The Web has made it possible for mom and pop businesses to recapture the advantages of the corner store, where everybody knew your name. The Internet has leveled the playing field so that small businesses not only have a chance to beat large impersonal corporations.
One example of this is Abe’s Market, an online business that opened a year ago, which sells natural, organic and eco-friendly products from more than 180 small businesses around the country. The founders, Chicago entrepreneurs Jon Polin and Richard Demb, are using story marketing – old-fashioned storytelling – to set themselves apart from both the brick-and-mortar big-box stores and online mammoth companies such as eBay and Amazon.
Their secret capitalizes on a principle that everyone learns in Marketing 101 – people want to do business with people they know and like. Because of the Web, it’s possible for people to know – or at least feel that they know – merchants from anywhere in the world. Polin and Demb have harnessed this power by setting up individual profile pages, called seller stories, to introduce themselves to customers.
By reading Abe’s Market stories through their Web site, you can connect with the vendors as people with unique back-stories. You can learn that 3B Bags was started by two women, Staci Samuelson and Jeanie Waner, who designed the reusable produce bags to replace the single-use plastic bags that end up in the ocean or landfills. At the Bocce’s Bakery profile, you’ll find that Bocce is a scruffy dog that inspired owner Andrea to make organic dog biscuits.
If you’re a small (or not so small) business owner, there are so many opportunities to use the same strategy to market your company. Tell your story on your Web site. Let your personality show through on your social media sites. Being professional does not mean being impersonal. Let your fans know about your interests and opinions. Don’t be a talking head – be authentic and human. Even let your warts show every now and then. Confess your mistakes with humility, and your customers and fans will not only forgive you, they’ll bond with your brand.
Branding has never been about logos and tag lines – it’s about claiming your differences and making them your strengths. Everyone’s story is unique; by telling your story, you automatically set yourself apart from your competitors. Just as the fictional TV bar Cheers was the place “where everybody knows your name,” your brand can become the favorite “hangout” by getting personal with your customers.
Photo: Cheers Bar from Caitlinator