3 Ways Your Small Business Can Successfully Compete with Industry Giants

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The date was March 9, 1862. It would prove to be one of the most decisive battles of the Civil War. It pitted the South’s Merrimack, a formidable, 263-foot wooden vessel, against the North’s Monitor, a 172-foot, ironclad vessel with something new, a revolving turret. The South was confident, even arrogant—they even dubbed the North’s ship a “Yankee cheese box on a raft.” Battle on.

The South was wrong. The more agile and faster Northern ship outmaneuvered the Merrimack, which, damaged and defeated, hobbled back to its Navy yard at 12:30 p.m.

Sometimes, Smaller Is Better

If you own a small business, one of the biggest challenges you face is going up against industry giants. You can’t outspend them. You can’t out-advertise them. But you can beat them. To do so, you have to be smart and strategic. Here are 3 smart strategies to go up against enterprise competitors—and win:

1.  Carve out a Niche

If you’re a local business that sells soft drinks, you won’t be competing with Coke or Pepsi on a level playing field. They’re established, precisely and consistently branded, and loved by millions of consumers. What you can do is find a chink in their armor, some part of the marketplace they don’t serve, or don’t serve as well as you can.

That’s what Red Bull did. When the company launched, co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz didn’t have any specific demographic in mind. There wasn’t that much competition in the energy drink market at the time, but still, sales were slow. Mateschitz did some market research and discovered consumers didn’t know if Red Bull was a soft drink or an energy drink—and that spelled opportunity. He laser-targeted a niche market—students—and marketed his rebranded energy drink relentlessly. Red Bull quickly carved out its niche market—the rest, as they say, is history. 

To succeed when you’re up against the big guys on the block, dive down into your data, find an underserved market, hone your message, and win.

2.  Tell Your Story—Your Way

The narrative you create about your business is a powerful tool in your overall marketing strategy. To make that story work for you when you’re competing with enterprise competitors, pick a narrative that distinguishes you from them, and sell it consistently. Your angle could be outstanding customer service, the fact that your products are eco-friendly, free shipping, or more affordable products. Whatever your distinguishing feature is, you need to make sure that you deliver—for example, if you’re selling superior customer service, make sure you’re more responsive than your better-heeled competitors.

3.  Make Your Message Simple and Easy to Understand

Whatever your message is, filter it down to its essentials in a simple, concise and credible set of talking points, and deliver them in a way that, implicitly or explicitly, demonstrates how you solve a consumer problem in a way your chief competitors don’t. When Sparkle Paper Towels entered the market, they identified a weakness in the pitch made by super-competitors like Bounty. It wasn’t only that Sparkle gave you a better price—it was also that Bounty and other industry leaders were selling features consumer didn’t really need—I mean, who really needs a paper towel that can hold a bowling ball? Consumers quickly got the simple and easy-to-understand message:  the products you buy don’t need to do everything—they just need to do what you need, and do it for less.

Think of yourself as the little Monitor. You might be smaller and even have less firepower than the big guys, but your size also gives you an agility and flexibility they don’t possess. You can make decisions more quickly, and more quickly deploy them. To win when you compete with enterprise competitors, find a market niche they haven’t adequately served, craft your distinctiveness into a compelling story, and deploy a message the makes sense and resonates with your customers.