And there it is. The strategy is done. How to enter the market, what does your MVP mean, the team you’ll need, the business model, validated UX research that’s solid. The team is in alignment. The pitch deck being tweaked. Or Maybe all the same has been done for a new product internally in a larger company. Point is, you’ve got it all done. You can justify to investors, shareholders, stakeholders, the CEO. Except it’s not done.
No matter the strategy you’ve chosen, there are two overarching approaches to strategy that will guide your execution and they will impact how you play to win, as management guru, Roger Martin outlays very well in his work. You can find it here on Medium. But this sits above all of that. The decision will likely require some adjustment to your strategy as well.
It is also a decision best made at the start of the UX strategy process as it will inform how you look at competition in the market, including indirect but possible competitors in the future. It will certainly impact your marketing and sales strategies. If you’re a startup and you don’t think you have time for strategy, you’re off to a very dangerous start indeed. Strategy is everything you do. Make it count. Are you playing to play or are you playing to win?
You have two overarching approaches to how you will play. Hardball or Softball. If you want to go more in-depth on Hardball, read the book titled as such from Harvard Business School Press by George Stalk and Rob Lachenauer. Hardball strategy in business takes its idea from baseball, obviously.
Hardball Strategy vs. Softball Strategy in Business
Hardball Strategy in Brief
In business hardball is not about doing things that illegal or extreme behaviour. Or even being mean. It’s about creating discomfort for your competitors. In baseball, a hardball is a strategic move It is when the pitcher faces an aggressive batter and sends him a message by throwing that ball hard, super fast high and inside. There’s no intent to hurt the batter, but to take a legal, effective move against the opponent.
In Hardball strategy your goal is to dominate your market segment. You unleash massive and overwhelming force (you’ll need a war chest for that, so it may be later in the game if you’re a startup), you exploit anomalies such as customer preferences your competitor is ignoring (i.e. edit button on Twitter) or insights from another industry. Threaten your competitors profit sanctuaries (it’s risky and can quickly get you in the caution zone though (Facebook does this and not very well.) Take good ideas and make them your own (Facebook tried this with Instagram reels to take on TikTok, again, not very well.) You can entice your competitor to retreat, weakening them (such as going for complacent competitors.)
Softball Strategy in Brief
These types of businesses tend to use indirect tactics to shape a market and find advantage. It takes longer, costs more and doesn’t do much to prevent an attack from a hardball playing competitor. Softball companies will seek regulatory changes and trade restrictions to stop the market leader (and often end up hurting themselves), devise negative media campaigns, try to copy much of their competitors features and even marketing tactics. They may also make legal complaints to courts. They are tactics, often not well coordinated and do little to inspire teams or investors, let alone potential acquirers. Playing softball is fine if you’re satisfied with the middle market, languishing in mediocre profitability and incrementally small growth. If you feel more comfortable playing it safe, choose softball. You can also work less hours. It’s also an approach that can get you to eventually, over a very long term, bought out. Maybe. But not at a great valuation.
In the world of digital products, the landscape is littered with failures. It is extremely difficult and incredibly competitive and complex. Choosing a hardball strategic approach is not for the feint of heart. You must be willing to tear down your competitions strategies and keep a strict eye on them. It also means really, truly, understanding your customer. Building value for them, not your own internal processes. You must ready and energized to push the limits, but staying legal and ethical. To win by being smart but with integrity.
If you’re a startup, make this decision at the start. Either one is fine, but understand the limitations of each as well as the advantages. Then really start your UX strategy. You can pivot later, if needs be.