Flanking Attack Strategy Guide

Everything you need to know about taking on a competitor with a Flanking Attack Strategy… 🥊

8 min read

Arrow being aimed for a flanking attack

If you’re thinking about how best to take on a competitor in order to grow your business, then there are a number of different strategies you should know about. These ‘attack strategies’, as they’re known, map out different approaches to going after your competition and winning market share from them. In this article we’re going to explore the Flanking Attack Strategy.

Flanking is one of the most popular Attack Strategies employed by businesses. It often brings very effective results for the attacker and is difficult to defend against for the defending company.

Let’s learn a little more…

What is a Flanking Attack Strategy?

A Flanking Attack strategy is one where you focus on a competitor’s weak points. You attack these in order to dislodge them and gain market share. The name comes from the military strategy whereby an enemy is attacked from the side, under the assumption that most strength is positioned at the front.

A business attacking a competitor from the side in a flanking strategy

In business terms flanking may be focusing on a particular product, customer segment, or geography where your competitor is not the strongest. It may be a market they aren’t focused on, or an area they find hard to invest resources into, or perhaps a market they are exiting.

Any part of a business can be subject to a Flanking, including:

  • Price point (both high and low)
  • Product or service features
  • Availability to customers
  • Customer service / aftercare support

What tools or frameworks help in devising a Flanking Attack Strategy?

A successful Flanking Attack Strategy requires good execution and an understanding of the competitor’s abilities. It’s common to conduct both a SWOT Analysis for that competitor and a Four Corner Analysis, as both of these will provide insight into where you can target. These tools will help you uncover their weaknesses and those then become the focus on your Flanking efforts.

You’re looking for clear weaknesses within their portfolio, and it’s important to be specific and focused. If they have a product, perhaps it’s a pricing weakness, or a feature weakness? If it’s a service, perhaps the weakness is the customer satisfaction? Or it could be a geographic weakness, with a company not investing to properly service a region or country.

If your competitor has a product or service portfolio, you might use something like the BCG Matrix to try and map out which are the key areas for them and where is best to attack for greatest impact.

Spend some time mapping all of their products and services across this 2 x 2 matrix and determine which are their Question Mark products or services and which are their Pets. The Question Mark products are the ones where your competitor has low market share but high growth – so there is both opportunity for you in terms of growth to be had, but it is not a strength product for them in terms of their market share, so you can attack this weakness.

Their Pet products and services are those with low market share, but also low growth. You could potentially focus on those for your Flanking Attack since they’re likely to be getting the least attention and resource from that business, but you need to be mindful of the low growth potential there and be sure it’s worth your while.

If you’re considering a Flanking Attack Strategy, chances are you’re a niche specialist, so reflect on your own business using something like Value Disciplines Model alongside a SWOT Analysis. What is going to be your Strength to exploit their Weakness? Know where you are strongest yourself to help you weigh up which weakness of theirs you would stand the best chance of successfully attacking.

What else can help you when devising your Flanking Attack Strategy?

Consider also studying your competitor’s customer reviews. These will give you invaluable insight into their weaknesses. Look for common issues or problems flagged by customers. Are they complaining about service? Then attack your competitor with a far, far superior service offering. Are they having problems with a particular feature? Present their customers with an alternative product without those feature problems. Are customers bemoaning the price? Attack the competitor no price.

Also take a look at where your competitor is spread geographically. Are there territories that are under resourced and/or underperforming? That would be a potential weak spot to aim your Flanking Attack at. You could potentially look at the local financial results (if public) for each geography to help you determine this.

You should also look at the general financial results of your competitor and their annual reports, if they are available and public, and interrogate those for the breakdown of their revenue and their resource allocation. That will help you spot the areas of the business that are weakest.

What are the advantages of a Flanking Attack Strategy?

The advantages of a Flanking Attack Strategy include:

It drives focus

The nature of concentrating on beating your competitor at one particular element of their offering or segment of their audience, means you are able to maintain some real, laser focus. Having such a clear and single path of attack will enable you to put your full firepower behind this and therefore maximise your chance of success.

Hard to defend against

A Flanking Attack Strategy is fairly hard to defend against as the attacked company, because that company does not enjoy the same single focus that you do as the attacker. If you’re going after a company’s weak point, then the chances are they’re making their main money elsewhere so won’t be able to devote the time or resource to defending as well as they could with their core product/service/geographic market/customer group (whatever segment it is you’re attacking!)

It’s proven!

If you adopt a Flanking Attack Strategy you won’t be the first business to give it a go! It’s an established competitive strategy and there are many examples of companies who had employ this strategy and succeeded. Take a look at the section below on examples.

It’s less expensive

You’re likely to have to spend less to succeed with a Flanking Attack Strategy versus some of the other attacking strategies. Since you are attacking your competitor on the basis of one single weakness, you need less resource and investment than if you were simultaneously going after multiple aspects of the competitor’s business.

Smaller companies can take on larger companies

Flanking Attack gives smaller businesses a way of taking on companies far bigger than they are, and, importantly, having a decent chance of succeeding. The focus on attacking just one aspect, and especially a weak or neglected aspect, means there’s a chance a smaller company could be using more firepower in that area than the big company.

What are the disadvantages of a Flanking Attack Strategy?

The disadvantages of a Flanking Attack Strategy include:

  • It requires a lot of thought and analysis to target a weak area
  • If you are too slow the window of opportunity may go
  • Your potential growth is limited to the one area you are focused on

Finally, though not a disadvantage, you need to consider what you do next, once you’ve dislodged the competitor in their one weak area. Do you continue to expand, turning Flanking into more an Encirclement Attack Strategy, or do you expand to turn it into more a full Frontal Attack? Or perhaps instead you stay focused on the niche and own that industry.

What are some examples of a Flanking Attack Strategy?

There are a number of good examples of businesses who have employed a Flanking Attack Strategy to great effect. These include....

Instagram

These guys took on Facebook by focusing on one element of their offering – photo sharing. While the Facebook team spread itself across lots of different features and functionality, Instagram took a focused approach on photos alone and successfully became a house-hold name social platform. Of course, Facebook ultimately acquired them.

Premier Inn

The UK Budget hotel brand Premier Inn, flanked its budget hotel competitors by focusing and attacking a common weakness – quality. While its competitors were successful through offering their stays at a low price, no one was ever impressed by the quality of those hotels. Premier Inn recognised that weakness and attacked. Their Good Night Guarantee scheme enabled them to win market share from their competitors by positioning quality as their strength in the face of the competitors’ weakness.

What are the alternatives to a Flanking Attack Strategy?

The Flanking Attack Strategy is one of a number of different Attack Strategies. The others are:

Frontal Attack Strategy

Attack the competitor head on, matching their strengths and opportunities.

Encirclement Attack Strategy

Attack the competitor by targeting several points at the same time.

Bypass Attack Strategy

Attack the competitor by going round their core product, often creating a direct substitution.

Guerrilla Attack Strategy

A collection of small, targeted campaigns to chip away at the competition.

So, there is everything you need to know about the Flanking Attack Strategy. Before setting out your battle plan, we would recommend you read up on each of the other attack strategies so you can be certain you’re picking the right one and maximising your chances of success. Good luck!

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