Digital Marketing

Book Review: Taking Down Goliath

Jim1Everyone knows the story of David and Goliath. Or, I should say, everyone thinks they know it. Ask anyone if they know the story of David and Goliath and most everyone will say the same thing: a big giant dude named Goliath, considered the best fighter of his people, comes forth and challenges the enemy. David comes forth to meet the challenge. He’s a little dude with no real battle experience. He uses a slingshot to thwap Goliath in the head, and Goliath falls dead. Little guy beats big guy.

It’s become the classic tale of the underdog, made so by his size, his apparent inexperience, and the underestimation of him by his foe.

Now, if you actually read the story, there’s quite a bit more going on (and if you read both books of Samuel, you get an awesome tale of war, betrayal, death, redemption and all the other stuff from which great stories are made). Goliath was a warrior for the Philistines. He WAS big. At six cubits, he was nearly 9 feet tall. He needed help walking forward. The story in the bible says it was a shield bearer who aided him. We assume it was because the shield was so big. He’s got armor. He’s got a big-assed sword. Fear inspired just to look upon him likely wins more battles that fighting. Whatever the case may be he’s a true giant. David, on the other hand, is a scrawny little guy, a shepherd not a warrior. He actually fills Goliath with disdain, because he’s small and young and handsome (it actually reads that in the Bible). David’s smallness and quickness, coupled with some decent technology, allows him to get the better of Goliath. The stone he slings at him – and it is not a slingshot – bashes Goliath in the head. It doesn’t actually kill him. But it brings him down hard. At that point, David runs up to Goliath and beheads him with his own sword.

The story is really about how appearances are not what they seem, how perceived strengths can actually be weaknesses, and how using the right technology in unexpected ways can bring about success.

Kevin Ryan and Rob Graham’s new book, “Taking Down Goliath” is not a dissimilar story. The smaller, nimbler fighters who use human intelligence and the right tools in well-planned ways could overcome the ostensible advantages of the large, established warriors. Their book provides a useful, yet pithy, guide for resource-constrained advertisers to compete in the space where larger advertisers reside.

These advertisers have for a long time relied on resource-heavy mechanics to invade their target audience’s space in a quest to dominate their attention. They’ve used the heavy armor and large shields and long swords to cut through and cow their enemies and audiences alike.

But Ryan and Graham’s book both explains why this is no longer sufficient as well as provides insight on what is now not only sufficient but necessary to cut though, clarify, and capture the attention of an intended audience.

Why don’t the old ways still work? Well, some of them can. But as Ryan and Graham explain, the contest for our attention, specifically in the digital ecosystem, is challenged on all sides not only by other advertisers vying for it in the space, but by all the noise in the space itself.

One of the best themes in the book that underlie much of what Ryan and Graham prescribe for the little guy is the concept of “disaggregated attention.” This is a cool way of combining the notion of “more distraction” with “short attention spans.” Our attention is like a tomato: there are only so many times you can slice it before it runs out of juice.

One of the best parts of the book comes just before the end, on their chapters about social media (“The Social Media Universe”) and mobile (“The Mobile Marketing Conundrum”). Both address the very real rise of heretofore-unusual places for marketers to communicate with their existing or hoped-for customers. Ryan and Graham emphasize repeatedly throughout their book that engagement is the real goal of any advertiser. While the word itself is bandied about a lot in modern marketing and advertising circles – though it is showing up less in peoples’ job titles, thank the Lord – it is not usually understood quite as comprehensively as Ryan and Graham rightfully understand it. Engagement is a kind of “allness” of advertising. It requires interest, attention, and opportunity. It is the “moment of quality” where brand and buyer exist in an unselfconscious moment of Presentness. It is the space where a kind of consumer/consumed self-actualization can take place. Whereas their chapter on social describes why this is possible and how a David can plan social’s use to make it possible, the chapter on mobile suggests why while the device itself is an expression of engagement, that very fact serves as a challenge to marketers’ using it to engage with them. “In short, very few people who own a smartphone think of it as a little computer they carry around. Instead, most consumers ascribe a much more personal meaning that can almost universally be defined as ‘my life.’” Something so ubiquitous is a natural attraction for marketers; something so personal means more resistance to those marketers invading that space.

What I really like about this book is that it is not a series of listicle how-tos. The newcomer will get loads of ideas and insights as to how to think strategically about the myriad digital marketing channels that are in common use, but these medicaments are couched in what amounts to some really good thinking and storytelling about what works in digital media and marketing.

While I will not deign to compare the mix of storytelling and lessons of “Taking Down Goliath” with the Bible, Kevin Ryan and Rob Graham’s text does an excellent job of both.

Jim Meskauskas is a co-founder and Chief Strategic Officer of Media Darwin, a consultancy specializing in strategic planning of commercial communicative action. He’s a medialogist who has spent the last 20 years living, breathing and thinking about how to use media to move people to action. Outside of that, his likes are horror movies, Southeast Asian cuisine, his wife and his cat — not necessarily in that order. His dislikes are mean people, people who text while walking in or out of the subway entrances, pestilence, war, famine and death.