Humble Beginnings Begets Successful Results: The Triumph of the Underdog



A while ago I was presenting to a women’s entrepreneur group in LA about the value of telling a compelling brand story brand through social media. Rather than focusing on how many tweets one should deliver, I urged the audience to refine their story first, and then worry about delivery methods. For it’s the story that great brands tell, that draws consumers in. Some aspect of it resonates with their own life story, and the long-term relationship starts there.

So how does one craft a compelling story about their business?

This is where brand identity is vitally important. You must know who and what your brand stands for, the feelings, values and core purpose it represents, and who the ideal customer is – intimately. This builds a framework for the brand story, but a solid narrative is the foundation. Narratives are the structures that great stories are built on. You know, it’s the boy-meets-girl context that gives a story legs.

What should your narrative look like?

Well, that depends largely on the context and purpose of your business but according to HBS professor Anat Keinan, the Underdog Narrative is widely appealing to the hearts and minds of today’s consumer. In a recent HBS article, Keinan talked about the appeal of this narrative given the timely struggles of many American consumers today. He defines the context of this narrative as

  1. A disadvantaged position in the marketplace versus a “top dog,” a well-endowed competitor with superior resources or market dominance, and
  2. Tremendous passion and determination to succeed despite the odds.

He cites Avis Car Rental’s slogan of “we’re number 2” and the every popular Oprah Winfrey as perfect examples of palpable struggle to succeed against all odds. It’s the sort of gritty, American dream stardust that makes you want to get behind the main character (or brand) and do what you can to help them get a leg up. This context is not necessarily one-size-fits-all, but for a small, scrappy brand that’s working its tail off to prove itself in an overcrowded marketplace, it might just be the “secret sauce” that elevates a “little engine that could” narrative to an “overnight success” reality.

Read the HBR article here.

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