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Four Marketing Strategies Small Businesses Should Steal from their Big Business Competitors – and One They Should Leave Behind

For decades, small businesses have been locked in a David-versus-Goliath fight against their big business counterparts with their seemingly unlimited resources—and the pandemic has only highlighted that divide. Too many small businesses had to close, some because they didn’t have the digital infrastructure to run their businesses remotely. In fact, a study by Opportunity Insights’ Economic Tracker found that the number of small businesses in the U.S. has decreased by 47% since January 2020—while some bigger competitors continued to grow. Though their offerings aren’t actually superior, corporations were able to steal even the most loyal customers who had nowhere else to turn. So how can the smaller forces compete for the same customers while still recovering from this past year’s challenges?

Luckily in today’s digital-first world, there’s several simple – and surprisingly cost-effective – marketing strategies and technologies that small businesses can swipe from corporations to give customers all the service they’re used to, with the added benefit of the personalized experience they can only get from their local brands. Smaller establishments can capture market share in no time by taking a few notes from the Coca-Colas and Amazons of the world and using their own tricks against them, such as: 

Uphold a consistent brand persona

Whatever a business’s persona is — daring and outdoorsy?

Imaginative but minimalistic? — owners need to make sure it’s consistent across every aspect of their business. This includes the words, images, interactions, and experiences customers associate with the business. Small businesses want to present a distinct set of branded visuals – think Starbucks green or McDonald’s’ Golden Arches – so that they’re as easily recognizable in the eyes of customers as their big brand competitors are. 

Having a strong voice for customer interactions on social media and other customer service channels is another important aspect of brand consistency, as it will distinguish interactions with the brand in the eyes of customers. Staying on top of industry trends will guide those interactions, which is why it’s also important to listen socially, not just broadcast. Fortunately, there are several cost-effective social listening tools that small businesses can use to monitor the conversations relevant to their business to inform their brand voice, such as Sprout Social and Awario. 

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Become a Resource Hub for Customers

Big businesses have set a precedent for doing business online, especially as people have acquired a preference for engaging with brands remotely during the pandemic—and your website is the main place customers will see what you have to offer. It should go beyond being simply a place for transactions and become a digital resource hub with the best tools and resources you have. 

Optimizing a website means anticipating the questions customers have and have answers ready. This helps a business to rank well in online searches, and it also means customers don’t abandon the business if they couldn’t get answers fast enough. To this end, owners should think about what problems their business solves and therefore what type of information customers might be looking for when they visit their site. By having that information easily accessible, brands save customers’ frustration and move them more quickly through the sales process.

One way to build a resource hub is to create content and landing pages on a website that address any relevant challenges customers may be facing, and how the business can solve them. Being an information hub builds trust with the customer as they recognize that a business knows what it’s talking about. The benefit of being a small business is the level of connection owners can make with customers, so make sure to deliver on what they need.

Use Automation to Deliver More Efficient Customer Service

It seems like big corporations always have the newest technology at their disposal, but small businesses can use the same tools—like automation—to their advantage. Automating aspects of the customer experience enables owners and their employees to better respond to customers and give them the superior service that sets small businesses apart.  

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One automation tool that doesn’t require exhaustive time and money to implement is chatbots. Corporations like Amazon have set the expectation that customer service is accessible and instantaneous, so small businesses need to provide those same services. A chatbot allows small businesses to provide 24/7 service in a way that is customized to fit their brand voice. For example, owners can instruct bots to recognize keywords and offer appropriate, scripted responses in their brand voice to help the customer reach a resolution.

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The bot can respond to common inquiries quickly and around the clock, freeing up employees for more complex questions. So, while employees are nurturing potential leads and dealing with more meaningful interactions, the automated chatbot is offering another point of connection for potential customers and thereby strengthening customers’ relationships with the brand.

Build a Connection with Customers

Another marketing strategy that big businesses have perfected is addressing the emotional component of why a customer might engage with a brand. Customers are more likely to remember a brand and feel compelled to come back again if it resonates with them. Luckily, small businesses know best about the value of one-on-one connections. It is important for small businesses to translate this skill to their digital communications. As experiences move online, owners must continue to prioritize those positive connections with customers the same way they would if someone walked into their business. 

One way to do this is by using an omnichannel tool that aggregates messages and data from a business’s various customer touchpoints, from social media, to order records. Answering customer inquiries on every platform can be incredibly time-consuming, especially when employee resources are limited—but with a platform that puts all that information in one place, employees can be more responsive and deliver a more thoughtful level of customer service. Having a customer’s conversation history for reference means employees don’t have to waste time getting up to speed and can instead provide truly personalized service. This information also enables them to make strategic upselling recommendations that will make the customer feel like you really understand their needs.

The One to Leave Behind: Always Focusing on Customer Acquisition Vs Retention

Corporations with endless resources are constantly casting wide nets to bring in new customers, whether it’s with a television ad campaign or a highway billboard. The issue is, they aren’t targeting specific people, but rather they are trying to get everyone’s attention at the same time. This tactic ignores companies’ most valuable asset – their existing customers. The probability of selling to an existing customer is much higher than selling to a new one, and even a 2% increase in customer retention can lower costs by 10%.

Customer acquisition is important for growing a brand, but it should never come at the cost of alienating existing customers. If conflicted about where to dedicate their resources, small businesses should focus their efforts on delighting already loyal customers to ensure they keep coming back. The best way to do this is to offer a service that makes customers feel the business truly cares about their experience.  

Beating Goliath

Big businesses’ sheer size may offer them an upper hand in some instances, but it’s a hindrance in others. Small businesses have grit and entrepreneurial spirit that big businesses can’t beat, and their size gives them an agility advantage to swiftly respond to market changes. Global corporations just can’t offer the same level of personalization and attention to serve their customers on the level that small businesses can, and by incorporating some big business tricks into their skillsets, small businesses are uniquely positioned to beat their Goliaths.

[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]

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