Everyone loves an underdog. Every sports fan still gets chills when they hear replays of Al Michaels screaming “Do you believe in miracles?” as the scrappy 1980 US hockey team defeated the mighty Soviets. Every child of the 90’s insists they can combat professional bandits using only Christmas decorations, a la Kevin McAllister in Home Alone. And nearly every hip-hop artist, including its current leading man Drake, tries to be an underdog. (Drake, of course, has rapped “started from the bottom now I’m here!” yet actually started on Nickelodeon. But who’s keeping track?)Slingshot

In his latest book, David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell examines exactly how and why underdogs can “win” at such an alarming frequency in business, sports, and education, uncovering principles that can easily apply to marketers competing on the digital battlefield.

Just as David and his troops knew that they had to confront the Philistines at the Valley of Elah, nearly every marketer I speak with acknowledges the acute need for “personalization”—that is, the proven formula that delivers consumers relevant, helpful experiences online. And just like defeating a giant warrior clad in armor seems daunting, so, too, does actually executing a personalization strategy that wins business.

Gladwell’s book codifies several key reasons for David’s victory over Goliath; let’s apply those to the challenge of “winning” on the digital battlefield:

The seemingly simple can be incredibly effective

Though many mocked David’s weapon of choice, the sling, Gladwell explains the overwhelming velocity and accuracy this simple weapon can deliver when in the hands of a skilled user.

Likewise, a savvy marketer with business-user-friendly tools can launch an effective personalization program with the most basic (but impactful) of strategies—such as improving return on ad spend through inbound message consistency.

Exploit your opponent’s “strengths”

Goliath’s apparent strengths—his incredible size and massive armor—actually rendered him a slow, lumbering target for David to strike from afar.

In digital, we tend to overestimate the massive company with all the resources, who often crumble under their own personnel (layers of approval bureaucracy) or technological (legacy, capital intensive platforms) weight. To win, Digital Davids must deliver more relevant experiences to more of their customers faster than the Digital Goliaths could ever imagine.

Beware the point solution

In addition to being slow and clumsy, Goliath was also half blind, and, thus, his only chance at victory was to literally get his hands on his opponent. David, on the other hand, had the entire battlefield at his disposal.

Today’s digital landscape is equally vast—web, mobile, email, display, search. Do not limit your opportunities to engage consumers through point solutions (“we need to build a mobile site” or “we need product recommendations”). Consider the totality of the digital relationship, craft a scalable vision, and then (to the first point above) start small and fast.

To win on the web, brands need not be wildly funded, ideally staffed, or sitting on massive “big data.” They simply need the right tools, a commitment to think “consumer-first”, and the ability to be nimble. Grab your sling and get to work.

Slingshot image courtesy of Shutterstock.