cartoon woman trying to catch an iced bun with mouth
Ali Moghadam

How Small Businesses Can Dominate Digital

13th Aug 2015 Brand 7 minutes to read

How Small Businesses Can Dominate Digital

The online wilderness is dominated by huge brands that tower over a landscape pockmarked with smaller businesses trying to get by. But why should SMBs feed off the scraps left behind when they can be so much more? Oh that image will make sense later. Maybe.

Your Size is an Advantage – You Are Guerrillas

“The strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare tend to involve the use of a small, mobile force against a large, unwieldy one. The guerrilla force is largely or entirely organized in small units that are dependent on the support of the local population.” (Wikipedia)

You are a small, mobile force. There’s no way a larger entity can be as reactive as you can be. You are local. You can pick up on the failures of big brands operating locally. This is your chief advantage. Fill niches and dominate them. Your size allows you to do this. Take them from within.

That sounds a bit ominous, doesn’t it? Fear not – in the war of marketing, it’s all good. All you need is Google Alerts, Twitter, IFTTT and a friendly, cheap way to fix problems for people. Bingo! You just became the good guy in the eyes of loads of people.

Let’s say you’re a small local bakery, and you bake some crazy good iced buns – your top selling, super tasty bad boy of a product. You love them, your customers love them, and you want the world to know. One way to start is to sniff out people having a bad time with a competitor. Has Greggs served someone up a disappointing Danish? One so bad, the customer had to tweet about it?

Tweet the disgruntled customer yourself – offer a free sticky bun next time they’re around, or get it delivered to them. Small cost for a big win. It’s worked before and got national coverage for a small travel operator.

Getting the Support of Locals

It’s all about trust. And communication is essential for building trust. Small businesses have the advantage of being able to personalise their customers’ experience and build ongoing, human-level relationships whereas big businesses simply can’t. Small teams get to know their customer and client base well, allowing them to build trust through regular communication.

Trusting a big, established brand is different to trusting a small team. We trust a big brand because we assume they are immune to failure – that all bases are covered. And if not, we’ve got the ancient art of kicking up a stink on our side. As a business, communicate your human side and avoid clinical, sterile text and stock photos.

Be honest, be bright and be bold – remember what it is that people admired about your business when you first started. As horribly clichéd as it sounds – just be yourself. The locals will love you for it.

Bare-faced Cheek

Don’t play it safe. Take enormous risks. Throw literally everything at it. If it doesn’t work out, who cares? This is pretty awful business advice. Except for when you’re trying to grow an audience with your content!

Oh, you sell iced buns? That’s nice. That’s a nice picture of one of your iced buns there. I like the tablecloth. Also, YAWN, SNOOZE, etcetera. Nobody cares. Good luck going viral with that. It should look great among the other 10,000 images of iced buns on Pinterest.

Lukewarm social media campaigns are something I personally hate. They’re worse than useless. They actually make the internet worse.  You could do something new, brave and worthy of viral status for next to no cost and just a little time. And some iced buns. And strained friendships…

Instead of photographing the typically mundane iced bun sat on a twee little plate and a dotty tablecloth, get your smartphone out. If it’s relatively new, it probably shoots slow motion video. It probably has a video editor. Not a dab hand? Ask a mate who is, or at least likes that kind of thing.

Now, crash-test your iced buns – like they do for cars. Perhaps make a special iced bun with crash-test dummy icing. Put a tarp down. Filming side-on, launch them at some friend’s faces and film it in delicious slow motion. They’ll try to catch. They’ll get messy. It’ll look hilarious. Oh – hands behind backs, please! No cheating!

Afterwards, film them enjoying the sweet, sweet rewards (still all gooey from the “testing”). Using a bargain basement smartphone video editor, drop your logo in, get some fun twinkly piano music on and get it up on YouTube. Spread it around – you could sponsor it on social for a few days. If Robert isn’t your uncle after that, I will eat my hat (by the way, I wear iced buns as hats).

Eventually… The Point

The point is – I’ve never seen face-crash-testing of sticky buns before. I’ve seen things like it, but I’ve never seen that. It’s intriguing, a break from the norm. That kind of fun, personable content is what helps you spread like butter on a roll. So instead of investing in a professional photoshoot of a product everyone’s seen before, go low budget and fun. Trust me; you’ll get more out of it than you ever would from that professional shoot.


Opportunism is often thought of negatively. Criminals are those most often labelled opportunists. I think that needs to change. Heroes are opportunists too. In fact, stories of heroism are often about somebody seizing an opportunity to help someone. It’s not like they meticulously planned a life-saving manoeuvre weeks before the event.

In nature, there are opportunists too. The animals that take opportunities as they arise become survivors in a world where the odds are hopelessly stacked against them.

A smart marketer knows how to do that too.

Case in point: at a recent conference at Google HQ, the audience was walked through one of the freak events of mass online spending that have emerged in recent years. We’ve had Cyber Monday. Prime Day is a thing now. But there’s nothing that can touch the undisputed master of consumer frenzy.

The fourth Friday of November.

Black Friday.

Best shopping event ever or the worst thing that’s happened to humans since haemorrhoids? However you see it, it’s going to happen again every year. And it’s going to get bigger in the UK too, even though it has literally zero cultural significance here.

Thing is – the big players have in the past been woefully unprepared. Now’s your time to shine. Seize the opportunity.

In an attempt to cash in on the 2014 Black Friday frenzy in the UK, some major brands offered deals too good to miss and drove all the traffic they could to their sites. Welcome to Overload City – population: 17,000 visitors per minute.

In a panic, ASDA, Tesco, Argos, John Lewis, Curry’s and even Amazon pulled the plug on ALL their PPC ads, as servers became overloaded with traffic and nobody could access sites. This left Google experiencing a drop in ad revenue for some big money keywords.

Google Rock Retail - reduced ad spend during Black Friday

Did the little guys cash in? Not as much as they could have. But this will happen again. And maybe once more after that, by which time those server bandwidth issues will probably have been looked at briefly. Get in there while the going is good. Be an opportunist.

Even if it’s just for one day, set up a PPC campaign now for the things you sell – especially if someone does it bigger. The bigger they are, the harder they’re going to have it on the server side come Black Friday. Keep your eyes peeled – at the first sign of an overloaded competing site, bid like it’s the end of the world and take advantage of their ads being down. Get the traffic and get the sales.

The Skinny

Let’s get real for a minute; slow and steady growth is where it’s at. But to really make an impact, you can’t copy everything else that already exists. You can’t stay in the comfort zone forever. At some point, you’ll have to venture out. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Humans have always struggled with risk and reward. But had risks not been taken, our existence would be very different today. When it comes to your content, your marketing, your strategy, your PPC and social media, you can honestly afford to be brave.

And stop trying to make that picture of a sticky bun go viral – it’s never going to happen.

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Ali Moghadam

As kooky as they come, Al even describes himself as weird. He’s in a band and has performed at many festivals and gigs in his time. And as the rock star he is you wouldn’t think he’d be afraid of moths… and butterflies.

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