4 Keys to Winning as an Underdog

Maybe it’s just because it’s March Madness season, but my mind has been drawn lately to stories of the underdog. Those David vs. Goliath stories where David finds a way to win. Everybody likes to root for the underdog...

"With but few exceptions, it is always the underdog who wins through sheer willpower.

Johnny Weissmuller

... (especially if you’ve picked the upset in your tournament brackets!), but not everybody likes to actually be the underdog. This leads me to an article I read a couple of days ago that talked about a situation where an underdog brand – Under Armour – won against the Goliath in the athletic shoe industry, Nike.  As I read it, I realized there are a handful of lessons that could help any smaller brand be successful against their larger rivals.

1. Be Creative
The article discusses how Under Armour provided all sorts of product to one of Steph Curry’s teammates.  A classic guerilla marketing technique to break through the “clutter” of the incumbent brand.  As the underdog, you have to find those ways to get your potential client – or customer’s – attention. Awareness is always high for the Goliaths of the world. Everybody knows who they are.  But who are you?  What can you do to get your name into the front of the brain of your target client, consumer or customer?

2. Treat People with Respect
You wouldn’t think this would have to be called out, would you?   Or for that matter, that it would be something that you could use as a comparative advantage in your competitive landscape, but it is.   Maybe it’s not the best aspect of us as humans, but it seems to be an element of human nature that we treat some people differently (read “better”) than others.   In 2013, Steph Curry’s name did not elicit the same type of respect that Kevin Durant’s did – or that Curry’s name does now, for that matter.   As the underdog, we must look at every potential client or customer as being our future number one!   We don’t know who will be the most responsible for our success five years from now.   For this reason, (even if not for a basic human goodness reason) we should treat everyone with whom we do business with the utmost respect.   When speaking with them directly, they should feel like the only person in the room.  (Or the only person who has ever seen that presentation!)

3. Take Calculated Chances
The key word here may be “calculated”.  But, playing it safe and acting only on sure-things will never get anyone to the level of success that they seek.  You must look for those times when you maybe have to take the minority opinion on something and recommend a course of action that sounds a little risky.   Again, you can’t be careless with your decision-making and you don’t want to make contrary choices just for the sake of being contrary, but pick your moments wisely.   Always be aware of those opportunities that present themselves that might just be ripe for going against the grain.

4. Don’t Overcomplicate It
One of my favorite parts of this article is the explanation of how Riley Curry made the “final” decision about which shoe was the best.  (If you are not opposed to watching post-game interviews that contain adorable children, start here.)   Now, I really don’t think we can all design our products or services so that a three-year-old would understand and choose them, but I do think we can do a better job of not overcomplicating them.  Especially as the underdog.  When we don’t necessarily have any trust built up, we have to give potential clients or customers the confidence that we can pull off what we are promising with the brands or services that we are selling or proposing.  We have to make it easy for them to think that we can do what we say we will.  (After a strong relationship is built, then they will be more apt to trust and believe us for the more complex solution.)  Furthermore, go back to the original David and Goliath… David slayed his giant with a slingshot.   A weapon doesn’t get much simpler than a slingshot!

So, do with these lessons what you will.  There are probably more.  If you have some, I’d love to see your comments below.  One thing I do know, our proud little underdog of the Marketing Workshop works hard at all of these things each and every day.  We fight the underdog fight with class, respect for our clients, and a certain pluckiness that, we believe, makes us stand out in the crowd.

~ Bud Sanders

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