What Small Businesses Can Learn From Big Business Marketing

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Outside of the patent world, you don’t get credit for originality — only for results. So when you run a small business but aspire to reach a much greater level of success, it’s only sensible to draw inspiration from those who’ve already made it to that level: big companies that operate very publicly (making it possible to track their activities) and share their expertise as authorities.

This is particularly useful for marketing, because you can carefully chart the historical growth strategy of a brand if you deem it useful. You can’t always replicate the tactics you find, of course (you won’t have comparable resources, or a brand with similar potency), but you can derive some valuable lessons about how you should operate.

For the moment, let’s leave aside specific companies and get into the generalities. As a broad primer, here’s what small businesses can learn from enterprise-scale marketing:

Automation is key to efficiency

When you’re just starting out, you tend to do everything manually, including your marketing. This grants you total creative control and allows you to turn on a dime to suit different targets — but it can’t last. The more you grow your business, the more your marketing needs will grow, and you’ll soon find that it takes far too long to painstakingly run through every campaign.

Big businesses heavily automate their marketing because it’s the only way to scale to the required extent. Some elements can’t be meaningfully automated (such as writing copy — though there are exceptions through machine learning services such as Phrasee), but elements such as delivery and personalization are perfectly suited to it.

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Look at it this way: the fact that a small business owner can run all their marketing manually doesn’t mean they should. Small-scale automation can still be worthwhile through lessening your workload and freeing up time that you can put towards pitching to your biggest prospects. Queue up social media posts, set your marketing emails to trigger, and you’ll get more efficient.

A strong reputation is mission-critical

Think about Ferrari. What springs to mind first? Is it a specific car? A driver? An engineering feat? Or is it a general air of quality that can conceivably extend past motoring to completely different fields? It’s just one example of a brand that has become so firmly entrenched in the public consciousness that the brand itself is the selling point.

What all the top businesses understand is that brand reputation is massively important to the long-term success of a business, far beyond anything about specific products or services. Those will come and go, but the reputation will linger, nebulous but incredibly influential.

This is why large companies invest so much in social media engagement, and why they’re so afraid of making marketing mistakes. It’s also a large part of why they keep PR firms on retainer, pursue charitable associations, and set out laudable company values. They want to firmly associate their names with positive thoughts.

Does reputation matter as broadly if you run a small business? No, because it won’t have the same kind of market penetration. Most people simply won’t know that your business exists. But it matters just as much for your target audience. The smaller the business, the more important referral business is — and reputation drives (or deters) referrals.

Loyalty is the lifeblood of business

If you closely monitor the marketing materials of any legacy brand (any company that has been recognizable for many years, really), you’ll notice that it embraces the nostalgia and openly appreciates all those who have supported it. There will often be a mention of family — trying to depict long-time customers as irrevocable parts of the extended business.

This is done because it’s effective, and it’s effective because loyalty is what makes businesses stable. It keeps them in operation when trends move against them, as they inevitably do from time to time. Many companies try and fail to overcome the churn (the frustrating process of fighting to bring in new customers to replace old ones), but it’s smarter to find ways to avoid it.

What this means for your marketing is that you need to adopt a long-term view, consistently targeting people already inclined to view you positively. A strategy that prioritizes retargeting over reaching out to strangers is going to convert more effectively (the aforementioned automation is great for customer retention). And you can still get new customers: not only will loyal customers refer you to their friends, but their enthusiastic testimonials about your business will be supremely useful for your materials.

There’s always something to improve

You might look at a huge international brand that’s become a household name and ask yourself one question: “Why bother marketing at all?” — after all, it’s clearly entrenched in popular culture, and people are going to buy its products no matter what happens, so why promote? Surely it’s time to sit back, relax, and watch the profits roll in.

But it’s that kind of mindset that prevents small businesses from growing. They tick things off, assuming that they’ve optimized them. Create a slogan, check. Build a new website, check. Produce a brochure, check. But that slogan likely shouldn’t be your last slogan. It’s just your latest attempt to improve upon what came before it, and you’ll soon enough come up with something new to outperform that.

Big businesses keep marketing heavily because they know they simply cannot rest on their laurels. No company is too big to fail if it stops making an effort. Coca-Cola is a massive company, but it can still get bigger: it can capture more of the market, sell more types of product, reach new audiences, and appeal to new generations. And if it ceased all marketing, might it one day be supplanted by a comparable product? The company doesn’t want to find out, so it won’t take that risk.

To quickly recap, small businesses should use automation where possible, focus on building their reputations and winning customer loyalty, and keep improving. If you don’t adapt to the changing times, you’ll be left behind.

Image credit: Pixabay

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