Taking Goliath down: How to compete with the giants in your industry
How do you compete with larger, well-established businesses? Contributor Aden Andrus shares winning strategies to help you effectively market against the corporate behemoths.
Marketing a business — especially a smaller business — can often feel like a David and Goliath scenario. Your competition is bigger, better funded and branded. How do you compete with that?
While it’s true that a well-established company has a lot of advantages over a startup, do you remember the old joke about David and Goliath?
Q: Why was Goliath so surprised when David hurled a pebble at him?
A: Because such a thing had never entered his head before…
Yes, it’s a corny joke, but it exposes an important truth about startups and other small businesses. A good entrepreneur doesn’t start a business because they want to be Walmart or Amazon or Apple. A good entrepreneur starts a business because they recognize an unmet need — something that has never entered the head of their giant-sized competition before.
However, although many businesses are started because of an unmet need, far too many business owners get sucked into the trap of trying to be the competition. They try to compete on the same playing field, which ends up being about as effective as David crossing swords with Goliath.
To truly compete with the Goliaths in your industry, you can’t “bring a sling to a sword fight.” You have to know what makes your business different and how to market that to your competition’s dissatisfied customers. Here’s how:
Pick up where the competition left off
If you want to steal customers from the competition, it pays to know where their customers hang out. Maybe they frequent the same forums. Maybe they meet at certain conventions. Maybe they read the same publications.
Wherever your competition’s customers are, you want to be there, too.
Once you know where your competition’s customers are, look for opportunities to differentiate your business, solve problems and add value. For example, if a competitor’s responses on a corporate social media account are superficial, try offering a more in-depth response with a way people can reach you easily via email, phone calls and more.
This highlights one of the great disadvantages of big corporations: a lack of personalization. Big companies have to appeal to everyone, which means they often don’t do a good job of appealing to the individual.
However, small businesses are great at appealing to the individual. They can offer custom solutions, unique incentives or simply a real live human to talk to.
So, if you’re trying to steal customers away from a bigger competitor, focus on doing what the competition can’t (or won’t) do. Join the forums where people complain about the competition, and show how your company is a better option. Run booths at conventions that highlight what makes your business unique. Publish helpful ideas in the publications your potential customers read.
In other words, be the real, helpful, approachable business your competition can’t be. Combine that with a product or offer that addresses a big frustration with the competition, and you’ll be well on your way to slaying your Goliath.
Use what you know
Corporate bureaucracy is the Achilles’ heel of big businesses. The more layers a business has between the people calling the shots and the people actually interacting with the customers, the less that company’s decisions have to do with real market needs.
However, in many small businesses, the business owner still works directly with customers. He or she knows exactly who the business works with and what those customers need.
When it comes to marketing your business, these sorts of insights give small businesses a key advantage over their bigger competitors.
Are your customers young moms? Millennials who are paring down their lives to the essentials? Do they have a child they’re putting through college? Are they caring for an elderly parent? Have they lost a loved one recently?
At a large company, marketing, sales and fulfillment typically work independently. Yes, your competitor might have a big marketing team, but often no one on those teams has closed a sale or worked with a customer. You have, which means you often have much better insight into the needs and motivations of your target audience than anyone on the competition’s marketing team.
Find an advocate
David and Goliath is a great story, but did you ever stop to wonder, what was a shepherd boy doing facing off against a giant in the first place? As it turns out, David had friends in high places.
Long before he faced off against Goliath, David was a harpist for Saul, the Israelite king. So, when David decided to test his mettle against the giant, guess who was his biggest supporter?
Yep, King Saul.
Without King Saul championing his cause, David would never have had a chance to confront Goliath. Similarly, small businesses need advocates to champion their causes if they hope to stand a chance against their own giants.
Like David, your business will have an easier time if it’s already made a good impression on an influencer. But it’s never too late to recruit the support of influencers. Depending on your business, these influencers might be celebrities, bloggers, product reviewers or simply customers with a large social media following.
What matters is that your interests align, your values align, and they are willing to endorse your company in some way.
Endorsements are good for any business, but they are particularly valuable for small businesses. Big businesses already have a lot of exposure, but a mention from the right influencer can turn your relatively unknown product or offer into a must-have overnight.
Adapt to change
Ever watch a semi drive around a corner? Big things turn slowly, and big businesses are no exception. It’s hard for a big business to adapt to changes in the market.
But a small business? A small business owner can spot a change, call all his or her employees in and change the direction of the company — in a single meeting. That’s a level of flexibility and responsiveness no giant company can hope to match.
A big change in your market is rarely fun, but if you run a smaller business, you should look at change as an opportunity.
So, if a new study comes out that changes public opinion, or a social media faux pas turns public opinion against a competitor, seize the day! If you can quickly adapt to change, you can become the company that the competition’s dissatisfied customers run to.
Trying to compete with well-established businesses can often feel like a David and Goliath-type scenario. However, it isn’t a hopeless scenario!
Remember, David beat Goliath by doing what Goliath couldn’t. He didn’t try to beat Goliath at his own game. Instead, he got scrappy, found his opponent’s weakness and made the most of his own strengths.
You can do the same.
By picking up where the competition leaves off, using what you know about your target audience, finding an advocate and pivoting as needed, you can successfully market your business against even the biggest corporate giants.