Customers’ interests and habits have fundamentally shifted following COVID-19’s onset, with 75% of consumers reporting they’ve engaged in new shopping behaviors since the pandemic’s arrival, per a 2020 surveys of 2,006 shoppers by consulting firm McKinsey. These shifts in behavior are expected to continue impacting the marketplace long after the crisis recedes, with availability, convenience and value now the strongest drivers of buyers’ purchasing intent going forward.
Noting these changes, as well as double-digit growth in online shopping across dozens of categories from groceries and household supplies to home furnishings and apparel, small businesses are no longer just competing with countless rivals who are now just one click or call away. As I point out in my recent book Fast >> Forward: How to Turbo-Charge Business, Sales, and Career Growth, from a messaging standpoint, they are also competing to stand out in consumers’ minds as both likable and essential. For these firms, that means having to rethink the fundamental way that they market and promote their brands.
Putting Your Company’s Core Value Proposition in Focus
In the coming months, it will become increasingly critical for your organization to convey what makes you an essential business partner in addition to what sets you apart from competitors at a glance. That’s because in challenging economic times such as these, customer attitudes often shift away from discretionary purchases (wants) and towards those that they instead see as must-haves (needs). Moreover, with today’s shoppers now exposed to thousands of marketing messages a day, and audiences both more informed and operating under tighter constraints than prior generations, buyers are also becoming much choosier. By way of example, per McKinsey’s findings, key reasons that shoppers cited for trying a new brand in recent months included:
- Products were available and in-stock where they were shopping
- Better pricing and promotions
- Superior quality or value, and/or larger package sizes
- Lower shipping or delivery costs
- Natural, organic or more hygienic offerings
- To support local businesses or worthy causes
- To reward a company that treats its employees well
In addition to the traditional areas that marketers often look to compete around (price, promotion,, product/service quality) you’ll notice that several new categories of attributes now influence purchase intent. Specifically, factors such as the general convenience and accessibility a brand offers, the extent to which it seeks to impact shoppers’ health and wellness, and how much of a commitment the company has made to champion healthy work habits and social good. This means that going forward, to be successful as a business leader, marketing and advertising efforts shouldn’t simply focus on promoting the functional or technical benefits that any given solution of yours offers. Rather, they should also tell a larger story about the core values that your company stands for, the practical everyday problem-solving upsides your solutions provide, and what uniquely sets you apart in your industry or market.
With just seconds to grab and hold the modern-day reader or viewers’ attention, remember: It’s crucial to have something meaningful to say—and to stand out at a glance.
The process of distinguishing yourself from competitors does not need to be difficult, time-consuming or expensive. Finding ways to stand out is primarily function of how you choose to position yourself. A few cost-effective and clever strategies that upstart brands and smaller companies are using to pique customers’ interest and go toe-to-toe with larger concerns today here include:
- Introducing offbeat, creative and eye-catching packaging and messaging
- Taking a contrarian stance on common business practices or beliefs
- Piggybacking on topics that are trending online or in news media outlets
- Adding innovative twists or colorful touches to familiar products
- Designing solutions for niche audiences and dedicated communities
- Supporting charitable causes
- Putting an emphasis on social good and community impact
- Prioritizing responsible sourcing of parts and ingredients
- Championing underrepresented audiences and topics
- Going greener and instituting more eco-friendly practices
Going forward, successfully promoting a company and brand won’t just be about emphasizing the value, quality or convenience of products and services that you offer. Instead, it will also be about telling a larger story about your organization’s mission and the values that it stands for, how it aims to better the lives of its customers, and the positive impact that it’s seeking to make on the world at large. The more that you showcase your firm’s singular personality in promotions, and how it’s trying to make a positive impact in the world around it, the easier it can be for audiences to identify with and get behind you in years to come. Likewise, the clearer the picture that you paint regarding how quickly and easily you can help others meet pressing needs, the likelier they will be to engage with you. With just seconds to grab and hold the modern-day reader or viewers’ attention, remember: It’s crucial to have something meaningful to say—and to stand out at a glance.
Designing Communications Campaigns and Messages That Resonate
As for actual brand messaging itself, there are several important points to keep in mind if you want to immediately jump out at observers and hold their attention. These include:
Focus on Problem-Solving
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and consider: What key pain points (challenges) are audiences facing, and how can you quickly address them? Rather than emphasize product or service attributes first, begin by emphasizing what these solutions can do for prospective clients.
Keep Messaging Short and Simple
Your core value proposition should easily be conveyable in less than 10-15 seconds (for video or audio spots) or two to three sentences (for copywritten materials). No more than 1-3 key unique sales points (USPs) that differentiate your brand should be promoted in any supporting materials. Any copy you use should be broken up to be more digestible as well: Bullet points, subheads and captions can help you quickly get messages across without employing lengthy blocks of text.
Lead with a Catchy Hook
If you’re not immediately memorable from the get-go, forget about capturing, let alone holding, audiences’ interest. Whatever hook you choose to lead with (humor, authority, quirkiness, urgency, empathy, etc.), make sure it leaps off the page, screen or script straight out of the gate.
Use Visual Elements to Simplify Complex Concepts
Illustrations, charts, graphs, infographics, explainer videos… all should also be employed to help catch audiences’ eyes and rapidly convey complex information at a glimpse. Think of them as a form of mental shorthand that can help audiences more rapidly get a handle on sophisticated ideas and concepts.
Establish Thought Leadership
Ultimately, your goal isn’t to command audiences’ attention. Rather, it’s to make them reconsider their situation, revisit scenarios from fresh angles, and—having reimagined their current state of affairs in context—embrace your brand as their new number one, go-to problem-solving resource. That means making them think, making them feel and making them open themselves to the possibility of seeing the world in new ways as well.
Dig deeper, and you’ll note that the goal of these promotional efforts isn’t just to engage audiences and create a sense of emotional resonance—it’s also to educate, inspire and inform them. Ultimately, small businesses aren’t just competing with other like-minded firms for a share of shoppers’ disposable income these days. They’re also competing for customers’ enthusiasm, loyalty and mindshare—all increasingly difficult, and increasingly valuable, commodities.
Photo: Getty Images