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A couple of years ago, I remember watching the Royce Gracie & Akebono Taro fight from K-1 Premium 2004 Dynamite!! show on YouTube. On paper and first glance, it would seem like an unfair fight as Akebono outweighs and is much taller than Royce.
However, if you watch the short match below, Royce won the match cleanly.
For those unfamiliar to mixed martial arts, Royce made Akebono give up (submit) via shoulder lock who signaled it by tapping out. The tap out can be signaled by tapping the mat or opponent.
Generally, in a fight with all things being equal, the bigger opponent will always win. But, the reality is, things are never equal. Technique, experience and innovative fighting style can get a win over a much bigger opponent, even if the bigger opponent (in Akebono’s case) is highly skilled and formidable.
The parallel can also be drawn in marketing, specifically for guerrilla marketers who tend to go up against bigger and more mature (in the marketplace) competitors.
In marketing, it is highly possible to come out on top against a bigger competitor (who has more money, more resources, more time & more manpower) time if you are more skilled and work faster, smarter & harder.
If we analyse the Royce/ Akebono match as a marketing battle, these are the analogies we can make:
Royce strategy was clear. He never tried to go head to head with Akebono. If Royce had gone blow to blow with Akebono and not gone to the mat, he would have been beaten to a pulp within seconds.
Instead, he executed a marketing flank. At the 24 second mark of the match, Royce drops to the mat deliberately – he did not fall or get beaten down. His tactic was to cut down the size of his opponent since when fighters are on the ground, a big size difference is somewhat neutralized, compared to if the fighters are standing.
Marketing parallel – With a good positioning marketing strategy (choosing to fight on the ground) and well executed tactic (dropping to the mat safely), a flanking move can be successfully implemented on a bigger competitor.
Once on the ground, Royce was fighting from the bottom. If you watch the video, he was moving with Akebono who was on top. Due to his guard (a defensive position when a fighter is on his back), Royce ensured Akebono was held close to him so could not raise his arms/ hands to strike him. He moved laterally with Akebono so that Akebono could not get a stable fixed position to do any damage. Eventually, Royce slipped out and both fighters returned to their feet.
Marketing parallel – The more agile guerilla marketer who can react quickly to a larger slower competitors marketing tactics can survive an offensive onslaught.
At the 1.19 second mark, Royce is back on his back and is preventing an advance by Akebono by using his feet pressed against Akebono’s thighs so he cannot move up. While on his back, Roye was actually more in control than Akebono, at this point, and was actually getting offensive strikes to the head from the bottom. At the 1.37 secod mark, you can see Royce’s feet holding back an Akebono’s attempt to advance.
Marketing parallel – A good defensive tactic from a guerilla marketer can hold off an offensive by a much bigger competitor.
Eventually, Royce used his skill and experience to work his legs up to wrap around Akebono’s shoulders. In fact, he locks his own left leg around his own right leg that was wrapped around Akebono’s shoulder. With the combined torque from Royce’s legs, hands and eventually full body weight all focused on Akebono’s shoulder, Akebono had no choice but to tap out unless he wanted his arm ripped off.
No matter how big the opponent is, when all the weight and strength of a fighter is focused on a single body part, there is almost no way of getting out.
Marketing parallel – A smaller guerrilla marketer can defeat a bigger competitor if he focuses all his efforts on a well planned & executed marketing tactic.
It is natural to assume that fighting from the bottom, whether in a physical fight or marketing battle, may seem like a losing position. But a guerrilla marketer or Brazilian Ju-jit-su exponent knows otherwise.
In the real world, you will most likely be fighting from the bottom, especially in marketing if you are not one of the big boys. The current business environment that has increased the proportion of the long tail of the marketplace also means that you stand a very good chance of winning a fight from the bottom. More so than ever before.
This is especially true in a niche market or geographically defined marketplace when your bigger competitor’s only advantage is its size, a lot of the times due to a legacy business or a bigger business entering a new market.
A good position, along with well-planned and executed marketing tactics coupled with hard work can enable a guerrilla marketer to keep a hold on the marketplace and stay on top.
If you are a creative professional who is not the market leader in your niche market or industry, you cannot compete head to head with the market leader. The market leader will have a strong brand, possibly a bigger budget and the bias of the market on his/ her side. However, as shown above, it does not mean you have to lose all battles to a market leader. You can position yourself to be a better alternative to the market leader by leveraging on your strengths.