How a College with a Small Marketing Budget can Challenge a Goliath

“David came running toward Goliath, powered by courage and faith. Goliath was blind to his approach—and then he was down, too big and slow and blurry-eyed to comprehend the way the tables had been turned.”
-Malcolm Gladwell, from David & Goliath, Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

Thus concludes the introduction to Malcolm Gladwell’s 2015 book about overcoming seeming obstacles and disadvantages. And it got me thinking about how, sometimes, resource challenged colleges and universities seem unable to gain marketing traction against the well-funded marketing machines with outsized media budgets, large staffs, and deep connections with influential friends. As Goliath taunts David, these marketing giants seem to be saying, “Am I a dog that you should come at me with sticks?”

Small Colleges Must be Nimble

Fortunately, if you’re a David of the higher ed marketing world, the tables have turned for you, as they did for the biblical David so many centuries ago. The “sticks” of digital and content marketing are becoming the great equalizers, giving institutions with a small marketing budget the ability to be more nimble, more responsive, and ultimately more effective than their better resourced competitors.

Most well-heeled higher ed marketing departments are still enamored with traditional media – the big campaign, top-notch production values, “reach and frequency.” Nobody stops to think about the time it takes to plan these campaigns, their episodic nature, and the requirement to commit to weeks, if not months, of media buys. And that’s not to mention that the rules of engagement have changed and no one under the age of 20 is consuming mass media anymore! Like Goliath’s head-to-toe armor, big media can prevent institutions from responding quickly to changing conditions on the marketing battlefield.

A Sharper Strategy will Defeat a Bigger Bludgeon

With digital and content marketing as your rocks and slingshots, your Davidian institution can now challenge the giants to reach, engage, and convert prospective students in new and effective ways. Take for example, the practice of micro-marketing. Using innovative techniques such as geo-fencing, IP-addressing, retargeting, and long-tail search, you can now take your message directly to those who will be most interested in it. Quickly and cost-effectively. And if it doesn’t produce the results you want, you can change your medium and messaging on the fly. Using these tools and techniques will also give you the ability to market 24×7, twelve months out of the year. The days of trying to time your campaigns to recruitment cycles (junior search/senior search) are long gone. It doesn’t take more money, it just takes more smarts.

Or take user-generated content. It doesn’t take more money, or require expensive, time consuming video shoots. It just takes someone with the creativity, discipline, and insight to generate it, curate it, and promote it through inexpensive channels.

Gladstone quotes former Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan, “David fought Goliath by… knowing how to exploit a weapon by which a feeble person could seize the advantage and become stronger.”

Let’s chat more about how modern enrollment marketing methods can make your institution a stronger competitor. Call me in Albany at 518-591-4640 or email me at

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1 Comment
  1. True, I believe David and Goliath as a story is a gem in competitive strategy that marketers need to embrace. Oh, you might want to change “[Gladstone] quotes former Israeli Defense Minister …” Best.

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