Before we talk business marketing success, let me get personal for a minute. I celebrated my birthday in January. But that was nothing compared to February, when I finally got to see my hometown football team win their first Big Game. (Don’t come at me, football trademark police.)
My team – whose name rhymes with the Schmilladelphia Schmeagles – was the very epitome of the word underdogs. Having never won the Big Game, our last championship was back in 1960, before they even called it by its current name!
Sports Offers a Lesson for Business Marketing Success
Although they got off to a great start this season, my team lost some major players to injury, including the quarterback. So with a backup QB at the helm, they weren’t expected to last in the playoffs at all.
But throughout the playoffs, the underdogs prevailed. They beat Atlanta. Nobody expected them to win against Minnesota but they did – and made it to the Schmooper Bowl. The dreaded FIVE-TIME CHAMPION Patriots awaited them… but in the biggest game of them all, my team squeezed out the biggest win in team history.
Why Do We Love the Underdog?
OK, this isn’t a sports column. But we do need to look at the underdog phenomenon to understand how this characteristic can be used successfully in marketing. And to do that, let’s consider John G. Avildsen for a moment.
Movie director John Avildsen was known as King of the Underdogs because he helmed two of the biggest David vs. Goliath-type movies of all time: Rocky and The Karate Kid.
Yep, Philly again. The city embraced Rocky so much that you might think he really existed – a statue of the “Italian Stallion” even graced the Art Museum steps for many years.
So what is it about the underdog that we love in pop culture? My theory: Its strong connection to the idea of the American Dream – and how we can all overcome situations and obstacles to achieve success.
Three “Underdog” Traits to Achieve Business Marketing Success
Taking a look at the most fundamental traits of the underdog, we can see how marketers can use these characteristics to position themselves to their target audiences as the emotional choice. Let’s call these common threads Humble Beginnings, the Uphill Battle, and Hard Work.
I have a great respect for entrepreneurs – especially those who start from nothing. Maybe it’s the old “idea jotted on a napkin” story, with someone starting their company at the kitchen table on a shoestring budget. Today’s startup culture is the best example of the entrepreneurial spirit in action today, often found at co-working spaces and your local coffee shops.
We all like to think of ourselves as the hero of our life story, overcoming obstacles to save the day. So if you choose the entrepreneurial life, it’s very likely you see yourself as the underdog.
And when you recognize this trait in others, you tend to want to support their business with your patronage. Because you understand, empathize with, and respect their journey, you’re happy to give them your money.
The Uphill Battle
You’re the little guy, the David trying to defeat Goliath, the protagonist in the rags-to-riches story. You’ve got less money and resources, zero reputation, and no customer base.
Yep, it’s an uphill battle for sure. But against all odds and through sheer determination, Rocky survived his first match with the champ.
So you can fight your own battle – find some money or resources, satisfy those customers and get their testimonials, and you’ll be on that heroic journey to success.
Up against big national competition? Play up the “shop local” angle.
And remember, every company can be equal on the web. The internet can be an entrepreneur’s best friend, since you can start and promote your company online with little or no budget.
If you Google the term “hard work” you get about 230 million results in less than half a second. (That’s about 224 million more than the typical Google search.)
Customers want to know you’re working hard to win and keep their business; they respect commitment and often reward it with their money.
One of the all-time classic ad campaigns was built on rental car company Avis’ “We try harder” campaign. Created in 1962, that tagline lasted about half a century. Why? Because knowing that Avis would do more to satisfy their needs and go the extra mile resonated with consumers.
Sometimes you don’t have to be #1 or the top dog. In fact, sometimes that can be a bad thing!
Rooting for the Underdog Can Lead to Business Marketing Success
In the 19th century, author Horatio Alger gained fame for his novels about poor young boys and how their hard work helped them succeed and reach middle-class comfort and status. (I know this because we share a birthday and I looked him up.)
And this idea about hard work and success still looms large in American culture today. Bill Gates coding in his garage. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in those early, long-haired days at Apple.
Think about your own role as a consumer. More than likely, you have supported numerous “underdog” companies in their early days. And think of the consumers out there who are waiting to support you!
Call me an optimist, but I think underdogs are universally popular because we (the consumers) see the best of ourselves in them. And that’s definitely worth giving them a chance to earn our business – even if the Vegas odds are against them every week.
How have you supported an underdog? Feel free to post in the comments. And please share this blog with your social networks if you found it interesting!