A Bears-Packers type of rivalry? Every brand should be so lucky.

It’s not a game. It’s The Game. It’s a game so gigantic that dare I say some fans would rather make sure the Bears just beat the Packers on Sunday and whatever happens in the Super Bowl happens. It’s that important.

Yet, rivalries like this are great for other brands too. So many companies get wrapped up in identifying only their own best traits that they forget how to position themselves in relation to those who stand against them.

Here’s the awful truth about rivals:
We need them and they need us.

Because the drama of our competition makes differences bubble to the surface. That leads to greater education of what we are and are not about. Which in turn greater defines tribes of fans (and enemies).

Coke needs a Pepsi.
Nike needs a Reebok.
McDonald’s needs a Burger King.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers needs an Ernst & Young/KPMG/Deloitte.

Ask yourself – who are such rivals of yours? What do they stand for that you don’t? Why would someone want to buy their product or service over yours? And why would you actually be OK with that rather than try to attract them to your side?

As you’re thinking about that, try to remember that at the end of the day, people may have different reasons as a group to be your fans/customers but that each person has one emotional reason for why they really choose you. For example, I don’t bleed orange and blue for the fact that I’m merely from Chicago. It’s probably because some of the greatest memories I have as a kid are going to Bears games with my Dad, tailgating, watching from bad end zone seats and having the time of my life. I learned to remember names like Vince Evans, Brian Baschnagel and Bob Thomas are still burned in my brain (along with a guy named Walter Payton who turned out OK). And I learned to hate the Packers, Vikings and Lions too.

My point isn’t to take a trip down Memory Lane but to illustrate that just as there’s nothing like uncovering that emotional connection to your brand, there’s nothing like uncovering that emotional reason why they can’t stand your competitors (or if they don’t know your competitors, they can’t stand the attributes your competitors highlight most). Perhaps not every product or service can stir the senses as deeply as a sports team can, but don’t let that prevent you from talking to your prospective customers through polls, surveys, focus groups and 1-on-1 interviews to gather information. They have stories that are waiting to be brought out into the open and if you let them talk long enough and listen well, you’ll begin to hear the distinct reasons why they make the choices that they do. When a marketer can pick up on some of the most common and most powerful insights, they have a chance at capturing that emotion in the brand message.

And if that brand message is put in the right media that makes a person say, “yes, that brand gets me,” then you have a fighting chance at getting a sale, a long-term customer and a Fan.

Ah. There’s that beautiful word: Fan. We see it used enough in sporting arenas or on Facebook, but it has applications far beyond Soldier Field. We’re not just talking about customers here. The Fan is the person who can’t sing your praises enough to others and will buy your product or service regardless of the fact that it might be a little more expensive than the others. The Fan will defend you to others in a social setting (or a social media setting) because he believes in what you offer that much. It’s what causes Fans to pay ticket prices starting at $500 a seat. It’s what causes Fans to reach for one product on the shelf versus another too. So you surely don’t want to irritate the Fan or take them for granted. You want to design VIP loyalty programs around them, special password-only microsites around them, have frequent conversations with them in the social media realm and give every effort to show that you are clearly listening to them.

Know your Fans. Know your Enemies. Define the differences in a crystal-clear way in your brand strategy and don’t ever try to think you can be everything to everyone as you do.

What else? Oh yeah. One more thing: Go Bears.

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