There’s something we love about the David vs. Goliath story.

And I’ll tell you right now that it’s David. Despite being a young shepherd, inexperienced in the ways of war, he was able to defeat the behemoth Goliath with only a sling shot. And that is something we all want to relate to. Especially in marketing.

Like David, we’re the little guy. And we too want to believe that we can defy all odds against the behemoths we face on a day-to-day basis. In marketing that’s our chief objective: to use what tools we have at our disposal to outpace competitors who are better funded, staffed, or experienced than we are.

That’s where growth hacking comes in. Thanks to a dose of creativity and a dash of corporate culture, we’re able to Uber our way into the taxi business or Airbnb our way into the hotel industry. All it takes is a little personality and a lot of gumption.

Here are three brands that, though smaller in size than their competitors, were able to hack their way into the big leagues using sheer personality.

Thug Kitchen vs. Oh She Glows

Both are vegan cooking blogs turned cookbooks. And yet, Thug Kitchen scored all the press, including a glamorous recommendation by the cookbook queen herself, Gwyneth Paltrow. Why? Let’s take a look at the method.


Matt Duckor for Epicurious

The method: Thug Kitchen’s disruptive first step was to go against the grain of tradition vegan culture. You know what I’m talking about. Say the word “vegan” and most of us will immediately conjure up earthy, tahini-loving types, who drink green juices on the regular and wear t-shirts that say “oh kale yes!”

Thug Kitchen is the opposite. Their slogan is “Eat like you give a F*ck” and they quickly rose to fame by telling readers to “grill the sh*t out of lettuce” and by featuring recipes with titles such as “so you can humble-brag to your coworkers that you had a salad for lunch when you really just ate a big bowl of carbs.”

The madness: This non-conventional approach to cooking awarded Thug Kitchen all the publicity. Just eight months after starting their free Tumblr blog, Gwyneth Paltrow expressed her love for it twice: first on her website Goop, and second on Rachel Ray. Blog traffic skyrocketed resulting in not one, but three cookbook deals. And they are only getting started.

Of offering to publish their first cookbook, Alex Postman said, “Thug Kitchen sends up the sanctimony of healthy eating. They make fun of the quinoa trend, but they follow up their jokes with great plant-based recipes.” Indeed, a little bit of personality goes a long way.

Cotopaxi vs. Patagonia

Both companies are certified B-Corporations that make outdoor apparel. And yet, Cotopaxi has somehow made the industry just a tiny bit more fun.


Photo from Cotopaxi’s Instagram account

The method: Known for its ethically sourced outdoor apparel, Patagonia has long-led the “company culture” trend by offering ambassadors free or steeply discounted gear to rock climb, snowboard, and surf around the world in their clothing. And to do so publicly via short films, feature-length adventure movies, and artistic features in the Patagonia catalog.

But Cotopaxi didn’t want its wearers to watch other people having all the fun, they wanted their customers to experience the fun themselves. In 2015 Cotopaxi launched a series of adventure scavenger hunts called “Questival.” Outfitted with a Cotopaxi backpack, participants had 24-hours to race around the city and document their challenges via social media.

The madness: Their first event far exceeded expectations. With 1,400 racers and 5,000 after party attendees, the Cotopaxi Questival generated more than 30,000 social media posts during the first 24 hours of the launch. As Cotopaxi CEO Davis Smith says, “With one single event, millions were exposed to the Cotopaxi brand overnight.”

Hamilton vs. The Lion King

There’s no doubt that The Lion King has ruled the Broadway Theater circuit for twenty years. Since it’s debut in 1997 it has held more than 6,700 performances and is the third longest running show in Broadway history. Newcomers have come and gone, until Hamilton stepped in.


Photo from USA Today

After more than five years of work, Lin-Manual Miranda debuted his show Hamilton Off-Broadway in January of 2015. But it didn’t take long for news to spread. By July the show had hit the Broadway stage to massive critical acclaim and a multi-million dollar advance in ticket sales.

The method: Just like Thug Kitchen and Cotopaxi, Miranda wasn’t content to contain his audience to the ticketed customer. Instead he opened up 21 front-row seats that would be sold via lottery system at the door. As crowds drew in—hoping to win the lottery—Miranda started a pre-show performance series called #Ham4Ham, a nod to the Hamiton ($10) the winners would spend on their ticket should they happen to win it.

The madness: Each performance featured cast members performing quirky renditions of song and dance, that quickly drew in a cult following. Intended to provide a performance for the unlucky (not-so) few who would not receive tickets that night, #Ham4Ham drew crowds so dense it eventually had to be shut down due to dangerous traffic conditions. It reopened online to 50,000 lottery entrants its first day, crashing the website in the process.

Growth Hacking Is For Everyone

These three brands are proof that no matter how small, any brand can take on their Goliath with only a slingshot. Armed with a little personality and a lot of gumption, any company can use growth hacking tactics to turn culture into a cult-like following.