Why Small Companies Have an Advantage Over the Big Guys

One of the books published this past year has special resonance for the small business audience. Greg Verdino's microMARKETING (Mc
January 19, 2011

One of the books published this past year has special resonance for the small business audience. Greg Verdino's microMARKETING (McGraw Hill, 2010) tells how companies can get big results by acting very small.


That seems like a big fat Duh!, right? Aren’t small businesses, by definition, already “thinking small”? Aren’t they naturally “micro-marketers”?


Yes, Greg says. Typically, the bigger the business is, the more likely it is to struggle with the approaches he presents in the book. Micromarketing requires a business to be quick and nimble; emphasizes human-scale, one-on-one interactions; and maintains a maniacal focus on super-serving niche audiences (or “microcultures”). The best small businesses already think and act this way, rather than trying to be all things to all people.


The problem is that although most small businesses are born micromarketers, many lose that advantage by trying to market like the big boys. The trick to success, is to tap into your inherent strengths, Greg said.


Q: What’s the biggest mistake small businesses make when it comes to marketing?


A: Many small businesses still turn to traditional mass marketing tactics that they feel are likely to make them “look big”—print ads, radio advertising, event sponsorships, out-of-home, even spot television. What micromarketing allows small business owners to do is rethink how they invest in marketing; identify more economical and more effective ways to engage their core audiences by using social media, content creation, customer-centricity and influencer relations; and turn being small into a real competitive advantage.


Q: What do you really mean by “marketing small,” or “micromarketing”?


A: We all know what mass marketing looks like—grand gestures, splashy creative and big-budget media buys designed to reach and appeal to the widest possible audience. The problem? This type of marketing is less likely than ever to actually appeal to anyone at all. In large part, this is due to the splintering of mass culture into millions of niche microcultures, and the hyper-fragmentation of mass media into an infinite channel microcontent universe (in other words, that pesky social media thing).


In microMARKETING, my thesis is that in today’s environment, businesses can achieve better results by tapping directly into these trends—or, as I say, by “thinking and acting small”—than they can by bucking against them and pining for the good old days of Super Bowl spots and homepage takeovers.


In contrast to mass marketing, micromarketing emphasizes the use of small gestures (like one-on-one, person-to-person interactions), simple social media approaches and the amplification effect you get when the right people start spreading their interpretations of your messages and content throughout their social graphs.


Q: Speaking of content, one of my favorite tenets of the book is the importance of creating “microcontent” as you term it. What is microcontent, as you define it?


A: Think of microcontent as all the bite-sized (or maybe byte-sized) pieces of information and entertainment we create and share on the social Web: our tweets, our photos, our short Facebook or LinkedIn status updates, shared links with a sentence or two of commentary as to why we’re sharing, all those two- or three-minute YouTube videos.


I use the term microcontent to contrast all of this with the more conventional notion of content—long articles, television shows, movies, books, etc.—that have generally been the domain of mass media outlets.



Q: And what's its role in small business marketing?

A: Microcontent is important for two main reasons. First, it is small enough to be created, shared, consumed and shared again quickly and easily on social networks.


Second, the barrier to entry is low so anyone can do it. As a result, microcontent has become a currency of the socially connected—people love it when their friends share bits of content that are cool, interesting, informative, entertaining, funny, shocking or eye-opening.


And for a business, understanding how to make the microcontent that connected consumers will want to share (hint: your ads probably don’t count), or how you can partner with consumers who will create compelling microcontent that is relevant to your brand, provides new ways to get the word out about your company, products and services without spending a lot of money on paid media buys.


Q: I like your Think Small Action Plan worksheet in the back of the book. I liked the way it creates utility for your readers, or gives the framework for their own action plan.


A: I didn’t want to write the kind of book business people get fired up about while they’re reading it, but then forget about as soon as they close the cover (or power down the Kindle). I wanted the book to translate into action.


While I was diligent about presenting my thinking about not only what worked but also how and why it worked (not to mention what the results were), I wanted to offer readers something that brought the principles into sharp focus and made it crystal-clear how they could apply my ideas to their own businesses.


The action plan does exactly that, and a number of people have reached out to me after reading the book to let me know that completing the worksheet—all 40 questions of it—changed the way they market their businesses today.


Q: One of my favorite stories in the book is about B&H Photo-Video in Manhattan, in part because I've done business with them online (and was impressed with their customer-friendly focus). And in part because I loved their philosophy, as you describe in the book: “If you're looking for proof that micromarketing (or even social media in general) has little to do with technology and everything to do with humanity, Henry's story provides it better than any other example in the book.” So what's your favorite story from the book?


A: This question is a bit like asking a parent which child they love the most, isn’t it? What I like overall about the stories from the book is that they are all so different: Some focusing on small businesses like B&H Photo-Video; some about big businesses experimenting with new approaches and getting it right; some that look at what individual consumers have accomplished and what businesses can learn from them.


One of my favorite stories, though, is about Lauren Luke. As an unemployed single mom in the north of England, she started uploading low-gloss makeup tutorial videos on YouTube as a means of promoting her fledgling cosmetics retail store on eBay. Over time, her videos earned her a tremendous amount of attention, and on the strength of that she forged a partnership with a marketing agency to launch her own cosmetics line, By Lauren Luke.


Today, her line is available at Sephora and sold on QVC. She has a book out and there’s even a Nintendo DS game that bears her name and likeness. In the book, I walk through all the micro-tactics she used to get where she is today, and I find her story very inspiring—it’s a classic Cinderella story that proves even the most unlikely person can achieve big success if they work hard and do the right things to get there.


Q: What micro-tactics did you use to market microMARKETING?

A: Of course, I began with all the basic blocking and tackling—a Facebook fan page, a dedicated Twitter account, a book site that is essentially just a blog that aggregates all the microcontent I create and share on my main blog, Twitter account, Facebook page and Flickr feed (photos from events, tweetups, presentations, etc).


But two micro-tactics stand out for me: The first was a blogger outreach campaign with a twist. Rather than blanket the entire marketing blogosphere with “please review me” emails, I worked with my publicist to handpick only 30 or so influencers, each of whom had a very clear affinity for one of the topics or case studies presented in the book. We asked each to write a “microreview” of just one carefully chosen chapter, and post it on a specific date. Matching the right blogger to the right chapter was critical, and we really did our homework (something that, as you know, many businesses don’t do before approaching influencers).


For example, we asked C.C. Chapman to review Chapter 8 because it focuses heavily on content creation in general, podcasting in particular (C.C. has been an avid podcaster for years), and features a story about one of C.C.’s friends—the author J.C. Hutchins. Of course, he agreed to participate.


The book has nine chapters (plus the worksheet) and we aimed for two to three reviews per chapter. So over the course of two weeks, two dozen bloggers posted their microreviews in a coordinated fashion. The result was lots of buzz over this two-week period, a win-win situation in which I got coverage and the bloggers got link love (most linked to their co-reviewers), and a nice Amazon sales spike.


The second favorite micro-tactic was a one-day partnership with Jason Sadler of IWearYourShirt.com. Jason and his partner Evan literally wore shocking-yellow microMARKETING t-shirts for one day as they created a bunch of microcontent (mostly photos and videos) that they shared with their followers on social sites. They get paid to do this and, yes, they make a nice living at it. That day saw the book hit its highest Amazon sales rank, plus they tripled the number of fans on the book’s Facebook page.


Image credit: Memotions



Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs and the co-author of the brand new book Content Rules (Wiley, 2011). Follow her on Twitter @marketingprofs.