Marketing Advantage: Small Business

Small business has powerful advantages over the big business when it comes to marketing. But small business often misses using these advantages because they are seduced into emulating the big corporations.

The typical approach to marketing by big business is to use the resource they have most of – money. Those big corporations tend to throw large lots of money at expensive advertising campaigns because that’s what they know.

If your small business is to survive and grow you must learn quickly to avoid the temptation to act like a big sister or big brother. Never go head to head with the mega-corporations. You can compete and win by playing your game – not theirs. David did not try to go toe to toe with Goliath, instead, he slues the giant with a slingshot. Your small business is a David in a world of Goliaths. Change the rules. Don’t wish to be like the giant. Instead, discover the slingshot that will help you claim your marketing advantage.

While marketing your business you would be wasting your time and money emulating big business and subsequently go out of business. Instead of trying to launch an unaffordable advertising campaign, discover and use your unique resources – like the slingshot.

What is Marketing?
Marketing is about sending messages. Everything you do or don’t do sends a message.
Examine all the ways you can send messages. Advertising is only one way. Big business tends to wear blinders that only allow them to see advertising as marketing. Partly because they have always done it that way and partly because spending large sums of someone else’s money is fun and seductive.

How else can you send your marketing messages?
Here are some possibilities you can use:
Media news releases
Guest appearances on radio and TV
Customer service
Sponsoring events and awards
Holding a contest
Volunteering for a community event or business association
Networking events
Product information seminars
Public speaking at special events
Exceeding expectations
Forming partnerships
Through your staff
Through your suppliers
With the help of your clients
Personal correspondence
This list is not exhaustive but it should give you a broader understanding of marketing possibilities. Most importantly all of them cost much less than advertising and with greater impact. In a small business, you might spend some of your hard-earned money on advertising. But remember that it is only one form of marketing and the most expensive.

Marketing is part of everything you do. The most important P’s & Q’s to mind with your marketing is to be consistent and persistent through all the channels of communication. If you preach about quality but buy the cheapest components you are not consistent. That conflict of messages will destroy your intended message. It should not take a genius to realize that if you dump on your staff they will dump on your customers. If you lie to your suppliers it is reasonable to assume you must be lying to your customers.

Use your advantages
As a small business owner, you have several advantages in the marketing maze. You can build personal relationships. You can use the CEO factor. You have less money and therefore must be creative. You are nimble like the sailboat while the huge ocean liner takes time to change direction.

Closer to the customer
You make the cold calls to prospects, close the deals, and follow-up with your customers. You get to know how they think and feel. You know why they bought from you or why not. Try to tell me that the president of the big bank knows what goes on at the front counter.

That proximity to your customer gives you a special advantage. When you launch a new product you can use the information you have gained from your relationships with customers. What is important to them? What packaging is the most attractive? What features are most valuable? You are in the front lines. Ask questions, listen, and remember.

There is something special about being able to speak to the president. Just try calling the president of your bank or automotive company. You will get the frustrating run-a-round. Make it easy for your customers to reach you. Return calls – even if it is to say no thank you. Most will appreciate the response.

A friend of mine wrote to the prolific science fiction author and scientist Isaac Asimov. Asimov answered his letter. He wrote that my friend’s idea had merit but needed improvement. My friend in his disappointment destroyed the letter. I thought, “Wow you got a letter from Isaac Asimov!” My friend did not realize how he might have leveraged that letter.

Make it Personal
Life is personal – so is business. We make buying decisions based on our personal feelings then we find the logic to justify the decision. Don’t hide in your office. Your most important responsibilities are selling, and building relationships. Build relationships with prospects, customers, staff, suppliers, and colleagues. We would rather deal with people than with faceless corporations. Even when we must do business with corporations it often is because of the trust built with individuals.

In a small business, your character becomes the company culture. Treat your staff with respect and pride and they will show respect to customers and pride in the company. Your customers will feel pride and respect – and they will feel good about doing business with you.

Build relationships with your customers. Learn their names, their buying habits, and important information about them. Be sure to store this information in your database. Include personal information such as birthdays, hobbies, Alma mater, and their family members. Make it a habit of staying in touch with all of your customers by phone or by personal correspondence regularly. Send them handwritten birthday cards, postcards, and notes about significant events in their lives.

Use the CEO factor
In your business, you wear many hats. That grants you an intimate understanding of the company, your customers, and the market. Depending on the time of day, you play the role of CEO, sales representative, or shipping clerk, accountant, quality control, or telemarketer.

When your customer talks to you they are talking to the CEO. Your customers feel special when they can speak to the CEO. Make it easy for them. Be available and accessible.

Remember how frustrated you get when you can not talk to the person in charge. Imagine walking into your bank and asking to speak with the CEO? Or when you are shopping for a car just try and speak to the president of the car company. I dare you. Try it and drop me a line on what happens.

Large corporations are falling all over themselves lately to apologize for their misdeeds. You name it – banks, airlines, tire manufacturers, automotive companies. They are putting their CEO in front of the media to say sorry for the bad service, stupid mistakes, and faulty products. We are suckers for those who admit their mistakes. We are willing to give almost anybody another chance. Why? Because we all made mistakes and have probably asked for a second chance ourselves.

Maybe you have not yet really screwed up with your customers – but it will happen one day and when it does you must say sorry. The advantage you have when you make a mistake is that we believe it more when you are the CEO. If we know you, we want to forgive you – all you have to do is ask for forgiveness. And when you do – call or send a handwritten note. The CEO of the bank or national airline can’t do that.

You present a human face to your business. Notice how few corporate CEOs are able to be the human face of their company. The skills that enable CEOs to battle it out in the boardroom are not the same skills you need to build rapport with customers. It is so much easier for you to present your face. When we do business with small companies we like to know the owner. So get out there in the front lines. Volunteer your time in your community, for your chamber of commerce or industry association.

Although a large corporation, Marriot does a fine job of humanizing their business. They have a picture of the founder in every lobby. Although you do not meet the founder or even the current CEO you still feel a personal contact. At the other end of the scale is the Holiday Inn. Who are the founder and CEO? Who knows? You pay much more at the Marriott than the Holiday Inn. It’s not the beds that make a difference. It is the perception of personal service.

Less Money
When is less money an advantage? When it forces you to be creative. If you have millions of dollars to spend on marketing you might hire some Madison Avenue advertising agency and buy 30 seconds on the Super Bowl game. If your marketing budget is considerably less – say a few thousand or a few hundred, you will have to be creative. You might put extra effort into being nice to your customers. Happy customers are your best marketing agents. They talk about you. It costs nothing and they have much more credibility than a paid spokesperson. When you don’t have tons of money to throw at expensive advertising campaigns you should put more effort into the simple marketing techniques like exceptional service, respecting your customers, returning phone calls promptly, guaranteeing results, free advice, contests, …

The best marketing is free marketing. That comes when people talk about you. Do things that cause customers to talk about you. Something outlandish. In the old movie Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman boasted he could eat 50 eggs. I don’t suggest that you eat 50 eggs but maybe you could cook a 50 egg omelet for charity.

If you can’t be bigger and stronger be smarter and faster. Be a practitioner of business judo. How many times have you been annoyed by someone quoting company policy? “I’m sorry, but company policy won’t allow me to help you.”

Company policy is created to protect the company – not help the customer. I get so frustrated dealing with employees who are hired to enforce company policy instead of helping the customer. You can adapt to customer needs and unique circumstances. When you do, let your customer know that you have intervened with policy to help them in this unique situation. Treat them special and make them feel special.

Sometimes it is smart to provide your customer with something extra at no charge. Send them an invoice for what you would normally charge but with the price stroked out and your handwritten note – “Regular fee Waived” or “Policy Over-ruled.”

Develop your company policy for efficiency and be prepared to change policy to delight your customers. It will be some of the best and cheapest marketing you can buy.

Find the most annoying ‘rule’ of your business. What do customers hate most about buying your product or service? The most annoying rules tend to be about time and process. Break that ‘rule’. It will gain you a loyal following and provide fantastic marketing opportunities.

Marketing is about sending messages. Marketing is part of everything you do. Decide on the messages that you want to send. Then review everything you do to be congruent with the messages you want to send.

© George Torok is the coauthor of Secrets of Power Marketing. He helps business owners gain an unfair advantage over the competition. Claim your free copy of “50 Power Marketing Ideas” at To arrange for George to speak to your team visit For media interviews call 905-335-1997

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