Great piece from Malcolm Gladwell on how Davids can beat Goliaths by changing the playing field and engaging on their own terms, not the terms created by the establishment. Just as David refused to wear the heavy armour favoured by the Philistines; just as Lawrence of Arabia attacked the Turks all the way across the region; just as a war simulation computer programme can beat out experienced war gamers, the underdog can win out by being creative, innovative and agile. The greatest example of this philosophy was a girls basketball team who instead of waiting for more skilled, more experienced and more athletic teams to bring the ball up the court, as is the norm, decided to swarm and press to force errors and get easy baskets. The establishment did not know how to deal with this and the girls’ coach reports being physically threatened.
Research shows that in the past 200 years, in battles between “strong” and “weak” combatants, the “strong” have won 71.5 per cent. When the “weak” acknowledge their weaknesses and plan around it, their winning percentage skyrocketed from 28.5 per cent to and astonishing 63.6 per cent.
I can unscientifically vouch for this. At school, in pre-season football matches, the 4th team, which I played in, drew with the 1st team, lost 1-0 to the 2nd team and were hammered 3-0 by the 3rd team. We were great against the 1st team – committed and controlled. We played in one bank of five, a bank of four and one up front – very conservative. But as we progressed through the teams, we got more confident and stopped playing our game. We opened up and got more adventurous. Clearly to our detriment.
How can we put this learning to good use in the marketing world?
If you are a small organization or brand, recognize it and use the empowerment to change the playing field, based on your opponent’s strengths. If they are strong in advertising, shun it for events and PR. If they are strong in PR or online, go for advertising and experiential.
If you are a market leader – recognize it and use this story to never rest on your laurels. Remember that success is an attitude, not a destination, and that you need to work as hard to sustain success as you do to achieve it.
Updated based on Arieh’s confusion.