It occurs to me that writing here about marketer Stephen Denny’s new book, Killing Giants, is a little like preaching to the choir. Denny’s thesis is that it can be an advantage to be a little guy taking on larger and more established competitors.
Denny’s book is more than just simple validation that small is beautiful. Instead, it offers up 10 different strategies that can help small businesses juice up their own thinking. The book’s stories and “thinking tools” offer a myriad of new ways to look at the business challenges that face every small business.
Stephen and I sat down recently to talk about his book, and what it means for small businesses.
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Q: What does it mean to “kill a giant”?
A: It describes how smart and nimble companies out-maneuver the giants they face. In business, it isn't the giants—with their huge budgets and legions of employees—who hold all the cards. It's the upstarts that can pick the unfair fights, hijack the giant's big marketing expenditures and generally make life miserable for the larger competitors who would much rather not be bothered by swatting at flies.
I interviewed over 70 global leaders—from Silicon Valley to the townships of South Africa—and distilled their experiences down into 10 ideas that we can apply today.
Q: Why was this a book you had to write?
A: You know, I've spent a huge amount of time in this position in my life. Once upon a time, I was working at an upstart company called Sony—$86 million in revenue back then—and I was fighting the great giant in my industry, the enormous $500 million Goliath, TDK. It just goes to show that giants come in all shapes and size.
Fast-forward to the recent past and an old colleague of mine told me [on e-mail] she was "stuck between two giants." I hit reply and started typing. Before I knew it, my reply had run 500 words and I was just getting started. I figured it would be rude to hit "send" at this point. So I cut it off, saved it to the desktop, and let it marinate. Four years later, it was published.
It's a timely story, I think: We're all stuck in the worst economy in our lifetimes, but it's also quite timeless. If you're a fan of Joseph Campbell's Hero With A Thousand Faces, you'll know that the “hero myth” is alive and well in almost every culture in the world. It's the giant killer's story, too.
Q: Right. Because we identify with the underdog who overcomes significiant challenges.
A: We see ourselves in their challenges. We identify with the struggle. Screenwriter Robert McKee, who I interviewed in Killing Giants, told me, "Stories are equipment for living." The underdog gives us a story we can aspire to.
Q: In fact, the ability to tell stories—or to let the folks who work for you tell them—is woven throughout the book. Can you talk about the way that "storytelling," which is sometimes asquishy notion for businesses, can help smaller guys succeed?
A: The explosion of media choices and platforms—from blogging to Twitter to Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube—is something we didn't have in any real sense 10 years ago. Storytelling has been thrust front and center because customers not only expect more but also have the ability to tell stories, good or bad, themselves.
Smaller competitors can often tell their stories in a more nuanced way than larger companies can—and we, as listeners, are more apt to respond to them.
Q: Who is your favorite underdog-turned-giant killer?
A: I've got so many favorites. Some are pure start-up stories, like Eric Ryan and Method. Marco Nussbaum'sPrizeotel in Bremen is a wonderful example of questioning the givens and re-imagining a staid industry. And then there are stories like Robin Li at Baidu, creating arguments his competitors can't win.