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Successful strategies focus on being different

The World Cup is upon us and an underdog has never come out on top. It could be argued that England’s 1966 victory was the biggest surprise of all Jules Rimet tournaments. However, sporting history points to events where minnows have succeeded against the odds – so how have they done it? We’re not talking one-off matches, where a lucky break and dogged defence bring relative short-term joy, but success across a multi-game format. Take the following:

Sri Lanka winning again in 2013

Sri Lanka win the Cricket World Cup in 1996 – a team made up of part-time bank clerks, insurance men and salespeople revolutionised cricket on their way to lifting the one-day format’s biggest prize. Taking advantage of field restrictions in place for the first 15 overs of an innings, Sri Lanka’s opening batsmen became unconventionally aggressive. In the quarter-final victory over England, Sri Lanka’s opening batsman Sanath Jayasuriya hit 82 runs from 44 balls in 13 overs. Cricket had not witnessed anything like this before; Sri Lanka took advantage of being different.

Greece’s commemorative stamp after their Euro victory

Greece win the European Championships in 2004 – while not pretty, Greece’s style of football led them to a major surprise in Portugal. Then-manager Otto Rehhagel set out a stifling approach designed to nullify the world stars they came up against: Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Pavel Nedved, a young Cristiano Ronaldo. Criticised heavily, Rehhagel defended his strategy, claiming that he didn’t have any other option. That’s not true; of course he had other options – he could have played the same way as other exciting, flair sides in the tournament. But he chose to take advantage of being different.

Coach Herb Brooks inspired the young team with sports psychology concepts, finding a difference to lead his team to glory


Leicester City, proud with their trophy

Leicester win the Premier League in 2016 – possession had become the name of the football game. Keep the ball for long periods, tire out the opposition and pick them off at appropriate moments. Most teams were trying it but the big boys were still coming out on top – after all, they could afford the best talent. Leicester, under Claudio Ranieri, challenged this thinking. Direct, counter-attacking football was the order of the day – they ranked 18th out of the 20 top-flight sides for possession of the ball – and they took advantage of being different.  

Rare that the US are the underdogs, but they nonetheless beat the Russian ice titans in 1980

USA win Olympic ice hockey gold in 1980 – while one match in this tournament, the ‘Miracle on Ice’ is often described as the biggest sporting upset ever – when the amateur USA team beat the seasoned professionals of the Soviet Union – the fact that the team, seeded seventh out of 12 teams, went on to win gold is due to more than one match. Coach Herb Brooks is credited with inspiring the young team through proven sports psychology concepts, finding a difference to lead his team to glory.  

None of the above is about luck. It’s about strategy

And the best strategies are able to pinpoint and take advantage of opportunities. As this McKinsey article puts it: “Good strategies emphasize difference – versus your direct competitors, versus potential substitutes, and versus potential entrants. Weaker contenders win surprisingly often in war when they deploy a divergent strategy, and the same is true in business.”

And this is just as applicable to digital marketing. As the industry evolves beyond channel-focused thinking, so truly strategic approaches can be created. While channels are vital links in the chain, they’re the means to an end; not the end itself. For example, being highly visible in search is a desire for most businesses online but there is still work to do after that; it’s not the end goal.

Providing customers with a well thought-out proposition; giving them a clearly-articulated reason to buy from you over competitors should never be overlooked. Think about the difference you provide to the market and build this into your digital marketing strategy. Aim for tournament success by taking advantage of being different.

If you want to build a strategy to stand out, why not get in touch to see how we can help you grow your business?


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