack
Netflix is a classic example. Blockbuster business model was largely based on capturing late-fees. Netflix said we will not only deliver your movies directly to your home but you never have to pay late fees. Netflix destroyed Blockbuster.
These do not qualify as a viable angle of attack:
We’ll Out Design Them
The argument I hear fairly often goes something like this “Just like Apple we will provide a far superior user experience and destroy them because their UI sucks.” I love great design (I led the acquisition of Inquisitor for Yahoo!) but unless your design advantage runs deep (Apple’s does) a competent incumbent will steal your design and pawn it off as their own. Great design is part of an attack, not the attack.
If you are a product manager and you cannot articulate your angle of attack you are going to end up attacking head-on which is costly and bloody.