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Marketing Success Stories of when Small Beats Big

Posted by Keely Brown on February 11, 2018

In a world filled with mega-corporations and global conglomerates, it's refreshing to read about small businesses that somehow manage to smash their mammoth competitors. These five David and Goliath success stories serve as reminders that in business, bigger doesn't always mean better -- especially if the underdog has a marketing strategy that resonates with consumers.

1. CLIF Bars

Created in 1992 by cyclist Gary Erickson as a tasty, home-baked-style alternative to traditional energy bars, CLIF Bars managed to face down its two biggest competitors, Quaker Oats and PowerBar. In 2000, Erickson turned down a $120 million offer from Quaker Oats -- and by 2012, CLIF Bars topped PowerBar sales.

Erickson's marketing strategy centers on its sustainability model of "five bottom lines" consisting of equal emphasis on business, brand, people, community and planet. In addition, CLIF retains consumer loyalty through large-scale public sampling events, such as in 2015 when CLIF donated 50,000 bars to the nation's firefighters.

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2. Southwest Airlines

When entrepreneur Herb Kelleher founded Southwest in 1967, he encouraged employees to have fun at work -- an approach that resulted in Southwest's having an employee turnover rate of less than half the airline industry average. With the company keyword being "empathy," Southwest's marketers embellished ads with humor and user-friendliness -- rarities in an age where airplane tourist cabins resemble cattle cars.

Today, Southwest's digital marketing/social media is regularly enhanced by consumer posts of in-flight zaniness -- such as this YouTube video of a flight attendant rapping the safety message. By daring to be different, Southwest has more than survived -- it's the only one of the major airlines that has never filed for bankruptcy.

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3. Samuel Adams

Now commanding 1 percent of the US beer market and $900 million in annual net revenue, Boston Beer (Samuel Adams) did the unthinkable: it took on Anheuser-Busch and won.

When company founder Jim Koch debuted his Samuel Adams Boston Lager in 1985, he not only created a brand -- he also created the craft beer movement in the US. From the beginning, he sold an idea: the concept of Americans enjoying the same smaller-batch, artisan-made beers that Europeans have enjoyed for centuries. In a current marketing strategy, combining ecommerce platforms with traditional testing methods, staff members digitally record the ingredients of newly created beers, then offer small-batch samples for testing during public factory tours. These results are then digitally analyzed and leveraged for future production and promotional purposes.

4. Netflix

In 2004, Blockbuster made $6 billion in revenue, while the new home video service Netflix barely made $500 million. By 2013, Blockbuster had declared bankruptcy and closed all its stores, while Netflix boasted 31.1 million subscribers and a stock market value of around $23 billion.

Through an aggressive digital marketing strategy, Netflix touted not only its unique home delivery service; it also touted convenience and a consumer-friendly business model. By subsequently expanding into streaming services on multiple devices, Netflix also offered unique ecommerce solutions for people who didn't want to have to send for or return DVDs through the mail.

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5. AriZona Beverage Company

When AriZona founder Don Vultaggio debuted his 24-ounce cans of Arizona Iced Tea in 1992, he was bringing new competition to a market cornered by Snapple. Today, AriZona Tea is the second-largest of all ready-to-drink US tea brands (behind Lipton).

AriZona's ace in the hole was its ad campaign, which relied on two components: emphasizing the healthfulness of the drink and capturing consumers with eye-catching graphics supplied by artists like pop-art master Peter Max. Since 2011, the company has used Instagram as a venue for its stunning images, which have garnered more than 146,000 Instagram followers for the brand.

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Although it might take more than just the one proverbial shot, today's small businesses can continue to take down their Goliath competitors. The common denominator is daring to be different -- which, when paired with a compelling marketing strategy, can create a unique and memorable persona for one's brand.

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Topics: Digital marketing, Strategy, loyalty, resonate, audience

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