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by Stephen Logan on 22nd November 2011
Whilst small businesses have clear disadvantages when it comes to marketing budgets, market saturation, brand awareness and existing client base, they do have a few tools at their disposal when it comes to competing with the big boys.
Competing head-to-head is unlikely to work. So you have to be able to find weaknesses, look at what you can offer that they can’t or look at channels that they haven’t yet conquered. It’s not easy to succeed in the shadow of a much larger business, but it’s certainly not impossible either.
So what can you do?
Employ the personal touch
Big corporations will always struggle with having an impersonal, faceless image. Some work hard to counteract this, employing a network of social media representatives to interact with the wider world. However, they are often spread too thin, giving customers the feeling of being just one of many, rather than a valued buyer/user.
As a smaller company with a significantly reduced client list, you don’t have this excuse. You should be treating every customer with the utmost respect and treating them accordingly. This is how you turn consumers into brand representatives; everyday folk who will happily recommend your business to all and sundry because of their own personal experience.
Try as they might, global corporations will never truly be able to achieve this.
Make something out of your location
As a small company, you are likely to have limited outlets. Big businesses on the other hand are often spread right across the country (and the world) giving them no obvious centrality or connection with a particular place. Again, this is something you could choose to exploit.
There are plenty of people who would be more inclined to support a local business than a more generic corporation. So why not work on creating a strong presence in your area, sponsoring local sports teams and events, helping nearby charities. Not only is this great PR, but it will build awareness amongst your potential customer stronghold.
Brewers are often effective at this. Developing popularity for their product within a city or area, before then spreading throughout the country and even the world. Newcastle Brown Ale (Newcastle), the Ringwood Brewery and Wychwood Brewery are three examples of starting small, locally and then spreading out. Of course these are products, not stores or service providers, but you can follow a similar principle of grounding yourself geographically to expand (inter)nationally.
Go where larger competitors fear to tread
Corporations often have so much red tape and bureaucracy that it stifles their development in certain areas. This is really where smaller companies can make real headway. You can afford to make decisions based on gut feelings and your own knowledge of the market, rather than waiting weeks for sign off from legal compliance and a board of directors.
This can cause problems if you’re not careful. But it can also allow you to attract attention and build your profile. So if your competitors aren’t on Twitter, make sure that you are. But if you are going to do it, make sure you do it properly. Promote your product, but also use it as an opportunity to talk to your customers and find out what they really think. If people aren’t happy, they’ll soon let you know. Take this on board, make changes and then personally inform them when you have.
Celebrating Your Differences
If your competitors are performing SEO on their site, find out what keywords they are targeting and make sure you go for something different. The likelihood is that they will have an authoritative domain with huge strength, so attempting to get above them for the same terms is probably going to end in tears. So dig deep, carry out your keyword research and get your site seen in places others haven’t yet ventured. When you’re established, that’s the time to go head-to-head.
So take advantage of your size and lack of baggage. Build a positive brand with a core group of users and grow it organically. If you can’t always deliver on price, make sure you make up for it in service. If you can’t do either, then you’re in trouble. Even in the impersonal, decentralised world of the Internet, people still appreciate local businesses with the personal touch. This is the one thing that no corporation will ever be able to match you on.
Celebrate the differences between you and your competitors, not the similarities. If you want to remain in their shadows, then follow the big companies blindly. But to succeed in spite of them, you need to give consumers a reason to change or find other ways of reaching out to potential customers.