Shazam! star Zachary Levi takes his superhero role very seriously. On Sunday, the actor decided to confront  internet haters and trolls who have been posting fake reviews for  Marvel Studios' upcoming Captain Marvel film and making up news about its star, Brie Larson.

It got so bad that Rotten Tomatoes, the review site where the trolling was happening, altered its format to address the fake reviews' impact on Captain Marvel's scores. Both Captain Marvel and Shazam! are superhero movies, the former from Marvel Comics and the latter from DC Comics. Each is fighting for box office dollar supremacy on opening week, just as both casts are striving for media attention.

"For anyone out there who thinks you're doing me a favor or Shazam! a favor, or you're doing Warner Bros. [a favor]," Levi said in his video. "You're not. This is not helping anyone or anything."

The Myth of the Zero-Sum Game

The concept of competition isn't new, especially for business owners. Home Depot, in its early years, was notorious for its aggessive, take-no-prisoners corporate culture. Management would send caskets or tombstones to competitors upon entering a new market or town. Industry pundits at the time dubbed Home Depot's culture "bleeding orange."

The concept was purely binary: We're good, you're not. In business ethics, it's known as the "myth of the zero-sum game." In other words, it's the idea that if somebody wins, someone else must lose.

Levi, in his video, takes the higher ground--and I consider that the best way to deal with competitors. In doing so, he's rejecting the myth of the zero-sum game and instead leveraging his emotional intelligence. 

It's generated publicity for his film, too. As of Wednesday morning, a Google search shows more than 1,650,000 references to the story online.

"If you want to be successful in business, you need to welcome your competition with open arms--just don't let them walk all over you," Richard Branson explained in a 2014 blog post. "Strike the right balance between respecting your rivals and focusing on how you can beat them, and you'll have a winning formula."

Attacking, playing dirty, and leveraging negativity may lead to short-term wins. In the long term, it'll drag you from hero to heel. To be an emotionally intelligent superhero, you have to put Branson's approach into action. Here are four ways to do that:

  1. Focus on you. Review what makes your business unique. Focus your sales, operational, and marketing efforts to emphasize the unique customer experience that you offer. Focus on all the factors that differentiate you from your competition.
  2. Control the narrative. Identify what makes your venture unique. Car companies are very good at this: Volvo sells on safety. Tesla on the environment. Porche on performance, and so on. By choosing the metric you wish to be judged against, you get to double down on your unique value proposition.
  3. Know the competition. Your customers always have a choice, so you need to get to know your competition. What are they good at? What they are bad at? Most of all, find the unmet market need they're leaving on the table, and exploit it. If you can capitalize on your competitor's weaknesses, you will chart a path for your solutions to dominate.
  4.  Avoid fear. To quote the science fiction novel Dune: "Fear is the mind killer." The more afraid you become, the less you employ rationality to get out of a bad situation. Fear overpowers your capacity to think. Your competition is nothing to fear--it's a benchmark, a source of future customers and a partner in brining similar solutions to the market.
  5. Be the hero. Don't fight dirty. In the 1980s, greed was good and business was war. Today, we know better. Competing businesses can co-exist and even cooperate on occasion. Even if your competitor plays dirty, don't retaliate. If your competitor is willing to stoop that low, chances are strong that customer service is not their top priority. Your customers will come back once they realize their mistake.

Captain Marvel hits theaters on March 4. Shazam! hits theaters on April 5. I'm going to see them both, and show the haters that heroes rise above all.

Published on: Feb 27, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.