David vs. Goliath: How Small Businesses Can Compete with Giants

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It’s probably the most notable one-on-one battle to have ever taken place. So notable, in fact, that it’s worked its way into our language. 

We relate the term ‘David vs. Goliath’ with a battle between a giant and underdog. But fights aren’t restricted to 3000 years in the past. They take place every day. 

In this underdog story, we’re going to use the strategies and stepping stones of the battle to explain how a small business can go toe-to-toe with a behemoth in their industry. 

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We’ll get to the key take-aways in a just a minute, but first, I want to give you hope…

…a battle against a Goliath is only heavily stacked in their favour if the war is fought on their terms. To help me explain, I’m going to use a study undertook by the political scientist, Ivan Arreguin-Toft. 

He studied every war that was fought over the last 200 years between ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ combatants. In most cases, the ‘strong’ forces were 10x the size of their opponents. 

david goliath marketing

His results?

-Victories for Goliaths- 71.5%

-Victories for Davids- 28.5%

These statistics are astounding enough. David’s have regularly beaten Goliaths! Almost 3 in 10 battles have gone in favour of the smaller force. 

Arreguin-Toft followed these results up by focussing on one element of the wars. He wanted to discover what the results were when underdogs changed their strategy (acknowledging that they’d be soundly beaten in head-to-head combat) employing unorthodox tactics. In other words, fighting on their terms. 

The results should inspire you all: 

-Victories for Goliaths- 36.4%

-Victories for Davids- 63.6%

This goes to prove that when David’s dictate the terms of battle, they win more times than they lose. 

If you’re running a small business, and don’t believe you can compete with the big-boys of your industry, strap yourself in, because we’re going to explain how to turn the tables in your favour… 



David Goliath marketing

Before anything else, you have to belief. If you don’t have that you should give up and declare bankruptcy now. 

In the battle of David and Goliath, nobody dared to challenge the giant until a tiny little shepherd boy stepped up to the mark.

The people watching didn’t believe. It’s even said that some people tried to talk him out of it, but that didn’t matter. He believed in himself. He knew he had the tools to beat Goliath. And if he didn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about it, the term would’ve never entered the English language and throughout history, there’d (probably) be less underdog stories to talk about. 

A great source of believe is the story of Microsoft, particularly Bill Gates. Before founding one of the most iconic computer companies in the world, he started-up ‘Traf-o-data’, a business that collected raw data from roadway counters for engineers. 

david goliath business bill gates

It failed. 

But Gates had believe. And despite being fresh from a failed business experience, and entering an industry with a giant in the shape of IBM, he had the will-power, ambition and determination to found Microsoft. 

The rest, as they say, is history. 

Break the Status Quo  

David Goliath business

Under the normal rules of battle, David would’ve fought Goliath in hand-to-hand battle. This was the status quo, and the principle reason that nobody believed Goliath could be defeated.

He was offered fine armour and weaponry but turned them all down. Instead, opting for his usual clothing, a sling and five rocks.  

A small business should look at things in the same way. If the giants in your industry fight with swords, pick up a sling. 

Consider the status quo of your industry:

  • What makes this Goliath appear so strong? 
  • What are they best at? 
  • What is everybody expecting you to do? 
  • What are they expecting?  

Look at Netflix. They waged war on a competitor most would’ve deemed immovable, Blockbuster. But they came up trumps by trading on a digital platform, abolishing late fees and creating a monthly subscription payment system, these two changes broke the status quo…

…and meant they didn’t have to compete with Blockbuster on their terms. 



David Goliath marketing

Whilst David was focussing on defeating his enemy, it’s said that Goliath was confidently mocking him. 

David’s full attention was locked on his target, right between the eyes of his larger opponent. His adversary was not concerned, nor bothered and did nothing to prime himself for David’s attack. 

This aspect of the fight is particularly relevant to small businesses. Large businesses aren’t focussed on the little guys. They rarely care about them, they don’t pay much attention to their actions, and they disregard them. 

This gives YOU the opportunity to land surprise raids on (targeted corners of) your market, much like David with his sling. 

Ask yourself:

  • What aspect of the market have your competitors taken their eye off? 
  • Where have they become complacent? 
  • What are the weaknesses in their product? 
  • Are all of their customers completely satisfied? 
  • What do their negative reviews say? Is there a pattern that they’ve done nothing to remedy? 
  • Are all demographics of the market happy with them?

This apathy to their competitors also feeds into their views on customers.  

Businesses with 100,000’s of customers, care much less for one voice, than businesses with 100’s. Their focus has changed. And it gives YOU a massive advantage. 

You can focus on one segment, or a particular demographic in the market. By coupling this with a change in status quo and targeted marketing, you will have shifted the odds in your favour. 

A smaller company should make less compromises for customers, feel more human and make their customers feel much more valued. This is focus. A vital tool when competing with a giant. 

Facebook wasn’t always an open platform. It started life as a social network for Harvard students, then it expanded to Stanford, Colombia and Yale, then they continued into all Ivy League schools, before reaching almost all the universities in United States and Canada. 

This was a sector of the market that were young, would dictate the future of social media and clearly preferred Facebook’s platform to the giant of the day, MySpace. 

david goliath marketing facebook myspace

By focusing on this corner of the market, demand grew to such an extent that Facebook opened to everyone, quickly becoming the biggest social network in the world, all but ending the huge dominance of MySpace.  


 Speed and Agility 

David Goliath business

David rejected armoury and weaponry in favour of a sling. His opponent, Goliath stood at the other end of the battlefield wielding a sword, a spear and weighty armour. What David lacked in power and strength, he made up for with speed and agility. 

The same applies in the business world. 

Large companies are unable to change direction, apply new strategies or react to industry trends as quickly as small ones. This is something you must use to your advantage. 

Whilst large businesses will need to have tactics and strategies questioned, agreed and directed around the chain of command, as well as amongst the frontline staff, small businesses can implement them almost immediately…

…this means you can apply one of the tactics from this article, e.g. a change in status quo, and Goliath’s will not be able to react. 

It means you can pivot when you receive feedback, immediately changing your sales protocol or your customer service technique, or your product/service. You have the speed and agility to implement, they have the strength and power to put huge clout into tactics that’ve been (most often) a long time coming. 

Their blows can be deadly, but when the terms of battle are realigned (by using agile tactics), you can turn these devastating blows into air-shots. 

For those of you who are short on ideas, or aren’t quite sure how to react with fast, agile marketing tactics, check out Hacking Marketing: Agile Practices to Make Marketing Smarter, Faster and More Innovative, by Scott Brinker. This book has loads of tactical take-aways that are applicable to any size business.



David Goliath marketing

David had belief, he’d changed the status quo, boasted laser-focus and knew how to use speed and agility to his advantage. If he’d followed this up by randomly spraying stones at his opponent, he would’ve ended up playing a never-ending game of cat and mouse with Goliath. 

But he didn’t. David had precision. He targeted a weak point and with the first stone released from his sling, he defeated his foe. 

Precision matters. 

Goliath’s might have marketing budgets that dwarf yours, but that doesn’t mean they’re more effective. Running expensive marketing campaigns like television ads are great for raising profiles and creating brand awareness, but they don’t always hit the desired market.  

Social media advertising has levelled the playing field for all businesses. By implementing an advertising strategy that targets your desired market, and then retargets those people who engage with your content, you can negate the huge budgets, make sales, and grow your marketing spend. 

Another way of being super-precise is by discovering and mining congregation spots. These are locations (specifically digital) that your target market hang out. These can be found by retracing the steps of existing customers, making Google searches around your industry and using a service like SimilarWeb to discover where your competitors are generating traffic from. Find out more about SimilarWeb. 

david goliath marketing similarweb

Be precise with your marketing campaigns. It’s how online businesses grow and gives you all the sling to defeat Goliath’s sword. 



Battling Goliath’s on their terms, in their arena, against their strengths, is a mistake many businesses make. Replicating a business model is perfectly fine (many of the most successful companies in history have done it) but that doesn’t mean battling existing companies where they are strongest. 

Create new arenas, formulate new rules and make your strengths the ones that matter. 

If you are to compete in this ever-changing digital world, don’t be afraid to be bold. Believe, change the status quo, focus, be agile and finally, be precise. 

No matter how much money they have behind them, no business is invincible. 

Take heart David’s of the world, the sling is yours.

What did you think of this article? Are you battling a Goliath? Leave a comment about your battle, perhaps there’s something we can give you some free advice about!

If you’d like to learn more about more ways to battle Goliaths check out our Facebook Ads Update Post! 


Director of Content at Einstein Marketer
Josh is an award winning content marketer and the Director of Content at Einstein Marketer, previously working as a content manager, freelance copywriter and marketer. He writes, edits, proofs and strategises content for Einstein Marketer's agency and their clients, sharing the most successful tactics and strategies with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links (above) so he can get back to writing as himself.

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