When it comes to business growth, few brands know more about the process than the Fortune 500 companies who have established themselves as household names. While your business is almost certainly smaller than some of these big name brands, that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of lessons that can be learned from their growth and successes. This article will break down the best ways you can use those lessons to your advantage.
What does an effective small business marketing strategy look like?
Just a number of decades ago, the thought of a small business creating a marketing strategy on par with a bigger brand like Coca-Cola or Disney would have been inconceivable. Mass marketing was everything and digital was far too expensive (and confusing) for any small business leader to attempt. But today, advances in technology have given the smallest of brands the opportunity to market their products and services to consumers around the world (without breaking the bank).
This isn't to say that small business marketing campaigns are as extensive as those created by larger organizations - they simply don't have the manpower, budget, or capacity for something that colossal - but what it does mean, is that small businesses can create strategies on a smaller scale that differentiate them from others in the market and get them in front of the right audience effectively.
However, despite the prevalence and relative ease of marketing technologies in the business world today, 50% of small businesses lack a concrete marketing plan. This leaves them at an immediate disadvantage to bigger companies that invest millions into their strategic planning.
It's easy for smaller brands to fall into the trap of thinking that they will never be able to "keep up" with their bigger competitors. But at The Marketable Brand, we challenge this mindset, encouraging business leaders not to try to keep up with the competition but to optimize their marketing efforts for their target audience.
In this article we'll walk through some of the lessons small brands can learn from the big guys, and we'll close with some ways we think smaller brands can actually outperform their bigger competitors. Let's take a look...
Get clear about your USP
A unique selling proposition is the aspect of a brand that sets it apart from everyone else. It's the unique offer that you bring to the table and the reason your target audience looks to you over others in the marketplace.
As we teach in The Marketable Brand Framework, the most effective Unique Selling Proposition positions your brand within your industry, apart from your competitors, to your target audience.
As we mentioned in the introduction, you aren't trying to keep up with the competition but position yourself apart from your competitors. Doing this effectively involves showing them the ways you offer something better than what they can find elsewhere. What sets you apart and what do your customers need to know about what you're offering to them? This might include:
A higher quality service
A better designed product
A superior experience
Even though Fortune 500 brands have a much larger budget to throw around, the best ones still remember to stay true to the things that make them unique to their target audience. From Kroger to Home Depot to Visa, they all have something to offer to their customers that is uniquely their own in the marketplace.
Find the thing that you do best and capitalize on that.
Establish a competitive web presence
A poorly optimized website is one of the main reasons consumers opt not to go with a small business over a larger one. Although it might sound like judging a book by its cover, a company that has both name recognition and a beautiful, easy-to-navigate website will be enough to convince the average customer to go with their brand over others.
This is an unfortunate reality but one that you have probably encountered in your own search for various companies to hire for your own needs. The companies that consumers tend to go with the most are the ones who show up first on Google and who have a beautifully designed website. Oddly enough, these are two characteristics that have nothing to do with the actual service a customer is receiving from that organization.
So why are these the companies that customers feel most comfortable interacting with online? Well, the modern consumer is hyper-aware of scams (especially online), and a website often provides a strong enough first impression to give many prospective customers the confidence they need to go with one brand over another.
The good news is, even if you aren't particularly tech savvy, it has never been easier to put together a website, and you can do so within a few hours time.
One common misconception we hear is that small businesses are unique in that they don't need a website. And while this might be true for a time, if you are looking to scale at all, you have to establish yourself in the digital space eventually... and we recommend sooner rather than later.
Another great way to boost your online presence is through consistent, quality content. Matthew Ramirez, Forbes 30 Under 30 alum and founder of startup Rephrasely, emphasizes content as the number one strategy a small business can employ to stay competitive with bigger rivals: "Creating content that resonates with your target audience, and consistently publishing it across multiple channels will enable you to build a loyal following and establish yourself as an authority in your industry."
In the world of online business today, content marketing will allow you to build authority and give your prospective customers the peace of mind they need before deciding to purchase from you.
Use data to your advantage
Part of identifying and serving your target audience is having an ear to the ground to fully understand the needs and desires of those interested in your brand. And the best way to do this is through understanding your current customer base as well as prospective customers who might be interested in your product.
What do they want from a brand like yours?
What have they been dissatisfied with most from other companies they've worked with?
What messages speak to them the most?
One of the best ways to keep track of your customers, store their information, automate your processes, and monitor data about your target audience is through a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) platform. As your brand grows, this tool will be an invaluable resource, allowing you to pull reports about your customers and better speak to their needs.
This type of platform lets you go a step further to send out surveys to customers to figure out what they like best and what they would change about your brand.
Another, more simple approach is to read the reviews that customers posted about your competitors. This will help give you an idea of the things that customers like and the things they hate about others in your industry. Just because you have fewer resources at your disposal doesn't mean you should shy away from data collection and analysis.
Prioritize incentives and convenience
Why do you choose Starbucks over the local coffee shop around the corner? It's probably a number of reasons - it's quick, you know your order, and you get rewards through the app, just to name a few. All of these factors really focus on one thing: convenience. You don't want to have to go inside when you could use the drive-thru. And the local place doesn't offer rewards. And who really wants to think about a new coffee order when they've perfected their Starbucks drink to a tee?
We live in a world dominated by convenience, and if your small business doesn't capitalize on that need, you will fall behind. Whether it's offering a loyalty program or just a quicker method of making a purchase, customers value convenience over many other qualities in the buying decision. Use that to your advantage and make the entire customer experience as user-friendly as possible.
Partner with other quality brands
One big opportunity that many small businesses fail to capitalize on is partnerships with other brands. Strategic partnerships have been around for a long time, but especially in recent years as bigger players have come together to capitalize on a bigger audience. Some examples include Apple and Nike or GoPro and Red Bull. When you think about the unique selling proposition of each of these companies, they are vastly different but found a way to strategically target a segment of their audience.
Sarah Noel Block of Tiny Marketing, an agency that works with both Fortune 500 brands and smaller organizations, says: "you can grow so much faster by partnering with brands that share the same audience with tactics like webinars or newsletter mentions. Although the big brands shortcut and pay for sponsorships from these partners to get in faster, small brands need to build relationships to make it happen."
If you're wondering how to build these relationships, start by figuring out what type of organization would make the best partner. Consider their audience, their product, and whether or not it would be mutually beneficial for both sides. If there is a group of people in your audience and theirs who would jump at this partnership, it could be a great opportunity.
How do you outperform your Fortune 500 competitors?
In today's marketplace, we believe small businesses are able to do more than just replicate the successes of their bigger competitors. There are many qualities that the modern consumer desires in their search for a brand that can be more easily delivered by a small business than a larger one. Just a few of those qualities that you can (and should) capitalize on include...
Personalization is a quality that can extend into every facet of your business, from the delivery of your products to your customer service. With so much automation in the modern world of marketing, we can't forget the importance that is still placed on personalization in the eyes of the consumer. Customers might like the guarantee, the status, and the familiarity of bigger brand names, but they also strongly desire to be heard, especially when problems arise.
Bigger businesses are great at giving the allure of personalization, but simply using your name in an email doesn't mean they actually care about you as a consumer. That's why you should absolutely prioritize superior customer service as a small brand looking to make waves in your market. By serving a smaller audience, you are positioned to deliver a quality product or service with excellence in a way that larger organizations might not be able to. It also gives you a front row seat to the needs and desires of your audience, putting you in a great position to create a product that meets those specific needs.
When it comes to marketing a small business, the process (if done correctly) can be much more streamlined and efficient than it would be with a larger organization. These larger businesses often have many more moving parts to coordinate, creating silos within their organization that unintentionally keep different departments separate from one another. With a smaller business, it can be much easier to integrate the important parts of your business. After all, marketing for any organization is most effective when it takes place across the whole company.
Everything from your product developers to the sales team to leadership is more effective when they listen to research done by the marketing department and create strategies that will benefit the company as a whole.
Oftentimes, Fortune 500 companies have a much harder time ideating and implementing new programs or ideas that they might be developing. There's a lot of red tape to cut through and plenty of approvals that must be received before moving forward with a new idea.
Though larger businesses might make more headlines and create more waves with their new ideas, smaller businesses are the ones who are able to take risks and ultimately make the greatest strides by acting on instinct and doing it quickly.
The greatest brands in history started out as small operations, and while there is undoubtedly much to learn from Fortune 500 companies today, there is a great deal of opportunity for small businesses to capitalize on in their own right.