October 20, 2014

6 Ways Your Small Business Can Steal Customers From Big Brands

It’s easy to psych yourself out as a small business owner. You see the campaigns your bigger competitors are running and you’re intimidated. You know that you don’t have the same marketing budget or the same reach, and it’s harder for you to get out there while still focusing on your business. But all of that is OK, because as a small business owner, you have a lot going for you that the big dogs can’t compete with. You have the ability to steal customers away simply by focusing on the many strengths that come with being small.

How can you steal customers away from big brands? Below are just six ways.

1. By Focusing on Simplicity

Users want websites they can navigate, products that are easy to use and services that make sense the first time they’re explained. They don’t want the red tape, the hassles or the extra clicks that bigger brands throw into the process. As a small business owner, by keeping it simple you focus on your core user and ensure that they’re going to be happy doing business with you. Most users aren’t looking for the “experience” of it all. They just want to get what they want and then be able to leave. Let the big guys be complicated. You just be profitable.

2. By Solving Users’ Core Problems

One of the biggest advantages of life as a SMB owner is that you live and breathe what you do. You’re in it every day and you’re always talking to customers and hearing about what they’re struggling with. That gives you an opportunity to solve the core problems they’re discussing. It gives you that real-time feedback and knowledge that the bigger brands have a much harder time trying to replicate. Related to the point above, don’t add lots of extra features and bells and whistles that your customers don’t really need. Instead, focus on their core problems. What are they coming to you for and what’s the biggest challenge on their plate right now? That’s what you need to address. The rest doesn’t matter.

3. By Outmaneuvering Big Brands

When you’re small, you’re nimble. You have the opportunity to react to what you see happening in the market. You can change your plans based on what your customers are telling you or you can look for timely partners or tie-ins to what you’re doing. Bigger brands don’t have this luxury. It takes time for that advertising to be created, be approved and be sent out. It takes time for legal to reject, edit and then approve a new message the company wants to deliver. As a small business owner, the fact that you can bob and weave as necessary is incredibly useful.

4. By Excelling at Customer Service

Do you know why many customers prefer to do business with SMBs rather than larger brands? Sure, we all like to feel like we’re supporting our community, but we also know that we’ll be treated better if we go to a small business. We know that if we eat at that local café often enough, pretty soon the woman behind the counter will learn our name, our order and how we like it cooked. We know that if we have a problem with something we bought at the local electronics store, we can take it back and explain to the person what happened. One area where SMBs really set themselves apart is in the area of customer service. They go above and beyond for their customers and the result is return customers. People like going where they feel valued. SMBs give them that the way bigger brands simply can’t.

5. By Being Fearless

Being fearless doesn’t mean being reckless, but it does mean being bold and taking chances. It means experimenting with new technology or methods while the big dogs are still fighting for approval to even create a Twitter account. Being fearless allows small business owners to take risks and try things while the cost of failing at them is still relatively low. Read about something on a blog you think may work for your brand? Try it. Have an idea for a different way to use your Facebook page? Try it. Want to host a meetup in your store? You can do it next week. Take advantage of your size by acting while the big brands are still having meetings about it.

6. By Becoming a Big Brand Yourself

So you’re small? So what? That’s no excuse for not taking the time to develop a trusted and visible brand of your own. By incorporating blogging, Twitter, Facebook, forums and more into your marketing mix, you can work to create consistent content around your brand to make sure you’re visible and in front of your audience at all times. Who says rockin’ brands are only for the big boys?

Above are just a few reasons why it pays to be small. What do you like about not being a big corporate brand? How do you use your small size to your advantage?

26 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.

26 Reactions

  1. Excellent article by Lisa. Short, sharp and sensible.
    That feeling of vulnerability when developing or starting up a business is tough, especially if you’ve come out of an employee role where you’ve had a big brand behind you. But be confident – most of your customers probably bought because they chose YOU not the brand. As Lisa says, customer service is a great weapon.

    Lisa also says ‘Be fearless’ and use social media. That customer service we’ve just thought about is out there as info on your big brand rivals. You can see what’s being said about brands or products online. Especially via social media. And in the days when a brand name cropped up ten times in a search it was easy to read everything.

    But when a brand name crops up 1,000 or 10,000 – or even 100,000 times – then one needs sentiment analysis tools to data mine all that published content.

    Sentiment analysis is a trend that’s been accelerating on the back of social media, and Twitter in particular.

    Sentiment analysis is no short-term hot topic you can ignore. One day your customers may even be able to check your ‘sentiment rating’ when they search!

    Right now, automated sentiment analysis isn’t foolproof – yet – but it can provide directional insight and flag up the need for further investigation.

    So do a check. And if your rivals have bad sentiment and yours is great – make sure your prospects know all about it!

  2. Number four was the first idea that sprang to mind when I read your title, Lisa.

    One complaint I hear time and time again from people is just how impersonal doing business can be – whether that’s buying a bottle of milk or a multi-million dollar deal.

    A small business can put some of that personal care and attention back, and target the disillusioned.

  3. #7 – Knowledge. This relates to #4, but I’ve found that when you’re dealing with and SMB you are much more likely to speak with someone who is knowledgeable about the company, the products and customer issues. This is one of my biggest beefs with Google AdWords, their phone support people know less than I do so I’m always waiting for them to escalate it to a specialist. Why can’t I talk to a specialist when I call?

  4. After 16 years in big corporate behemoths, I finally couldn’t take it any more and jumped ship to run my own SMB. Why? Largely because of #5 on your list. “Fearless” is not a word associated with large companies – and not something that’s appreciated in their employees. Living in fear (i.e., being too fearful to do something different in case it doesn’t work) is no way to live. Jump in with both feet, give it your best, and if it doesn’t work, well, try something else. Which isn’t to say be reckless, stupid, naive, etc. – but don’t give in to fear just because it’s something you haven’t tried before. Thanks, Lisa, for putting “Being Fearless” on your list!

  5. Number 5 is most appropriate, being fearless opens your business up to so many avenues of exposure. Im in the mist of working that now always looking for new ideas

  6. I think offer that personalized service is key for small business owners. If you cannot offer great service and a truly personal experience, consumers may as well go to a big box store where they have better selection. I’m a big fan of Dale Carnegie and customer service is always key to a great business

  7. Good points here. I definitely think providing more personalized service is key.

  8. These are great key points indeed. Number 4 sparked my interests for without great customer service, everything else can fall apart. Businesses may also want to consider outsourcing to telemarketing companies in ‘stealing’ business leads from competitors. Many would say that outbound call center agents provide the best when it comes to customer service. Anyway, nice read!

  9. I really liked the points on simplicity, being nimble and excelling at customer service. While social media can take your content viral, great customer service can make your reputation viral – and that is more important. That is more likely to get you customers who just cut through the chase and get into your (e)store. Result = Shorter sales cycle.

  10. Excellent article! It should be required reading for any small business owner or aspiring entrepreneur.

  11. This is such a great article Lisa! Number 5 struck me the most, fearless is the name of the game when you’re small because you can adapt so quickly. You can use the red tape in big business decision-making processes to your advantage by making quick calculated decisions that will drive you to the front of the pack. And I have to agree with Bill, it should be required reading for small biz owners. I’m sharing this article with everyone!

  12. #3 and #5 can also be called marketing in “real time” this is a distinct advantage for a small firm.

  13. Thanks for this great insight Lisa!
    I recently won over business of a very large corporation from another big company. It simply came down to customer service and quality of product. I did have to prove myself which was hard, but now that I have managed to do that we have a great business relationship and like you said being nimble is a great advantage. I can turn jobs around in an instant and have people ready for anything in a very short amount of time. My clients really appreciate that.
    My next challenge is being fearless, so decided to move out from my ‘home office’ and into the City and am looking forward to opening my horizons in terms of the services we offer.

  14. This is kind of related to (1) and (3), but I think small businesses can also compete effectively against big businesses by having employees who have a holistic knowledge of the whole company.

    One problem with large corporations is that they have different branches of customer service, and a salesperson or customer service representative only has access to a limited amount of knowledge and expertise, and may not even have direct access to many personnel within the company.

    In a very small business, each employee can know almost everything they need to know themselves, and even in medium sized businesses, each employee can at least know who to talk to directly to get any question answered. This can be a tremendous advantage…as a salesperson, if you can get tough questions answered more quickly and thoroughly than the competition, you get a huge advantage. And this can also help you keep your customers satisfied when things go wrong.

  15. I like #3 the best – by out-maneuvering Big Brands. Like Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) in the 1st Liston fight – the Big Ugly Bear couldn’t find him – he was waaay too fast. No one had ever seen a 6’3″ 210 pound heavyweight move like that – 1964.

  16. I love this post. All I want is to reach people in a simple, direct and trustworthy way. I know I don’t like a lot of senseless maneuvering on websites or phone calls and I’m going to try and always make sure that my company doesn’t make my customers do that either! :)

  17. Lisa’s post on the many advantages that small companies have over large brands is great! To me, the area of customer service provides the greatest opportunity for small companies to demonstrate to every customer that their business is valued and appreciated. Too many customers get the feeling that the company doesn’t care whether they are a customer or not. Who wants to spend their hard earned dollars with a business that doesn’t treat their customers as their most important asset? Positive social media postings are critical to the success of any business and small businesses can clearly leverage their small and intimate environment to their advantage. Every business needs repeat business and the bottom line is that small businesses have a competitive edge! Richard Shapiro, The Center For Client Retention

  18. Good points. I especially agree with number 3 about out maneuvering the big businesses. Being able to adjust and adapt to the market can really separate yourself from your big competitors, and provide unique offerings the big guys can’t copy for weeks or months.

  19. All 6 ways are very effective at stealing customers from big brands, but they are even better to prevent big brands from stealing customers away from well-run small businesses. I particularly like tips 2 and 4 where focusing on solving customer’s problems and providing excellent customer care provide smaller businesses vast opportunities to success. Big brands treat their customers as potential problems to be controlled and dismissed whenever possible. I have seen too many big brands buy out smaller businesses, only to force multileveled customer service procedures that are designed to discourage customer contacts and to protect the self appointed kings in management, where decisions are sometimes made, of ever having to lower themselves to actually talk to a customer.

  20. Being fearless and providing excellent customer service are key. There’s nothing worse than dealing with a corporation that doesn’t care who you are and just considers you a number. In the world of business, it’s all about the relationships.

  21. Discussion Question:

    SMEs are considered to be the small and medium businesses serving as backbone of the countries economy. ADMINE is an SME operating in a highly competitive environment characterized by dynamic market trends, innovative activities and technology advances posed by the larger firms having the sizeable resources and budget. These firms have their established brand as well. ADMINE’s intellectual pool has given a suggestion to top management to go for branding.

    Requirement:

    Keeping in view the size, resources and the dynamics of the market in which it is operating, why should a medium size firm go for branding? Explain with logics.

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