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Small business marketing - you might feel little, but you can do it big
Marketing, in its simplest form, is about managing perception and exceeding customer expectations. And small businesses can often compete with big business through smart marketing.
Large corporations and big companies have the advantage of scale and often market position and leadership. However, while these offer benefits it also can constitute a weakness. Big business can’t often adapt to changes in the market or incorporate new technologies quickly. Changing course can be problematic and require multi-levels of agreement. Management is often resistant to change or risk taking as well.
Small businesses generally have decisive decision makers that can quickly adapt and pioneer new marketing technologies. The entrepeneur is often a risk taker by nature…and so they’re willing to be adventurous. But similarly they’re more closely connected with the customer too - so they stay connected to their customer base - and they can accept or reject when a new marketing tactic is working or not. It’s this willingness to try new things and the ability to recognize their effectiveness quickly that can best the largest mega-company.
Looking and acting big can make you big
One of the distinctive qualities of a large, successful companies is they look and feel large and successful. Their branding is consistent, their marketing is cohesive, their messaging is focused, and the market perceives them as stable and profitable. Today, these same qualities can be mastered by small business as well. It simply takes a commitment to doing marketing right. A small business must value it’s marketing efforts and allocate budget to do it correctly. Look, talk, and walk professional and to your customer you are professional.
A small business can have top-notch marketing materials too, by developing a healthy relationship with a graphic designer or small agency. Just as a the professional services of an accountant and/or attorney offer the resource of knowledge and experience - so too can a designer function as a resource. The designer can be a sounding board for ideas - and they should bring ideas to the table as well. A good relationship should offer give and take on both sides. And I stress the word relationship. Too often, a small business will dole out projects to one or more designers - essentially using them as contractors instead of problem solvers.
In order to build a sturdy building, you first consult an architect. Then you hire a general contractor. Well, marketing is similar. Bring the designer into the picture earlier and you’ll get better results. They’ll offer solutions to your problems instead of simply executing an idea (good or bad). Develop a relationship with that designer and you’ll get better results and have cohesive marketing. Then rely on them to manage the construction and execution too. You maintain control - you simply delegate to someone who’s thinking about marketing your business all the time.
Exceed expectations and people will talk about you
Doing your best and then a little more is always appreciated. It’s the little things that people remember and talk about. It goes without saying, do a good job, be responsive, and keep on budget and your customers will be happy. But, if you go the extra mile, if you offer them something unexpected - they’ll be ecstatic. Too often today, companies cut corners to get by, to maximize profit. But this leads to alienated customers or clients that don’t feel connected to you.
There are some very simple ways to be proactive and to keep in contact with customers and prospects. Answer the phone. It’s so simple today to drop people into voice mail or into phone choice hell. Instead, surprise them, be different - have them talk to a human. It may be a receptionist, or it may be you…but with today’s technology proliferation - talking to an actual human is sadly surprising. Respond to emails and inquiries. Large companies are rediscovering responsiveness. You’ll find stories of them monitoring Twitter, and establishing facebook pages, and offering online chat. Essentially, what they’re dong is connecting to the customer in the manner the customer wants to talk to them. It seems like a simple concept, but for decades, big companies walled themselves off from their customers. Then the internet happened, and the disgruntled customers could squawk online. And companies were forced to communicate with them again - to address issues before they ranted online. Email is one of the simplest ways people communicate. You should always have an info@ or customer_service@ email that is monitored by someone. So they can address a problem before it becomes an internet meme. Ask United Airlines, had they simply responded to a broken guitar complaint, they probably could have avoided lots of damage control.
One bad apple spoils the bunch
Make sure everyone in your company knows how they act is a reflection on the company. No matter how good your marketing looks or how responsive your are…if the receptionist or sales guy acts poorly, that’s what the customer will remember. They won’t recall all the good things you might have done or how many times you’ve come through for them….nope, when they talk about your company, they might say they like your widgets but can’t stand Doris or Jack or whoever. And instantly, who they’re talking to will form a negative perception. So it’s crucial that everyone knows what’s expected of them and recognizes that if they can’t solve a problem - they should escalate it so it can be resolved.
Be different, be daring
As I mentioned, the advantage of being small is you can take risks and immediately gauge if they’re working. So do it. Don’t operate like you’re a “me too” company. Be adventurous. Make a statement, get noticed. Get people talking about you…then turn it into a sale and build on that customer relationship. You’re not going to get noticed trying to tell prospects you’re the same or better than the other guy. It’s disingenuous and offers no compelling reason to change. Instead be different. Find a new way to market what you do. Change the discussion. Analyze the classics, Hertz was number one, so “Avis tries harder.” They both rented cars…but Avis changed the discussion - it’s now about customer service, and without saying it…they’re positioning themselves as doing it better.
Read the plethora of marketing books, such as the “Purple Cow by Seth Godin” or “Your Marketing Sucks by Mark Stevens” and you’ll discover it comes down to simply - be remarkable, be different, or go home.
It’s in the details
As I mentioned, looking professional makes you look larger. Acting professional will help you grow larger. It’s can be that easy. But you have to worry about the details and you have to keep striving to do and be better. And beware, when success does happen and growth occurs…you’ll need to be extra vigilant - or that small competitor you laugh about….well they could starting doing it better than you.
Oct 24, 2010
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