Relevant strategies for small-business growth
By ANNA FREDERICK
Every great company is sustained by its tribe. When your business is just getting off the ground, a significant amount of effort goes into building a reliable customer base and a recognizable brand.
In order for your business to thrive, you need to attract the right customers, who can then spread the word to their friends.
What separates the right customers from the wrong ones? Essentially, the right customers will be excited about what you are creating and interested in developing a long-term relationship with your business. This means they will continue to purchase your goods and services time and again, recommend your business to their friends and family, and in some cases, make your brand a part of their lifestyle and image.
The determining factor in attracting and keeping the customers you want is your vibe. What impression are you leaving on the people who come in contact with you?
Here are some strategies and ideas for attracting a solid, enthusiastic customer base through clarifying the message of your brand, being intentional about the reputation you create, and retaining a passionate tribe.
Focus and Limit Objectives
To maximize capital for producing growth, keep your objectives focused and limited. This has often been described as “finding a niche.” Many small businesses tank because they diversify too soon, attempting to offer the most options to the largest audience. However, in the beginning stages of a business, the principal goal is to build a foundation of loyal, enthusiastic customers who will return again and again, and recommend your product or service to others. This is accomplished by sharpening your strengths, and excluding the rest.
What does your business do better than the competitors? Focus on delivering quality work time after time, and in doing so, you are building trust with your customers.
When you do decide to diversify, choose only areas that you are sure can be performed with excellence. Consider the ubiquitous quick service restaurant chain, McDonald’s. You can find it in 119 countries, and choose from over 100 menu items. For its first 14 years, however, McDonald’s served only hamburgers and fries, building their reputation for quick service and delicious food.
Over the years, the chain began to grow and extended its offerings to appeal to a wide spectrum of consumers. Ultimately, the “overcrowded menu” has caused a severe decline in quality, which is leading to the loss of customers to competing restaurants like the small-menu “fast casual” restaurant Five Guys.
Conversely, another quick service chain has focused on one unique menu item: the chicken sandwich. Since 1946, Chick-fil-A has kept their menu relatively limited, simple, and focused on the single concept of excellent chicken. Today, the restaurant is still thriving, supported by fans who are not just committed, but actually enthusiastic about the brand and who can’t get enough chicken.
Chick-fil-A isn’t attempting to cater to the masses, and because of that, they have kept their menu items dependably fresh and exceptional while sustaining astronomical growth. In 2015, Business Insider reported that Chick-fil-A “generates more revenue per restaurant than any other fast food chain in the US.” The numbers speak for themselves. Keeping a determined focus leads to solid growth.
Another relevant strategy in attracting the customers you want is to improve your branding. Simply put, branding is the story that allows the consumer to connect with your product or service. It differs from marketing in the sense that branding is the surface of your company, your “personality” so to speak, separate from but communicated through advertising.
Branding lets consumers know who you are and what you will do, but it is more than that. It is your first impression and the way you convey your individuality and purpose.
Consumers are attracted by the narrative in which you are inviting them to participate, and they are looking for products that complement their lifestyles and self-perceptions. For example, the Apple computer corporation is well-known for its excellent products, but to its tribe of loyal customers the brand means even more. Apple products convey an image of cutting-edge technology, elegant design, and exclusive class.
Historically, the brand has produced the best of the best in consumer electronics, intentionally and rigorously building a reputation for delivering elite-level products. The customers they attract generally reflect this.
Consider the story and aesthetic your branding communicates. Do you have integrity and clarity? To tell your story effectively, it is worthwhile to begin by investing in compelling visuals and communication tools such as a memorable logo, an easy-to-navigate website, and well-maintained social media outlets.
Current thought maintains that consumers are increasingly attracted to aesthetics as much as to the actual product. If you keep your communication consistent and authentic, your product will appeal to the right people.
Build and Guard Relationships
The third and arguably most important aspect of customer attraction and retention is that of customer relationships.
Customers are the most effective means of marketing, positive or otherwise, because we are all far more likely to trust our friend’s experience over the avowals of an advertisement. Therefore, in order to expand your tribe you must delight them again and again.
While it is your promises that attract them, it is your delivery that keeps them. Dependable, consistent service is at the top of the list. I know whenever I order coffee beans from my favorite supplier I will receive a good-quality product promptly and at a reasonable price. Trust has been built, and subsequently I am open to trying a range of new varieties from the same supplier in addition to my favorites, and I continue to order regularly.
Equally important to customer relationships, thorough communication between the business and customers is vital. If customers feel they have an active connection with the brand, they will consider it a sense of belonging and remain loyal. This involves quickly responding to any problems and doing your best to offer satisfactory solutions. If communication is open, accessible, and friendly, customers will be gratified.
To offer a negative example of this, I recently attempted to make an appointment at a local healthcare office. I filled out an online appointment-request form, but received no confirmation or reply. I called the office and was referred to voicemail, where I left a message stating my intentions. I never received any answer, even after repeated calls. If the office had made some attempt at communication, even to tell me they were not currently accepting patients, I might be willing to try again later! As it was, I transferred my business elsewhere. Staying proactive in customer relationships is essential in any case.
The vibe of your organization is well within your control. With a well-defined purpose, intentional branding, and exceptional customer relationships, you can attract and keep the tribe you want, leading to a loyal customer base and solid growth. What’s your vibe?