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Killing Giants: Three Rules for Toppling the Goliath in Your Industry

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • How to take on the big dogs in your industry
  • Three tips for playing the hand you've been dealt, and getting stellar results

We all face giants, those competitors who seem to have more people, budgets, and resources than we can ever hope to have. And despite the uphill fight, we're asked to not only compete but also win. Worse, we're asked to assume this Herculean task with smaller budgets and fewer people than we had last fiscal year.

On paper, it sounds crazy—in person, it sounds even worse, of course—but it's the reality we're working under. We're all being asked to do more with less. So what are we supposed to do?

In Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath In Your Industry (Portfolio, March 2011), I explain not only why it's possible to battle goliath but also why it's a means to the best work you'll ever do in your career.

Our best thinking comes when we're faced with constraints. Maybe we're just better art critics than we are artists, but given the need to focus within the confines of the possible we find a surprising insight: Though our resources may be limited, our ingenuity is freed.

We're in an age of ideas now, and our worth to our employers is no longer bound by the economic resources put in our care. Our value springs from the quality of our ideas, the passion we bring to breathing life into them, and the discipline we apply to their execution in the market. There is no shortage of this new resource: It's us, and what resides in our heads and hearts.


Do you need to topple the giant in your industry? Are you asked to play the hand you've been dealt as skillfully as possible? Here are three ideas you can put to work today to win the fights you're not supposed to win.

1. Seize the microphone

Who is the voice in your market? Is your giant controlling the dialogue, or is there just a lot of noise, with the major players all jockeying for bragging rights in the "speeds and feeds" outlets? If no one is the voice, be the voice. Even if you're not the biggest player. Especially if you're not the biggest player.

Consider Go Daddy, a company that was languishing with a 16% share in the domain-name registration business when it swung into action after realizing that customers simply hadn't heard of them. Founder Bob Parsons launched his response in 2004, the company's first Super Bowl. "The decision to run the ad on the Super Bowl was right as rain," he told me.

You may not like its ads—many don't, including Barbara Lippert of Ad Week, who described them as "the lowest of the low." But as a student of marketing, you can't deny that Go Daddy ads succeed in selling domain names. The company's focus on advertising as a "commercial" activity, driving incremental volume, is in stark contrast to the "advertising as theater" mentality so prevalent in the current marketing literature.

Go Daddy's willingness to step up to and seize the microphone has made it not only the top player in the industry but also one that is growing at a faster rate than any of its competitors.

2. Win in the last three feet

Don't grind your teeth because the giant you face is spending millions on splashy marketing campaigns and product launches—focus instead on stealing their customers. Any time a giant drives millions of consumers to storefronts or search engines, you're going to have access to the most qualified traffic you'll ever have. So enter the conversation at the point of purchase, and concentrate on winning in the last three feet.

Adobe had been promised an ad for Black Friday—the merchandising weekend after Thanksgiving that kicks off the retail holiday season—but the ad was given to a competitor. Instead of railing against its bad fortune and waiting for the next major merchandising event, the company decided to play the hand it’d been dealt.

Adobe's channel manager, Mandy Torvick, sent retail detailers into the top 250 stores nationwide, providing live product demonstrations during the three-day weekend. Shoppers who showed up on the busy holiday shopping weekend clutching their circulars were pleasantly surprised to see Adobe representatives demonstrating the company's solutions in the stores. What was once a sure thing for the competition now became a coin flip.

The Adobe example shows that regardless of the cards you're dealt, there's a way to play the hand to get the most out of your situation. "Whenever there's an opportunity for foot traffic, from either a season or a competitor, you really have to capitalize on it," Torvick concluded.

3. Fight dirty

Rushing headlong into a fight smacks of romantic nobility, but it rarely ends in victory. Better to view your battlefield from a different perspective and shift your perception of the battle itself.

As Dr. Conrad Crane of the US War College (and author of the counter-insurgency doctrine adopted by General David Petraeus) so aptly commented, "There are two kinds of warfare: asymmetric and stupid." Shift your perspective, change the game, and win the fight that the giant didn't know it was in.

When Searle Canada launched its then-revolutionary arthritis drug Arthrotec, it faced a similar uphill battle against the prevailing practices of the medical community. Users of typical anti-inflammatory drugs ran the risk of getting ulcers over time, but Arthrotec combined a powerful anti-ulcer medication with a standard anti-inflammatory drug, creating an ideal solution for arthritis sufferers.

But changing minds in the medical community wasn't a simple proposition. So, instead of girding up for a massive investment of time and money, the company shifted its perspective and offered a $1 million grant to anyone who could invent a procedure or medical device that would diagnose whether a patient had ulceration specifically as a result of taking a traditional anti-inflammatory drug.

The company's approach to shifting physicians' perceptions tapped into the social glue of professional circles, drawing in the medical research community as well as physicians who taught at universities. Here's the payoff: The drug went on to become the top-selling anti-inflammatory in the country within 18 months.

* * *

These are three of the 10 strategies I've described in the just-published Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath In Your Industry. My first post for the MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog was about this very subject, back in January 2007. Since that first post, I've interviewed over 70 of the world's most effective businesspeople, discussing 33 brands in 13 countries, and distilled their wisdom down into 10 strategies that support one big idea: how to topple the giants we face in business.

Beyond the lessons provided by those business leaders, I also sought out those from outside the usual business circles, bringing in the opinions and experiences of professional gamblers, hostage negotiators, screenwriters, historians, and others.

And the news is good: Business isn't just about the big budgets that are placed in our care by other people; rather, our success is more a function of the power of our ideas, the strength of our passion, and our discipline to do what others can't or won't. Yes, it's hard work. It's so much easier to throw money at problems! But we can't. These times call for different tools and a different mindset.

I hope that Killing Giants gives you a few thinking tools you can put to use today to give you the mental ammunition to do what might seem impossible—to topple the Goliath in your industry.


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Stephen Denny has been a marketer for more than two decades and blogs about strategy, marketing, and big ideas at www.stephendenny.com. Download his e-book, This Sentence Has 5ive Words: Eigen Values, Creating Truisms and the Future of Marketing and follow him on Twitter: @Note_to_CMO.

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Comments

  • by Warren Mon Apr 11, 2011 via web

    hmmm....there seems to be a sick thread that runs through this article and its content. First, is the use of GoDaddy's CEO as an example to follow. A guy who recently filmed himself KILLING an elephant in Africa. (see: GoDaddy.com CEO Bob Parsons' Elephant Hunt Sparks Outrage here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/31/bob-parsons-godaddy-ceo-elephant-h...). Then I remembered the name of this article (and associated book) is called "Killing Giants." Kinda makes me wonder what this author's personal value system really is.

  • by Andy Farrell Mon Apr 11, 2011 via web

    @Warren, I shared similar concerns regarding the elephant killing video.

    However, someone I knew who had a much better handle on the issue changed my mind about the ethics at stake. Whilst I still think Bob may have made a mistake publicizing the act, the killing itself was in fact part of a controlled cull which is necessary to ensure the survival of the rest of the heard, and to protect food sources critical to humans who co-exist with the elephants.

    Being a very poor country, the fact people are prepared to pay for the right to shoot these animals, is actually a great help to the cause of the locals who desperately need help controlling the burgeoning elephant population in the area.

    Things are not always as they seem.

  • by Elizabeth Todd Mon Apr 11, 2011 via web

    Thanks for an excellent article Stephen.

    I particularly like your “Win in the Last Three Feet” suggestion. It makes a lot of sense, needs no more than a good feel for the customer needs within an industry and can be implemented at little or no cost.

    In my role as a small business coach I often work with new business owners who find themselves in a "Fighting the Giants" situation. I will certainly add your suggestions to my portfolio of business building tips.

  • by Stephen Denny Mon Apr 11, 2011 via web

    "You may not like its ads—many don't, including Barbara Lippert of Ad Week, who described them as "the lowest of the low." But as a student of marketing, you can't deny that Go Daddy ads succeed in selling domain names."

    GoDaddy took a 16% share and became number 1 in the industry with an audacious marketing campaign - centered around the single biggest media event in the world - making itself the center of the conversation. Love him or hate him, Parsons teaches every student of business a lesson.

    Re any deeper meanings here, this is a business-oriented website and "killing giants" is a metaphor. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

    @Andy, agreed all around.

  • by Stephen Denny Mon Apr 11, 2011 via web

    Elizabeth: Yes, the entire concept of "winning in the last three feet" - an old retail expression extended in the book to include both online (SEM) and channel evangelism - is a mindset worth cultivating. Fun case studies in Killing Giants animating 3 different ways smart brands have done this. Thanks for your note -

  • by Toby Russell Wed Apr 13, 2011 via web

    Great post and useful. Gives inspiration that even when your the little guy its still possible to get out there and win

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