Why Big Companies are Dying to Look Small

Some large companies are taking on the persona of the "little guy" to endear their brands to customers.
February 28, 2014

There’s been plenty written about small businesses trying to look bigger. There’s another, even more interesting trend happening, however: Large corporations trying to look very small.

Consider the booming craft beer industry. Shock Top Brewery is the fastest-growing craft beer maker in the United States, according to a recent survey by Moody’s. It easily beat out other popular craft brews such as Lagunitas Brewing and Kona Brewing Company.

 

Shock Top Brewery

 

What many beer drinkers may not realize, however, is that Shock Top isn’t the edgy, independently owned brewery from Missouri that it presents itself as on its packaging and website. It’s just one of the many brands made by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer by sales.

Listing Shock Top as a craft brew has sparked debate over whether it’s fair to put a beer made by a huge corporation in the same category as legitimately small craft brews. The “line between craft and corporate is getting even more blurry, as beer giants have embarked on a buying binge of small regional breweries,” according to The Atlantic’s business news website Quartz.

The beer business is only one industry in which many big companies are increasingly presenting their brands as small, even quirky, startups. It’s happening in all sorts of industries from technology to food to consumer products.

Many large companies are scooping up fast-growing startups (WhatsApp, anyone?) and not emblazoning their corporate brands on them. In fact, these corporations make the strategic call that it’s better to keep a business looking like a small, independently owned company than part of a huge corporate machine.

 

WhatsApp

 

Everything from their websites to their marketing to their Twitter feed may give the impression they’re just a small, growing business.

This trend presents a challenge to legitimately small companies. Being small is a differentiation point and something a small business can use to stand out and forge a connection with customers. As the appearance between small and large companies becomes murkier, it’s harder for small businesses to use their intimacy and small status to their advantage.

But beyond the challenges, it’s also a good sign. The popularity of looking small suggests that many small businesses should embrace their size and recognize the benefits it offers. 

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Photo: Getty Images, Shocktopbeer.com, Cassandra Hubbart