How often do you hear marketers complain about not having the proper resources to perform effective marketing? These leaders continually whine and make excuses for poor awareness or lack of effective influence on sales. They leverage vanity metrics to boost the perception that the marketing is effective. The problem with these leaders is the confusion between strategy and tactics. Marketing is strategy. Marketing communications (e.g., advertising, public relations) is tactics. These leaders are focusing on tactics, not strategy.

Hand drawing a game strategy with white chalk on a blackboard.

When resources are scarce, the time to get creative and leverage non-traditional methods should excite leaders and teams. The opportunity to do more with less and demonstrate to senior leaders the effectiveness of marketing, will lead to increased resources. Demonstrating marketing as an investment and not an expense is a marketer’s job, not a narrow-minded CFO or leader focused on price discounts to move product. It is the marketer’s responsibility to earn more resources from narrow-minded executives.


Asymmetrical marketing is the ability to surprise, shock, and awe. It is outthinking competitors and wowing customers. It is developing a clear, focused strategy after a thorough analysis of internal resources, competitors, the market environment, and the customer. A clear and focused asymmetrical strategy leads to the use of conventional and unconventional tactics.

Asymmetrical marketing is founded on the principles of asymmetrical warfare. The use of asymmetrical warfare is when one side has a disproportionate advantage to the other. In warfare, this is typically a standing army with large amounts of resources against an insurgency of local fighters. It can also be a small unit using insurgent-style tactics; think of U.S. Navy Seals fighting like guerillas to hit-and-run and leverage unpredictability to surprise, shock, and confuse the enemy.

Examples of asymmetrical warfare is the American Revolution (the British army vs. American colonists), the Vietnam War (French and American armies vs. North Vietnamese guerrillas), the British against the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the U.S.S.R. vs. Afghan Mujahidin, the current Syrian war, or the Israeli’s ongoing fight against Palestinians. The David vs. Goliath wars. The little guy overcoming adversity against a larger, more well-equipped foe. A smaller, less equipped force using deception, knowledge, and maneuver to overcome the opponent’s strengths. These military lessons are effective in the business world, also.


We see this battle in business as well. Wal-Mart focused on small, local towns until it could fight against K-Mart, Sears, and Woolworths in larger markets. The UFC struggled in small markets while the large boxing organizations (in the beginning) dominated TV, cable, and large markets. As the UFC slowly gained fans and entered larger markets the appeal of traditional boxing decreased. The Japanese motorcycle companies in the 1960s initially lost against Harley Davidson and the British brands. They won when they offered small, fun motorcycles that anyone could ride – differentiation of product and a mainstream customer target. Business results are often very similar to the military examples; the little guy slowly builds strength and resources as it gains on the incumbents and gradually overtakes them.


Asymmetrical marketing has many components. It leverages the business environment and technology to offset lack of resources. It focuses on gaining local support (e.g., retailers) as it gains strength locally to compete nationally – attacking the larger foes’ flanks (the sides, not attacking head-on, focusing on weaknesses, not strengths). Marketers who use this strategy are adept at agility, quickly moving to areas of opportunity, and being unpredictable.

Cat attack

For a firm that competes against larger competitors (who have more resources), here are a few suggestions. First, carefully analyze the market. Know your competitor’s weaknesses and strengths better than they know themselves. Focus on geographic areas where you are strong and the Goliaths are weak. Use combined forces to attack these areas and dominate. Focus on small wins. Learn from every battle, share the information within the organization, and keep building on strengths.

Talk to customers (and consumers). Find out what they value. Uncover their pain points. Figure out how you can deliver value better than competitors can.

If your competitors have poor relationships with retailers, attack them there. Provide retailers incentives to do business with you. Spend more time training them and providing them tools to increase sales. Occupy more floor-space and gain an increase in mindshare. Focus on your product and services. Deliver what retailers and customers need.


Communicate. Do not launch a new product, have lots of fanfare, and then go dark. Launch the product and maintain a sustained campaign. No matter the budget, never stop. If you cannot afford national advertising, then find out how and where to reach your customers. Leverage social media, YouTube, or even traditional media (e.g., magazines, radio, billboards). Keep testing and experimenting until you find what works the best.

No matter how many millions of dollars your competitors can spend on advertising, continually counter with creative messaging and ways to reach your target customers creatively. Use your resources like a laser. Experiment and test. As you find what works, target your resources there. Never stop communicating inside the organization and out.

Most importantly, develop a clear strategy based on a thorough analysis. Build a culture focused on trust, learning, and agility. Study your organization carefully. Know how you can lower costs and drive up quality. Train your organization. Develop an organizational mindset of continuous improvement.


Share your strategies across the organization. Ensure everyone is marching in the same direction. Build a knowledge-based organization that shares information and learns from one another. Allow lower-level staff to make tactical decisions based on their local knowledge. Embrace failure as a way to learn. Develop a culture of agility, learning, and frugalness.

An organization does not have to spend millions to win. The Dollar Shave Club exploded based on a $4,000 YouTube video. Apple focused on design and differentiation. Tesla leverages an environmental perspective and close ties to government. Many of today’s famous comedians use social media, podcasts, and other viral forms of engagement to build loyal armies of fans. Casper Mattress changed the game of buying mattresses. Amazon leveraged technology. Start small and learn from your wins.


It does not always take a large war chest to succeed. Careful analysis of the market environment, combined with creative thinking, and ongoing experimentation leads to victory. Use methods that have worked in war and business for thousands of years. A combination of the conventional and unconventional, a focus on both the local and national, and the ability to surprise competitors and wow customers is key.

Winning is about rethinking how you think and act. It is not about doing the same thing year after year. Creating an agile and innovative organization can lead to victory. Winning is about culture and the exploitation of knowledge. It is about outthinking your competition.


So, stop crying about not having enough resources. Rethink how you think and avoid the status quo. The more you understand your internal operations, the marketplace, and your customers, the higher probability of success you will achieve. Create differentiation and understand what motivates customers. Think like a guerilla, an insurgent, or a revolutionist. Leverage asymmetrical marketing to win.