Sometimes entrepreneurs have to buck a headwind created by someone who wants to see them fail. Competitors that are trying to shut you down are often larger and better funded. Opposition may even come from a government body.

So, you’re outgunned, outmanned, and you can’t outspend them. What do you do? Find ways around the blockades that the bigger party has no way to block. Maybe it’s reaching out through a smart PR campaign, creating a secondary distribution assistant, or finding a better way to operate. But anytime someone is trying to block you, there’s a good chance you can use their strength against them and keep on growing.

Elon Musk and Tesla say hi to hotels

Tesla Motors isn’t a start-up, given that it’s already public and all the money that was initially invested in it. One of the problems the company has faced has been legislative resistance to sales models that didn’t go through dealers — a lobbying campaign so obvious that even the Federal Trade Commission commented on it. While clearly trying to battle on the legal front, some really smart marketing person at Tesla had a great idea: partner with high-end hotels. Whether arranging days of test drives or seeing big luxury hotel names advertising that guests can get a ride somewhere in a Tesla house car, the company has reached out to a wealthy demographic and leveraged the advertising of big companies. It was a great way to promote the brand while still steering clear of the whole dealer network.

Uber drives an end run around cities

Some people love ride-sharing company Uber. Some hate them. Typically, customers are in the first group and the taxi and limo associations as well as regulators in the latter. And the company has come in for significant criticism over its willingness to throw elbows to get what it wants. However, Uber is unrelentingly clever about how it structures its campaigns to get into a city, even when told it’s not wanted. For an example, read about how negotiations between Uber and Portland, Oregon broke down. Uber couldn’t get the city to move on changing regulations, so it went into surrounding suburbs and provided service, which meant people mostly wanting to go into Portland. The customers could get in, but couldn’t rely on Uber to get out. That created consumer anger, which turned into pressure on the government. They combine anti-government and anti-regulation sentiments with innovation and clever public manipulation.

Kill ‘em with customer kindness

Home Depot and Lowe’s are home improvement giants. And yet, Ace Hardware continues to thrive, using a national affiliation of locally-owned stores. How? They price competitively, although don’t seek to offer the lowest prices, and they have people in the stores who are knowledgeable and can help you. Go into one of the two biggies and you can sometimes find people who really know what they’re talking about, but it takes a lot longer because the staffing is small compared to the size of the warehouse structures. Ace may not be able to compete on buying power or advertising, but they know that many customers will always look for good service.

Taking the gold from the Olympics

The International Olympic Committee is pretty tough when it comes to defending its intellectual property, particularly trademarks. And when it came to the 2012 Olympics in London, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, which was abbreviated as LOGOC, was particularly tight on wording that companies used, claiming that even using the world summer, London, or 2012 could land someone in hot IP water. So an online Irish bookmaker, PaddyPower, decided to have some fun by advertising itself as the “official sponsor of the largest athletics event in London” in that year. However, they clarified it as London, France and said that the event was a series of games with events like an egg-and-spoon race. Brilliant.

Ben & Jerry’s do a doughboy protest

But the classic example of beating back the big guy has to be Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in its early days. Innovative flavors and a great brand image got people demanding the products. Haagen-Dazs, which Pillsbury owned at that time (and which was never an exotic Scandinavian import) decided to play hardball by forcing distributors to stop carrying the upstart competitor. The upstart knew the law was on its side but also that it had limited money. So it started what became the famous “What’s the Doughboy Afraid Of?” campaign. They put signs on transit buses, a toll-free number on its packaging, and brought the public, and, as a result, the press, on their side. The Doughboy had to fold, as the negative publicity was crushing.

Going up against a bigger and better-financed opponent is always tough. But determination and innovative thinking can do a lot to tip things in your favor.

Published on: Aug 24, 2015
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