• The “Think Small” marketing strategy is understanding and using a smaller store’s strengths. 
  • The strategy is not about thinking poorly but strategic differentiation & playing on the strengths. 

The “Think Small” strategy was popularized by Volkswagen’s iconic campaign in the 1950s and can be a powerful tool for smaller stores against the giants. It goes against the basic concepts of traditional marketing, which focuses on size, power and luxury. To convey a message that small sometimes can be bigger than big.

This strategy is particularly effective for smaller stores competing with retail giants or businesses that opt for smaller spaces in big malls to penetrate their territory. Such businesses mustn’t be apologetic or sorry about their size; instead, they must focus on highlighting the benefits of being small, like personalized service, a curated selection of products, and a focus on the local community. 

Larger stores could be slow to adapt to trends, while smaller stores can be more agile and cater to local needs and preferences quickly. However, brands must avoid being everything to everyone, focus on specific customer segments or product categories, and try to become experts. It’s about embracing the strengths of a smaller store and using them to your advantage. 

How Volkswagen Successfully Incorporated the “Think Small” Marketing Strategy? 

Volkswagen’s “Think Small” campaign in the 1950s is a masterclass in turning perceived weaknesses into credible strengths. It helped the brand stand out from the crowd, allowed the company to think differently, and leveraged the power of clever advertising for comprehensive success.

Standing Out in a Crowd and Thinking Differently

In the 1950s, American car advertisements extensively focused on chrome, size, and luxury. They were aspirational and portrayed these vehicles as a symbol of success, as the car market was filled with huge, luxurious cars portraying opulence and grandeur at the time. 

This was also the time when Volkswagen launched the famous Beetle, which was small and polar opposite to the American cars of the time. Plus, it had a history associated with Nazi Germany and the infamous Adolf Hitler, which made the vehicle even more challenging to sell. 

They hired the ad agency DDB, which took a revolutionary approach to selling the Beetle. Instead of shying away from its size, they embraced it graciously and launched a campaign titled “Think Small,” which was a witty take on counterpointing the prevailing “bigger is better” mentality. 

Leveraging the Power of Clever Advertising

Beetle advertisements featured small pictures of the car against substantial empty spaces, emphasizing its compact size. The negative space in the ads serves two primary purposes: highlighting the vehicle and making the ad stand out from the rest of the car advertisements. 

The marketing team used witt and headlines like “Lemon,” a playful slang reference to the car’s reputation for being quirky but reliable, and “Small Car. Big Savings,” using humor elements and creative wordplay to grab the attention and memorably communicate the car’s benefits. 

Instead of making empty promises of luxury, the ads talked about the Beetle’s practicality, focusing on its fuel efficiency, ease of parking, and maneuverability. This approach resonated harmoniously with the growing segment of American society that was more concerned about practicality and affordability. 

The Impact of Focusing on “Think Small” 

The campaign changed perceptions and challenged the American idea of car ownership. It showcased that a car can be more than a status symbol and be a practical tool. The “Think Small” campaign was a massive success for Volkswagen and helped the automobile manufacturer become a significant player in the United States market. 

Eventually, the Beetle became an iconic car associated with fun, practicality and youthful spirit. The campaign went beyond selling the cars to the people and became a landmark in advertising history. It proved that ads could be honest and witty, challenge conventions, and produce results. 

What is the “Think Small” Marketing Strategy? 

As already mentioned with the Volkswagen Beetle example, the “Think Small” marketing strategy was successful in the 1950s. Its success suggests that it can be a powerful tool for smaller stores and brands competing against established giants.

Redefining “Small” & Owning a Unique Niche

Similar to how Beetle stood out strong against the gas-guzzling American cars of the time, smaller stores and brands can leverage their size by highlighting the benefit of being “Small” and redefining the term by providing personalized service, curated selection, and extensive focus on community building and brand engagement. 

It’s a fact that larger stores face some underlying problems in adapting to changes compared to smaller stores. Due to their smaller size, these stores can be elegant and capable of quickly catering to local needs and trends. This could also allow the smaller stores and brands to own a unique niche. 

To incorporate this strategy, small stores and brands must stay straightforward and only be some things to everyone. Instead, they focus on identifying a specific customer segment or product category and working on becoming experts in that area. It could be profitable if people seek out unique experiences and curate an exceptional shopping experience, focusing on customer service and building relationships. 

Building a Community and Marketing on a Budget

Smaller stores and brands must focus on promoting local makers, artists, and products. This can foster a sense of community and attract customers who genuinely appreciate supporting local businesses. They can host workshops, classes, or events related to their niche, creating a space for interaction and building customer loyalty. 

Also, these smaller businesses often need more marketing budgets. Hence, they should become a source of valuable information through social media, blog posts, or local partnerships. They can skillfully utilize social media and local advertising platforms to reach a specific niche audience. 

Think Small in Actions Also

To successfully leverage the “Think Small” strategy, marketers need to think small, too. For example, when a small bookstore is competing against a large chain, it should focus on specific genres like science fiction, self-help, travel writing, biographies, etc. It can also host author talks and book clubs to create a strong community of book lovers. 

The bookstore can also partner with local coffee shops and offer book and coffee pairings for memorable experiences for the readers. It can also use social media to recommend niche titles and provide personalized recommendations and suggestions. 

By skillfully and intelligently embracing their size and focusing on what makes them special, even smaller stores can develop a loyal customer base and thrive in a competitive landscape. Remember that “Think Small” is not about thinking poorly; it’s about strategic differentiation and playing to your strengths. 

Pros and Cons of “Think Small” Marketing Strategy

Like any other marketing strategy, this “Think Small” strategy has pros and cons, as discussed below. 


The strategy redefines “Small” and challenges the “big is better” myth, highlighting the benefits of being small. By focusing on embracing agility to cater to local needs and trends relatively quickly, they can provide personalized service, curated selection, and community.

It helps in owning a unique niche, as finding a specific customer segment or product category allows them to become experts in that area. It also helps in curating a special shopping experience with an extensive focus on customer service and building lasting relationships while turning the store into a destination. 

It helps build a strong community by supporting local makers, artists, and products. This facilitates a sense of community and attracts customers who value supporting local businesses. Skillfully utilizing content and social media platforms allows us to maximize the impact on a tight marketing budget. 


Smaller businesses and stores often have small budgets, making it harder for them to compete with the established giants in the industry. They also have fewer employee strengths, and each one has to multitask, which could reduce the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the business or store.

They need to have the privilege of offering their customers a large variety, which can be a significant disadvantage, especially for customers who want a one-stop shopping experience. Moreover, competing against the giants is a massive task as they already have more excellent resources and improved brand awareness, which small businesses and stores need more. In conclusion, the “Think Small” marketing strategy can be a powerful tool for smaller stores and businesses. It focuses on understanding and leveraging the strengths of a smaller store or business and using it to your advantage. Remember, building brand awareness takes time; they must consistently deliver to stay relevant and capitalize on the strength of being small.