I’ve been a mixed martial arts (MMA) fan since I was a teenager. One of the beliefs that gets thrown around among fans is that, “to be the champion, you have to beat the champion.” This means that the challenger for the belt must not only win against the champion, but must do so convincingly. Their victory must be so obvious that none can dispute it. If they don’t accomplish this and the champion wins a decision before the judges, it’s the challenger’s own fault and they have nothing to complain about.

Markets function the same way. Consumers are risk averse and will congregate to whoever is the perceived market leader. For many markets, the size and age of the market has evolved it into what fight fans would call a, “murderers’ row.” In other words, an ecosystem with serious competition.

For your business to grow, you have to figure out how to tap into some form of energy to sustain that expansion. If that energy is going to come through new customers, out competing some form of murderers’ row is a reality you’ll likely face.

Just like climbing the ranks in mixed martial arts is incredibly hard, trying to win customers from a market leader is a high risk and resource intensive approach.

However, there are four alternative strategies you can employ to change the game in your favor.

1) Niche down. If you can identify important needs in a large enough sub-set of customers, you can center your marketing there to become a niche market leader.

2) Position. If you identify desired qualities in a market that aren’t being addressed, you can position to be that kind of solution.

3) Trend Surf. Trends pass through markets as new tactics, beliefs, or strategies are employed to address problems. These offer opportunities to become more relevant than slow moving competitors.

4) Innovate. If you can solve a problem better than the current standard solutions, and in a way that customers care about, you can become a market leader overnight.

In the UFC, there’s a fighter named Jorge Masvidal who had a series of impressive knockouts over top caliber fighters a couple of years ago. That combined with his background “from the streets” and his charisma made him the most talked about fighter for a time.

Another fighter, Nate Diaz, took advantage of this surge in popularity. Nate also had a tough guy, from the streets, reputation. He challenged Jorge to a fight, but did it with caveat that he didn’t want to fight unless it was for a belt. This was because UFC championship bouts have a much larger payout for the fighters.

Jorge agreed to the fight, based on the idea that it would be for a belt. So the UFC turned it into a big promotion and invented a belt, “The Baddest Motherfucker Belt,” and Jorge and Nate fought. Jorge beat Nate due to a doctor’s stoppage in the fourth round. But there were no losers in the fight.

Neither Nate or Jorge were ever going to be champion. Their 170lb weight class was the most competitive in the MMA world. But Nate ensured that for at least for one fight they received champion pay by using a combination of positioning, trend surfing, and innovation.

That’s your job with customer acquisition. Change the game to get paid and expand your business.

Image credits: Jean-Léon Gérôme: Pollice Verso “Thumbs Down” used under US public domain law.