Four Strategies for Mature Market B2Bs Facing Formidable Competition

Book retailer Barnes and Noble recently announced the opening of 30 new stores.  This is encouraging news for any B2B company facing well-funded, powerful competitors.  

Many traditional bookstores have struggled to compete against Amazon, but Barnes & Noble has managed to thrive. Below, we analyze how they’ve done it, and how B2B marketers can duplicate this success in their own markets.

1) Understand the Emotional Connection

Barnes & Noble realized early on that book shopping was more than just a transaction; it was a form of entertainment. Their research showed that customers spent three times longer in a bookstore than in other retail establishments.

This insight became the cornerstone of their strategy – they transformed their stores into a haven for book lovers, complete with coffee shops, creating an atmosphere where customers could spend hours browsing and enjoying the experience. This emotional connection with customers was key to their survival.

Lessons for B2B companies:  Are you uncovering insights and positioning your products on the emotional needs of B2B buyers?  If you think business buyers only think rationally, please take a look at this article from last year.  We discovered that every one of the top 10 B2B brands based their company positioning on emotional needs.

2) Utilize The Power of the Opposite Good

The term “opposite good” refers to identifying the opposite of what a dominant competitor in the market offers and capitalizing on it. In Barnes & Noble’s case, they saw that Amazon was the world’s biggest bookstore with an expansive selection and competitive prices.

To differentiate themselves, Barnes & Noble focused on creating an environment that provided the good opposite of what Amazon offered. They aimed to offer an experience that was intimate, personalized, and full of sensory delights. By embracing the opposite good, they carved a niche for themselves.

Lessons for B2B companies:  If you are facing a Amazon-like competitor, have you thought about positioning yourself as the “opposite good” alternative?  Often, new technological offerings can be countered with “tried and true” options.  Or speedy service can be neutralized by “thoughtful, get-it-right the first time” assistance.  You get the idea.  Here’s an article we wrote in 2022 with more details on the opposite-good strategy and a couple interesting other, similar strategies.

3) Capitalize on Local Taste and/or Customization

One of Barnes & Noble’s innovative strategies was to allow individual stores to cater to local tastes and preferences. Instead of imposing a one-size-fits-all approach, they empowered their stores to design their spaces and feature products that resonated with their local customers. This approach ensured that Barnes & Noble was not just another cookie-cutter bookstore, but a place where the local community could find products and experiences tailored to their preferences.

Lessons for B2B companies:  Many of our large B2B clients struggle with how to harmonize global planning so that it also reflects local nuances.  The answer is in knowing which parts of your strategy should be the same globally (e.g., overall branding, how you address global trends, etc.) and which should allow for regional or local specifics (e.g., how decision-making power differs by market, which segments should be targeted, etc.)  This article we wrote in 2021 has helped many companies better capitalize on regional/local circumstances while maintaining global standards.

4) Segment and Then Fill the Gap

In a highly competitive market, it’s essential to identify gaps left behind by dominant competitors. Barnes & Noble did precisely this. They recognized that not all customers wanted the same fast and efficient shopping experience offered by Amazon. Some sought a more leisurely and sensory shopping experience. By targeting this specific segment and filling the gap left by Amazon, Barnes & Noble successfully created a space for itself in the market.

Lessons for B2B companies:  Which of your needs-based segments are being best served by your dominant competitor?  Consider leaving that segment to them and concentrate on differentiating for others.  In our experience, focusing on one or a few segments results in more business from non-targeted segments.  We call it “The Magnetic Effect of Focus”, and we wrote about it here

Barnes & Noble’s ability to not only survive but to grow in the face of Amazon’s dominance offers valuable lessons for businesses in any industry. Their focus on emotional connections, the opposite good, local customization, segmentation and gap-filling demonstrates that even in mature markets, there are ample opportunities for differentiation and growth.

As the retail landscape continues to evolve, Barnes & Noble’s story serves as a reminder that innovation and a deep understanding of customer desires can lead to remarkable success. So, take a page out of Barnes & Noble’s playbook and consider how you can apply these strategies to your business to thrive in a highly competitive world.

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