As a small business, you might feel like you are at a disadvantage when competing against bigger competitors. However, in today’s authenticity-driven marketing landscape, small businesses actually have a leg-up on big businesses.
Sure, companies with a global footprint, decades of brand awareness, and access to large amounts of capital seem like they have an easy layup to the sales scoreboard. But small-to-mid-size businesses have growing opportunities to build the kinds of relationships and earn respect in their consumers’ minds to compete with any competitor – no matter how big their size or pocketbook.
Online marketing has leveled the playing field for small businesses in many ways – you don’t need the biggest ad budget to succeed anymore, you just need to go deeper and build stronger relationships with the people who care the most about what you offer. Authenticity is a choice.
Here are 4 ways that small businesses can be more authentic in their marketing and use their small size to their advantage.
1. Embrace your small size.
The worst thing you can do while marketing your small business is try to fool people into thinking you are bigger than you are. Most consumers are savvy enough to sniff out a phony, and most prefer to support the small, personable business than the behemoth that is hard to communicate with.
Instead of trying to conceal your size, promote it! Show your followers that you have a small but dedicated team who is responsive – and show real stories of the buyers and users of your product or service. Give behind-the-scenes glimpses of your company to further demonstrate how your products are made and used.
Don't try to act bigger than you are, with lots of fancy job titles and automated messages and unnecessary layers of management; if your company is small enough that customers can call the CEO directly, that's a competitive advantage! And apply this to little things, like automated messages. How many times have you seen the words “Do Not Reply To This Email” or canned answers to questions or responses that read like a lawyer wrote them? People turn away from impersonal companies because they want to feel like they matter. And they know your closest rival is just one click away.
2. Be vulnerable.
Let’s face it, to err is human, and companies are not any different, simply because they are run by people. So, what do you do when you make a mistake or a customer’s bad experience teaches you a valuable lesson?
In the old days, disgruntled consumers had limited reach in expressing their disdain for a business. But today, they can write a negative review, post endless comments on your social networks, they may even be best friends with an influencer who has a million followers – and then you could be doomed.
That’s why you need to take the cliché about making lemonade out of lemons to heart. Face your mistakes, and find ways to promote them into lessons for your brand. This can be as easy as an apology and sending out a replacement product, refund, or credit towards your next purchase.
You can also build humility into your overall marketing and content strategy through posts, blogs, and other campaigns that address your lessons learned. Even large companies have done this with success to rebrand their failing products. Think of the Domino’s campaign several years back that confronted the fact their pizza had gone downhill – they were determined to renew their recipes and improve the customer service experience.
3. Be human.
The nice thing about being a small business is the potential for customers to see you as more human and relatable. If you have a team of 10-20 employees, it’s easy to show who those people are on your website. Something as simple as a “Meet the Team” page can show that your team is truly passionate about giving customers a great experience. Even if you don’t have a large office in Silicon Valley decked out with a halfpipe and cafeteria that serves gourmet cuisine, you can show what life is like behind the scenes, warts and all.
Think of the old TV show The Office, and why viewers connected so much with this ragtag paper company that was always on the brink of failing. We loved their characters, their personalities, their quirks, and getting to know them. They were a small, struggling paper business who had large competitors and a constant uphill battle to stay afloat. But there’s a reason why that show wasn’t about a large company with slick executives who always made the sale: we like watching the underdog succeed because most of us can relate to their struggles in life and in business.
4. Work with Influencers.
Once you have defined the human side of your brand and company, it’s time to reach out to the influencers who are the best fit to promote your products. Remember in the old days, how word-of-mouth could make or break a local restaurant or business? It’s like that in the world of online marketing – times a million.
If you can get social love from a brand influencer with a million followers, that can be more effective for sales and authenticity than spending a million dollars on paid ads. After all, if someone who has the trust of thousands of people is willing to put their name behind your brand, customers will see your business as more real and human. It’s much more believable that you have a quality product when others are willing to vouch for your brand, rather than you telling people how awesome you are. This is why testimonials have always been thought of as essential components of marketing a business, product, or service.
Authenticity is not a magic formula or a list of tactics; it has to be real, and it has to come from inside the “heart” and culture of your company. Authenticity helps you be more relatable in an increasingly competitive landscape that demands it, and it requires creative thinking and brave choices at every point of customer contact with your brand. Think of how to revamp your website, social media campaigns, and even your traditional marketing materials to re-introduce your brand to customers in a more authentic way.
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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.