By Karen Axelton

As a small business, you may feel like the underdog when it comes to competing with the big guys. But did you know, being the underdog may actually give you an edge in battling competitors?

Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge blog recently published an interview with professor Anat Keinan, whose research shows that underdog brands are gaining power in the marketplace.

“Through a series of experiments, we show that underdog brand biographies are effective in the marketplace because consumers identify with the disadvantaged position of the underdog and share their passion and determination to succeed when the odds are against them,” Keinan told Working Knowledge.

Keinan says underdog stories have always had special resonance during economic difficulties. With so many Americans struggling financially right now, they feel a kinship with companies that are also fighting to succeed.

What does the attraction of underdogs mean for your business? Don’t hide your underdog status—emphasize it in the stories you tell about your startup and your brand. Even as your business grows and becomes successful (and less of an underdog), your company culture needs to keep that underdog spirit alive. Starbucks, Snapple, Oprah Winfrey and HP are just some of the brands whose stories celebrate their “underdog” beginnings—even though you’d hardly call them underdogs today.

One caveat: The underdog identity doesn’t work for every type of business. If you’re selling a product or service that must be extremely reliable, such as medical equipment or financial planning advice, no one wants to think of you as the underdog. However, for many industries, positioning your business as the underdog can be a powerful narrative that not only inspires consumers to buy, but inspires your employees to try harder to beat the big guys and make your business Number One.