How Your Small Business Can Stand Out Against a Backdrop of Amazon, Walmart, and Target
As a small business owner, you already know that there are very few opportunities to compete with the likes of Amazon, Walmart, and Target. In fact, for many small businesses, just having the chance to be heard above the noise of multi-million dollar advertising campaigns is a big enough challenge long before you start looking at things like brand loyalty, purchasing power, and reach.
The fact is, unless you have access to a product that nobody else does, the online giants and big-box retailers will always be able to crush you on price. Believe me, I’ve met countless small online businesses who have tried to go head to head against the big guys on price, and it’s killed them.
While many small businesses can exercise greater efficiency across their business than their larger competitors, and some might actually be able to turn this to a commercial advantage (we see this happening a lot on online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon), it’s when they try and scale their operations to compete on a level playing field (there is no such thing as a level playing field), that things get complicated.
Marketing costs are nearly always more expensive than initially envisaged and dramatically eat into margins. Then there are the additional logistical costs of delivering all those extra products to all those extra customers. I’m not exaggerating when I say the cost of doing and staying in business can be crippling.
It may be counterintuitive, but sometimes it’s more profitable to concentrate on what makes your small business tick and then focus on growing organically and sustainably. This is why it is always vitally important for any business to fully understand their costs before committing to a period of rapid expansion.
Note: Throwing money at a problem rarely works as a sustainable business strategy. Consider how many big businesses in recent years have fallen from grace despite having huge marketing budgets.
So what’s a small business to do if they want to compete with the big guys?
Look For Marginal Gains
Here’s the thing, many small businesses don’t need to actively compete against their corporate competitors to win. In fact, it’s because they are small that their customers choose them.
People support small businesses for a number of reasons. These might include:
- Personal Service: Your customers aren’t just a piece of data to be manipulated and aggressively marketed to. When you offer a more personal service, people buy from you because you take the time to get to know them, and with time, they grow to like you. One of the most essential rules in business is that people buy from people they like and trust.
- Expert Advice: Taking personal service to the next level. Small businesses add value to the products (potentially enabling them to charge a premium) by offering expert advice and guiding the purchase. When you offer expert advice, you reduce the risk for your customers and encourage repeat purchases (the lifeblood of any business).
- Product Recommendations: The upsell opportunity isn’t just an opportunity to cash-in on a client. It creates the opportunity for your customers to get the most out of, or perhaps even enjoy, a product. Consider how much more useful a smartphone is when a retailer has taken the time to understand how a customer will use it and ensure they leave their store with not only the right device but also the best possible contract in terms of minutes and data based on their specific needs.
- Customer Service: Sometimes, things don’t quite go to plan. When a product or service fails, presenting a friendly human face can help turn any potentially harmful situations into positive experiences.
- Community: Small businesses are a vital part of any community. Nobody wants to live in a community where all the stores are shuttered and closed. When you support the businesses that exist on your doorstep, you are investing in your community and adding value to everything you own and cherish.
When you get all of the above right, your customers will absolutely love you. Still, in this digital age, convenience often outweighs service that might not be enough to compete with the likes of Amazon, Walmart, and Target.
Online versus Offline
Just because a business is based on Main Street doesn’t mean it can’t compete with those enormous online and out-of-town retail brands. It just needs to focus on its core strengths and let the big guys fight it out over price (often a dangerous race to the bottom).
Online marketing tools, including email marketing and social media, are the perfect tools to do this.
Remember, your customers might love your business, but with so much marketing noise, you might need to remind them why they love you.
So what do you promote when everyone else is focused on price?
- Events: This can work across so many business types. Last year, when I was shopping for ski equipment for my daughter, I attended a presentation at a local sports store, explaining what kit a novice skier needs. They took the time to create three different packages to suit a range of budgets, and as a result, I completed all my shopping in one visit with complete confidence that I had purchased the right equipment. Book stores can promote authors’ book signing events. My local pub hosts a regular group bike ride, art evenings where patrons are encouraged to bring a sketch pad and pencil, and guided tours of their brewing facilities.
- Thought Leadership: Thought leadership is not the sole preserve of B2B marketers. I have worked with a travel agent who specializes in travel to Jamaica. Her mission is to get her guests out of the all-inclusive resorts and get the complete low-down on enjoying everything the island has to offer. She talks about food, culture, history, architecture, people, in fact, anything and everything that makes people want to visit the country. By the time you’ve read a handful of her blog posts (which are promoted by email and social media), you’ll feel completely at home in Jamaica from the moment you land on the island.
- People: People buy from people they like and trust, and they are inspired to buy by people they aspire to be like or identify with. By focusing your marketing efforts on your staff or your customers, you can create a real connection between your business and your clientele. A record store could focus on the tastes of its employees by sharing reviews of the latest releases or classic cuts. A fashion retailer could highlight the looks and styles of trend-setting customers. An automobile spares store could focus on the custom rides; it helps its customers create.
The moral of the story? Small business marketers stand to gain much more when they focus what makes them special, engaging their customers on a more emotional level, and letting the big guys fight over price.
This abridged post first appeared on the iContact Email Marketing Blog.