On Saturday, Nov. 24, small businesses across the country will participate in “Small Business Saturday”—the Mom & Pop’s opportunity to stake a claim in the busiest shopping week of the year. A “manufactured” event by American Express as a way for them to promote their services, the day has now grown into an event which benefits local small businesses and communities alike.
Cemented in between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday encourages shoppers to visit local, homegrown stores. While it would probably be fair to say that most people want to see their local businesses thrive and bring money and jobs to their community, the odds are stacked against them. Small business can’t compete with the massive marketing budgets of their big brothers; nor should they want to. It’s true that the new mantra for big biz is to “think small.” Ironic isn’t it?
Word of mouth equals brand advocacy. Every business strives to build advocates; customers who defend their favorite store or brand at a dinner party. Today more than ever, word-of-mouth marketing is crucial to the success of small businesses. By taking these three key ideas, small businesses can hone in on their messaging and in turn help to drive positive word of mouth among their consumers; ensuring that their happy customers become their biggest advocates.
Figure out what you do, and be the best at it. With so much emphasis on catering to the consumer, small businesses really want to focus on creating an impact in their communities by figuring out who they are as a company and then doing everything they can to work towards maintaining (or creating) that overall brand.
Get to know your customers. One advantage that small business owners have over larger chains is that they have the opportunity to really get to know their customers—they know where they come from, what they like and don’t like and, most importantly, what they expect. You know that rain is forecasted for the big rivalry football game going on this weekend, so you set the umbrella display next to the cashier on Friday with a sign saying “Go Hawks.” You know that your customers celebrate Christmas, so you aren’t afraid to write “Merry Christmas” on your windows as opposed to “Happy Holidays.”
When you are tuned into this type of very specific, regional information, you stock merchandise that you know your target market wants, anticipating what they have come to expect with each season, and training employees permission on how to interact with customers. A happy customer will always casually share the good stuff but an unhappy customer will make it a point to share the bad stuff.
Be Social With Personality. Social media has really enabled the smallest of business owners to spread the word about what they do. It is easy to create a page for your brand the countless social networking sites. The key is to maintain these pages by frequently posting news about your business—whether that be in the form of new product announcements, helpful lifestyle tips or funny photos of your employees decorating the shop for the holidays.
All of these things give consumers new information that reminds them of who you are. Social media also gives you direct access to answer any consumer questions. Don’t leave it up to chance for your customer to get wrong information about your products. Answer them directly and they will not only be grateful for your answer, but also pleased that your business took the time to reach out.
Small business Stages West installed an iSnap machine to
One example of a business that has taken these three key ideas to heart and will be taking part in Small Business Saturday this year is Stages West.
They are a 37-year-old, third-generation, “Mom-and-Mom” cowboy boot and apparel store in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. They have a great business and are a destination for the 11 million people who drive by their store.
They have 10,000 pair of boots and the hottest “cowboy couture” fashions, but that’s not what keeps people coming back. They know their customers. They listen to what they want and cater to their needs.
They know many of them by name and have watched a couple of generations of kids grow up in their store. It’d be easy to sit back and take it easy.
Instead, they installed an iSnap machine a few weeks ago. iSnap enables customers to take a picture with their new boots and post it to Facebook or Twitter. Not only does it help their customers share their Stages West experience on the spot, it generates hundreds of thousands of free impressions. They are social with a personality.
What many business owners come to learn is that success depends on the experience they create for their customers. Big or small, all businesses must create an exceptional experience. It's experiences that drive word of mouth and through positive WOM and the generation of brand advocates comes rewards for your business and consumers.
Paul Jankowski is the Chief Strategist at Access Brand Strategies, a brand strategy/consumer engagement agency in Nashville. Clients include Pepsi, Fedex, Lipton and Mountain Dew. You can follow him on Twitter @pauljankowski1.