SMB Marketing Is About Telling Your Story

SMBs tell their storyTwo weeks ago, Network Solutions hosted the Rock Star Entrepreneurs and Your Business webinar and introduced many of us to the State of the Small Business report, a study which uncovered a number of promising stats for SMB owners in the United States.

However, the news wasn’t all good for small businesses.  The study also revealed an area where SMBs continue to struggle [emphasis added]:

Although American small businesses are admired for their ingenuity and aggressiveness, this is another area where they struggle, earning the equivalent of a ‘C-’ in the Marketing and Innovation sub-index. Small businesses are not as successful as they would like to be in effectively marketing themselves to grow their business beyond their current size.

Interestingly, the same study also found that only 12 percent of small businesses are engaging in social media. Restated: Only 12 percent of small businesses are taking advantage of a targeted, absolutely free way to market their business online. Sounds silly, right?

How about this: Earlier this week, 5,000 influential marketers were sent chocolate covered grasshoppers to snack on and blog about. The grasshoppers were blogged, tweeted, and linked to all over the Web. It was a viral marketing campaign used to get the company attention and to tell people what Grasshopper.com was all about. And in just 24 hours, people learned that it was a phone system company that cared about entrepreneurs. In one day, thousands of people knew their story.

Marketing is storytelling.

Stop thinking of social media as Twitter, as blogs, Facebook, MySpace or any of the other sites on the Web. Yes, those are social tools, but social media is about telling your story. It’s you talking directly to your customers and telling them who you are, why you’re better and what you believe so that they remember you and feel connected to you. It’s you making them associate something with your company.

  • Grasshopper is a phone systems company that believes in entrepreneurs.
  • Zappos is an online shoe retailer that cares about customer service and its employees.
  • Dell is a technology provider that offers resources to small businesses.

Those are the stories those companies are telling in social media. What’s yours? Why did you join the marketplace? Who are you? Use social media to tell that story.

If you’re in the landscaping business, are you the company that cares about being green and using green products? Or are you the company that donates 15 percent of your earnings to buy cars for needy families? Or maybe you’re simply the company with the most advanced equipment? Once you have your story spread it.

Blog about ways to help the environment by being green and picking a green landscaper. Tell people what to look out for, what products to use, what to avoid, why it all matters, and why you can help them.

Use Twitter to promote other green initiatives that compliment what you do. Find green enthusiasts in your area using an Advanced Twitter Search and reach out to them to form a real relationship. Organize local tweet ups to meet people and encourage them to help spread your message with you and become your evangelists. Not only will they spread your message online, but you can bet they’ll spread it offline, as well.

Grab your Flip camera and use video to appeal to people’s emotions and bring them in. Grasshopper.com used a quick video and peppy background music to show their adoration of entrepreneurs and they’re dedication to standing by them. They lifted them up to subtly promote themselves. It’s the most powerful type of marketing there is.

Social media is not Twitter. Social media is you connecting with your customers to tell your story. It’s how small businesses can market their companies on the Web, not only effectively, but for free. Every small business has a unique story. If you want to successfully market and grow your business, focus on telling yours.

45 Comments ▼

Lisa Barone


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

45 Reactions

  1. Grasshopper.com’s approach was a really smart way to generate buzz by doing something quirky and unique. If you do the same things as everyone else, you’ll just blend in. It sounds like they’ve found a good way to grab people’s attention enough to make them wonder what the company is all about.

  2. Lisa,

    I have a read many of your posts. They reveal genuine insight and an ability to focus on the key issues.

    Thank you for this one about SMB’s “Telling Their Story”.

    Gary

  3. Amanda: I kept trying to make a “grasshopper”/”generate buzz” joke but I failed. :) You’re right, you can’t simply copy someone else’s efforts. I do think you can study what other people do and find out *why* it worked and then try to model something similar. For example, why are people interested in Grasshoppers today? Because 5,000 bloggers were told they were influential enough to get a present in the mail. By their blogging about you, it validates their own credibility. And as an added bonus, we get a video from Grasshopper about how awesome entrepreneurs are and how they’re fueling business. There are warm and fuzzy feelings all over this viral campaign. :)

    Gary: That’s kind of you to say, thanks. :)

  4. Hi lisa,

    I couldn’t agree with you more in that social media is all about telling your story in a way that establishes and further nurtures a relationship with your customers. Even though only a small population of small business is engaging in social media currently, I predict that the adoption rate will increase dramatically this year and the next with more pressure to effectively market yourself as a small business on a shoestring budget. Thank you for the shout out on Network Solutions’ Small Business Success Index report. I hope we cross paths at a offline event sometime soon.

    Regards,

    Shashi

  5. Good article Lisa. The only thing I would add is that unless you have a deep understanding of your key customers and what is of interest to them your marketing can fall on deaf ears.

    I think many small business jump in and assume they know their customers, when in reality they don’t know how they think, feel and behave.

  6. Your posts always yield some practical nugget I can use immediately Lisa. Thanks.

    I’m working on a review of http://www.Madcapz.net for my all-volunteer Sales Rescue Team efforts and the Grasshopper idea is just what she needs to read. She has a story to tell and a passion for creating these unique baseball caps for women. She cares about her consumers — mostly women and children — many of them losing their hair to chemotherapy and other medical treatments.

    So I’m printing your post now as I spend time thinking about how they can get in front of more people and generate online sales.

    Keep it up Lisa. We are all learning and appreciative of your efforts.

  7. Susan: If I can just post a question: If small businesses don’t know their audience, then who does? I would think that if anyone would be completely familiar and immersed in their audience, it would be the small business. Perhaps they don’t know where they hanging out online or which communities to join, but if they don’t even know who their customers are…then they have bigger problems than trying to tell their story. :)

    TJ: Appreciate the words. I try to find some actionable stuff. It’s not always easy but the attempt is there. :)

  8. I like chocolate, so I have to check out Grasshopper.com! :P Great storytelling, Lisa! :)

  9. Hi Lisa,

    From working and interacting with small business I see that they know the demographics but the deep understanding needed I think they assume they know. If they have that deep understanding then they would know what to communicate, where to communicate their message etc. It could be that they do not know how to gain this knowledge.

    This is my opinion I did not mean to offend as I am sure there are many who over the years have developed this understanding and therefore have loyal customers.

  10. Susan: Oh gosh, no offense taken. I was just inquiring a bit more about your perspective. I can very much see your point that perhaps the deep understanding of what customers really want is not there. They think they know, but they’re looking at things from their lens instead of the one from their customers. A valid point.

  11. Hi,

    Many thanks for this great post.

    I think it is true what you say about social media going beyond tools such as Twiiter and you are right to identify DELL as intergrating it well into its overall mix.

    However, I also think that while Twitter is a great platform for brands telling us about them, it is also about holding a conversation with their consumers and empowering them in that way.

    Fab blog will be subscribing!

    Katie

  12. Hi there,

    This is a very interesting and informative post. I’m new to the business field and find this site a good one to learn business ideas and tips.

    Cheers,
    Eddie Gear

  13. Thanks Lisa, i really do appreciate the insight on the SMB’s, as you mentioned those 3 company’s with their core ideologies, most successful companies have had their own. I recommend owning a Franchise that has already established those value’s, and everything else will be well-situated

  14. Great insight in this post – I’ve seen the grasshopper campaign because we actually use their phone service (was called gotvmail a week or 2 ago :-).

    Not sure what this new name/branding/viral storytelling for them is about, but it’s definitely attracting attention. A phone service is sort of boring, but they’ve made their company seem like the last beacon of hope and support for entrepreneurs in a dark, cruel world.

    Better start working on our story, I guess :-)

  15. Oh My! Why do you think Lisa it’s easier to tell others’ success stories than yours?

  16. And also, does it have something to do with this — “false humility”?

  17. Yes, yes, yes. Story. Don’t forget story. It’s actually the sum total of the traction you gain via social media, or any other form of message delivery or audience engagement. Good story, engaging, relevant, and you get results. Whether you’re a traveling medicine show in the 1800s, a 60-second TV spot in the 1950s or a tweet today.

  18. Some excellent points that are also valid in UK as much as anywhere. Twitter is not shorthand for Social Media-there are a whole range of methods of getting out there online. Of course some methods work better for different people but Social Media should never be a ‘one size fits all approach’

  19. Lisa, thought-provoking post. Our agency has spent years developing our approach to storytelling, primarily in the B2B space (http://www.wordwritepr.com/storytelling.php). It’s worth noting that good storytelling is as much about listening as it is telling — something far too many marketers never learned. A good story requires an authentic story, well told by a fluent storyteller, and constant reading of the audience to make sure that there is engagement and dialogue. Anyone interested in our thoughts on this is invited to take a look at our storytelling blog at: http://www.wordwritepr.com/blogstorytelling

  20. I could not disagree more.
    Nobody cares about yoru small business. They only care about how your solution or product will help their company more than the next company.

  21. Lisa,

    Thank you for this post and for the great content you share in your blog.

    I wanted to briefly share our own thinking related to you comment that “marketing is about telling your story.” At WordWrite Communications (http://www.wordwritepr.com), we focus on telling the great, untold stories of our clients. This has led us to develop StoryCrafting, our own process for helping organizations to create, develop and share their great, untold story. We focus on three things: developing the authentic stories of our clients, identifying the fluent storytellers in the organization who can tell those stories, and helping our clients to constantly “read the audience” to assure that real dialogue, and thus, real communication, is occurring, when the stories are told.

    We very much would like to expand the dialogue on StoryCrafting, and for that reason, I invite you and your readers to take a look at our new white paper on this topic (http://www.wordwritepr.com/pdf/storycrafting_white_paper.pdf) and also our blog, which shares additional background and ideas on these topics (http://www.wordwritepr.com/blogstorytelling/).

  22. Great message for refocusing! We get so caught up in the medium we forget the message…. of course then some of us have nothing to say.

    But with a little diggin wee can all find a story.

  23. It is definitely a good way to introduce your company or your product. It’ s really useful. I want to know how a new software company get more attention from foreign users??

  24. Thanks for sharing the Grasshopper story. Now that’s a fun way for a company to start a conversation about their “story.” It definitely breaks through the clutter and is also “on point.”

  25. You nailed it on the head: social media is about telling your story. Great post–I was shocked to find only 12% of small businesses are using social media. What a lost opportunity.

  26. “Social media is you connecting with your customers to tell your story.” Nice clarification :)

  27. Love the grasshopper’s marketing video really captures something keeps you engaged and I think animated infographics really entice people to act in an ever growing internet where consumers just want what they need put in front of them.

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