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

by Josh Barney

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 battles like this 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 giants in their industry. 

Giants Always Outcompete Minnows, Right? 

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. 

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 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 I’m going to explain how to turn the tables in your favour… 


Before anything else, you have to believe.

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.

He believed in himself. He knew he had the tools to beat Goliath. And if he didn’t, 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.

Before founding one of the most iconic computer companies in the world, Bill Gates 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 belief. And despite being fresh from a failed business experience, and entering an industry with a dominant giant in the shape of IBM, he had the will-power, ambition and determination to make Microsoft a success. 

The rest, as they say, is history. 

Break the Status Quo  

Under the normal rules of battle, David would’ve fought Goliath in hand-to-hand combat. 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?  

netflix blockbuster status quo

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. 



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. 

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. 

Every large, successful business began life from just one person's idea. Click To Tweet

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.

david goliath marketing facebook myspace

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

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 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. 

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. 

agile marketing

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.


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.  

facebook ad objectives

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. 


Battling Goliath’s on their terms, in their arena, against their strengths, is a mistake many businesses make.

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 market is impenetrable.

Want more marketing strategies, tactics and advice? Check out one of our most-popular ever digital marketing articles: 

Josh is the Founder of We Imagine Media, an award-winning content marketer, best selling author and creator of the www.joshbarney.blog. He creates and strategises content, sharing the most successful tactics with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links so he can get back to writing as himself.

7 Responses

  1. This is a thought provoking article and very relevant at this time. Moreover, it’s reassuring knowing that the strengths and abilities of a young or relatively small businesses can edge out the “Strong and Mighty” through the adoption of the elements described in this article and more.

    Thanks for sharing this and a big thumbs up to the team.

  2. Very useful inputs , especially for start-ups who typically are pitched against Goliaths of business. One small wiz-tip from my end to add to what you’ve said. Change the Playground , much like what the Soviets did to the German onslaught.

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