Marketing May 18, 2016 Last updated September 18th, 2018 1,308 Reads share

How Underdogs are Competing with Some of the Biggest Brands on the Planet

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Everyone loves a good underdog story. Some of the greatest movies of all times were built around underdog characters like Rudy, Forest Gump and The Karate Kid. The psychology of rooting for the underdog permeates through all walks of life from movies to sports and even business. The parallels between your favorite sports team beating the overwhelming favorite and

Compete on What Matters

So you may be a small business saying, “how in the world can I compete with large brands?” The answer may be simpler than you think. The larger a company the more moving pieces they have and the more moving pieces they have the longer it takes to get things done. There is nowhere where this is more evident than customer service. As Skyler Slade, co-founder of Tandem explains, “A big company can outspend you on marketing, buying magazine spots and TV ads, product development and everything else, but customer service can be a real differentiator.“ Take customer feedback to heart and focus on making each customer that interacts with your brand feel special.

Look Bigger Than You Are

People love to buy from boutique brands but not at the expense of getting an inferior product. There are a number of ways you can make yourself look bigger or more legitimate to ensure the first impression gets you through the door. One of the first things a consumer will look at before buying your product will be your website or product label so don’t skimp here. Spend the necessary money on your branding for a great first impression. Another great way to legitimize your brand in the eyes of your customer is by being featured in large online publications. Having a Forbes writer talk about your company can give you the brand equity needed to compete on the big stage.

Everyone Loves an Underdog Story

Who doesn’t love an underdog story? The scrappy fighter willing to work as hard as necessary to win going up against the oversized arrogant front runner. A story we’ve seen played out just about every year and yet we continue to root for the underdog. Maybe one of the best examples of the underdog coming out victorious in sport was the heavyweight boxing bout between Buster Douglas and Mike Tyson in 1990. Tyson was the overwhelming favorite at 42-1 but just like in the movies Tyson came into the fight overweight and arrogant. Douglas was ready for the challenge and came out victorious in a 10th round.

In business, the same lessons apply. While large corporations are bloated with bureaucracy and large budgets to compete with TV ads and press strategies, smaller companies can compete by “getting the crowd behind them” and out working the favorite. Consumers have been shown time and again to root for the little company who offers them something that the larger slower brands can’t like great customer service and the underdog brand biography.

As Anat Keinan of Harvard Business School explains, “Through a series of experiments, we show that underdog brand biographies are effective in the marketplace because consumers identify with the disadvantaged position of the underdog and share their passion and determination to succeed when the odds are against them.”

Get Practical and Do Your Research

As a scrappy startup or small business, you don’t have the marketing budget to outspend the big guys with overpriced creative agencies and huge ad spends. What you do have is a deep understanding of your customer targets within the area you work in, so use that to create content that that adds value or fulfills their needs. Any good content campaign starts with keyword research to understand what your customers are typing into Google to find products and services like yours.

Tools like Google Keyword Planner and are great places to start. Google Keyword Planner will give you the number of searches conducted for a particular keyword in your area each month while will suggest additional keywords to try. The goal is to find keywords with good search volume that you can create great content around that solves a customer problem or question.

The next step is to conduct competitive due diligence on your biggest competition. You want to find out what they are doing well and what information they are missing on their site that is relevant to your target search terms identified during keyword research. The goal is to find niche products that your big brand competition offers or problems your customers face that your competition hasn’t created any content about on their site. This is an opportunity for you to write an in-depth article that solves that customer problem and offers your services.

New Consumers Changing the Landscape

As a local business, you do have some advantages competing with the big guys even if it doesn’t ever feel that way. There’s a new generation of consumers that don’t trust large corporations and would rather connect directly with the people producing the products they consume.

We are starting to see the era of the Millennial. Millennials want to buy locally produced products that are made by people and brands they know and connect with. As a small business or startup, you need to take advantage of this and cater to their needs. Make your brand personable and easy to connect with through social media platforms. This all starts with created great content that adds value and gives a personal touch to what otherwise has been faceless businesses of the past.

Just like Douglas competing against Tyson with 42-1 odds, small businesses can use toughness and determination to compete against larger competition with a little bit of savvy and a lot of hard work. Do your research and take the time to build relationships within the community you serve.

Images: ”Rubber stamp with word underdog inside, vector illustration/


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Megan Wright

Megan Wright

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