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The Frightful Five and… Praying Mantises? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 304)

Praying mantis picture representing the Frightful Five

What in the world do the Frightful Five — Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft — have in common with praying mantises? And why in the world does that have anything to do with your business?

Well, if you think about the mating habits of praying mantises, you’re heading in the right direction. But, here’s a question: Does that behavior make praying mantises evil? Or does it just make them, y’know, praying mantises? Note, the name is "praying," not "preying." And it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t "mate" with them — or that you should avoid using Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft to accomplish your business goals. Don’t hate the player; hate the game.

The latest episode of Thinks Out Loud looks at how you can work with the Frightful Five and also compete for customers without getting your head bitten off.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Thinks Out Loud Episode 304: The Frightful Five and… Praying Mantises? Headlines and Show Notes

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Show Notes and Links

As always, here are the "regular" show notes, detailing links and news related to this week’s episode.

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The Frightful Five and… Praying Mantises? Transcript

Well, hello again, everyone. And welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 304 of the big show. And as ever thank you so much for tuning in, I really do appreciate it.

Why Praying Mantises?

So the other night I happened to see a documentary about praying mantises, you know, the bug, right. And they got me thinking about work stuff. And this is going to go a little strange for a second, but hang with me. I think you’re going to like where we end up.

You know, in many cultures they’re seen as a symbol of stillness. Their Latin name is mantis religiosa, which to me sounds like a Harry Potter spell, I don’t know. Maybe that’s something McGonnagal can use to turn into a bug instead of a cat. But anyway… and of course they’re most famously known because the female praying mantis after mating typically or often bites the head off the male. Not always, and that’s kind of important to where I’m going with this, but sometimes.
And right now you’re probably saying, what in the world has this to do with marketing or with digital or with, I dunno, just about anything I ever talk about on this show. Well, the thing that it is, is it reminded me a lot of the Frightful Five. It reminded me a lot of Amazon and Google and Facebook and Apple and Microsoft for two reasons.

One is that there’s a lot of stillness there, even when it looks like they’re quiet, there’s a lot going on. They’re really, really active. And I’ve talked a lot about that. In the past. So I’m not gonna spend much time on that.

The Frightful Five Aren’t Evil

And the other reason of course is the fact that, you know, they often kill their competition or people who work with them.
And I want to start by thinking about the fact that I don’t think they’re evil. I don’t think female praying mantises are evil. It’s just their nature to bite the heads off things. And I know people have different points of view on this, and I respect those different points of view. Undoubtedly, some of the Frightful Five have done some awful things. Let’s be really fair about this. They aren’t always the best people.

But it’s in their nature to do what they do. As I talked about last week, they relentlessly focus on doing what’s right for consumers — what’s right for their customers. I talked last week about how relentless they are about it. And ask their customers if they’re evil, ask most of their customers, if the cost of using them has gone up. I mean, how much did you pay for Facebook last month? How much did you pay for Google search? How many items do you buy from Amazon and what do they cost you and how quickly do they come to you? They’re doing a really great job overall.

Suppliers and Intermediaries

And they actually want most of the companies that they work with to succeed. You know, in many cases they’re not a supplier, they’re just an intermediary. Now, if you are another intermediary, that’s a different situation. That’s why I’ve talked in the past episode 267, about why being a hidden intermediary or being turned into a hidden intermediary is very dangerous for your business.

If you actually supply a good that nobody else can supply, you know, Google wants to help you get that in front of customers. They do. Facebook wants to help put that in front of their customers because they’re creating a better customer, a better experience for their customers, which makes their customers most more loyal.

Don’t Hate the Player; Hate the Game. Don’t Hate the Gatekeeper; Hate the Gate

So to, to borrow from the lingo of, you know, basketball and stuff, don’t hate the player, hate the game. And if you prefer, don’t hate the gatekeeper, hate the gate. They’re really doing what their customers want them to do. I’m not saying it always makes them the good guy of the story. But it’s really about hating the game, not the player.

One of the fundamental truths of digital is that it’s set up that the people who win, win big. And that the people who don’t win, lose big. That’s just a fact.

The Three Ways You Can Win in Digital

And in fact, there are only three ways you can win the game.

Become the Dominant Player

The first is become the dominant player. That’s where the Frightful Five comes in. That’s what they’ve been doing for the last bunch of years. It’s also one of the reasons that they’re so relentless and why they focus so heavily on the customer, because they’re worried about someone else coming along and knocking them off the pedestal because they know you cannot be the third best thing.

That’s not how it works. Yahoo used to be the third best option as a website people went to to find information. Google was number one, Bing was number two. Yahoo was number three. Where’s Yahoo today? It doesn’t exist for all practical purposes. They’ve lost. So you can become the dominant player.

Differentiate or Die

The other way to win is don’t play that game. Become a niche player that people actively seek out. Become something that people want to talk about and want to find.

Why Brands Are More Important Than Ever

You know, I think brands are more important today than they’ve ever been because in a world where Google dominates search, you don’t want people to search for your category. You don’t want people to search for that type of business. You don’t want people to search for the problem they have. You want them to search for you by name. You want them to come directly to your website. You want them to use your app.

And you can only do that if you actually create a product or a service or an offering that is distinctly better in some way than what they’re getting elsewhere. You can’t be just another… right? You have to be the thing.

Examples of Differentiation

You can’t survive as the third best restaurant on your block. You can’t survive as the third best seafood restaurant on your block. You know, Seth Goden talks about this as being remarkable. I still prefer the term differentiation, but I, I really want people to understand it’s more than being different. It’s providing the difference that people will pay for.

You, you have to be the best seafood restaurant or the place with the best Yakimono Hawaiian ahi tuna, right? Not just a seafood place, but man, you gotta try this. Yakimono Hawaiian ahi. I didn’t pick that at random by the way. I still tell people about the Yakimono Hawaiian ahi I used to order at the Salt Cellar in Phoenix, Arizona. And I haven’t lived in Phoenix for 20 years. The restaurant gets great reviews. I still hear great things about it. Clearly they’re doing something right.
I still tell people about the pokey I had at Hoku that at the Kahala in 2009. And for that matter, about the entire experience I had at the Kahala in 2009. I still tell people about the filet mignon and the service that I got at Circa 1886 — who I acknowledge is a client — but the service and the filet mignon that I got there in Charleston in March. I still tell people about my dentist and how comfortable he made me feel on my first visit. I used to hate going to the dentist and why I don’t, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I look forward to it, now I certainly don’t dread it. Because they do such a great job and takes such good care of me.

And you know that you do the same thing. You still tell people about the meal or the staff or the service or the experience you had when you go anywhere. You tell them when it’s really good and you especially tell them when it’s really bad.

Living in The Middle Will Kill You

What nobody talks about are the folks in the middle. And the folks in the middle are the ones who are in deep, deep trouble. By the way, I realize some of these were luxury experiences that I talked about. You don’t have to be a luxury experience. Notice my dentist, not a luxury experience. There are a couple of small chain restaurants near where I live. one’s called The Salad House. One’s called The Committed Pig that are fantastic. I tell people about them all the time. The guy who ran my old UPS store where I used to live, a guy by the name of John Hemmings in Long Valley, New Jersey, is a superstar and made my life immensely easier, always. And I tell people to use him anytime they’re near there.

Not Just for Luxury

So you don’t have to be luxury. You just have to be differentiated. Why do people love Apple? Because they build insanely great products and when they get it right, they get it really right. Why do people love Google? Well, because they return the best surgery results. Why do people love Amazon? Because you get the things you want delivered inexpensively and quickly.

Yes, they’ve leveraged these attributes to become huge, but you don’t have to get huge. You just have to get found. You just have to get people to seek you out.

Coopetition and the Hybrid Model

And of course the third option is a hybrid. There’s this old concept in digital called "coopetition" where you work with the big guys to leverage what they can do, even though they’re a competitor, you take advantage of what they can do for you. Just use them the right way. Only use them to reach the customers you can’t reach on your own. And then convert those people to customers who love you and rave about you and tell all their friends and family and fans and followers and become your secret salesforce become the people who help you grow your brand so that people seek you out directly.

The Frightful Five and… Praying Mantises? Conclusion

And that’s why they’re, you know, that’s why they’re like praying mantises they’re there and the things that they’re doing, aren’t evil, it’s just in their nature. And, you know, there was a national geographic article. I looked up where they said, you know, the behavior of females "seems not to deter males from reproduction." The behavior of these guys shouldn’t deter you from working with them. It should make you wary, not unwilling. Use them for the advantages that you can actually get — this is a metaphor that’s going in a really strange direction — but you want to actually use them where they can help you and don’t use them for anything else.

Who they are is just in their nature. The game is what the game is. Don’t hate the player; hate the game. Be truly differentiated, be remarkable, create an experience your customers will seek out. And don’t be afraid of coopetition.
Just remember that when you do that, you’re partnering with companies who might later, you know, kill you.

Thinks Out Loud Episode 304: Credits and Closing

All right. Now, looking at the clock on the wall. We are out of time for this week, but as ever, I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode. As well as an archive of all our past episodes, by going to Again, that’s Just look for episode 304. You can also subscribe in any of the episodes you find there to have Thinks Out Loud delivered to your favorite podcatcher every single week.

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Sponsor Message: SoloSegment

I’d also like to thank SoloSegment, our sponsor. SoloSegment does some really cool stuff. They use machine learning and natural language processing and anonymous behavioral data to connect website, visitors — people on your website — with the content they seek to accomplish their goals, which helps you accomplish yours. They do this in a way that protects privacy. It helps customers find what they need. It improves the effectiveness and the efficiency of your marketing team. And it’s dead simple to install on your site. You can learn more about SoloSegment by going to Again, that’s Just let them know we sent ya.

Show Conclusion

With that, I want to say again how much I appreciate you tuning in today and how much I appreciate you tuning in every single week. I wouldn’t do the show without you. It means a lot to me that you listen week after week after week. So with that, I hope you stay well and prosperous with everything going on. I really hope everything is going well, where you happen to be. I hope you have a great rest of the week, a wonderful weekend, and I will look forward to talking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then please be well, be safe and as ever take care, everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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