“Regrets are born of paths never taken.” – Michael Dell, Chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies
It’s hard to imagine Michael Dell, one of the world’s richest people, as a small business owner. But, nearly 35 years ago, he was a 19-year-old college student with $1,000 and a passion for technology. It was from his dorm room he began upgrading personal computers for resell. And, it was that same year Dell abandoned his studies as a pre-med student and chose his path. He would take, what was then, Dell Computer Corporation to the next level.
One can imagine the road to become one of Fortune’s top 100 companies, among other accolades, which is no doubt full of peaks and valleys. Still, Dell stayed true to innovation, regardless of the risk he faced. In fact, he believes it’s when entrepreneurs and companies don’t take gambles that they put their business at risk. To him, it’s the time when opportunity is lost. And, based on his success, it’s obvious he’s on to something. Yet, a Forbes article reveals risk is not the norm for small businesses when it comes to marketing. It tells “most wait until there’s proof a tactic works.” This is despite ongoing changes in consumer behavior and technology, which any business owner must rise to meet to stay relevant.
At the same time, small businesses must stay strategic as it relates to resource allocation, knowing the climb to the top is steep. This is especially true in today’s retail environment, where the customer experience is paramount. The good news is, in exploring new paths, small businesses may not only survive – they may find great success, like Dell. And, what better time to take chances than when the spotlight is on your small business during Small Business Saturday. It’s fast approaching in both the U.S. and the U.K. and full of opportunity.
Small Business Saturday began in the United States in 2010. And, by 2012, consumers were spending $5.5 billion with local businesses on that day. Three years later, in 2015, sales were almost three times that amount – a whopping $16.2 billion. But, that was the peak. In the two years since, they’ve declined, with 2017’s holiday closing at $12.9 billion.
The outcome was different in the U.K., with last year’s holiday the country’s most successful to date at £748 million. This was up from 2016’s score of £717 million, which was a 15% increase over 2015. Sales aren’t the only area for growth though. Support from local authorities rose seven percent to 87% and included a bus tour, free parking, and events to drive traffic. It also didn’t hurt to have the endorsements of the Prime Minister and celebrities such as Alexa Chung.
There’s no doubt the small businesses of both countries have experienced tremendous benefit from the introduction of Small Business Saturday. But, in one, there is decline, and in the other, the success is in part dependent on the backing by others. So, what if they didn’t wait on other businesses to prove marketing tactics? What if they took new paths, new risks to improve the customer experience and drive sales?
The demand for an experience starts with our largest generation, millennials, who now have the most buying power of any generation. Even better, the group is also made of small business fans. That’s because these Main Street retailers and local restaurants, for examples, seem to offer a more authentic experience than that of their more sizable rivals. So, as you develop strategies for Small Business Saturday, consider what paths may lead these consumers through your front door.
The following can help you boost your traffic, your customer experience, and your sales.
Loyal shoppers will show up on your special day. But, don’t expect others to do so without notice or good reason. Put the work in to let people know they should do business with you – and why – this Small Business Saturday. Your email lists and social media sites are obvious sources to spread the word. Yet, you can take efforts to a new level with guerrilla marketing.
One simple means is by using a street team. Street teams offer affordability, as they only require capable people to share your message with passersby in targeted locations. (Think malls and high-traffic shopping centers on Black Friday!) Yet, brands can enhance the encounter when street teams offer digital coupons or product samples. It’s a great chance to give consumers a feel for your brand, direct traffic to your location, and begin relationships.
When you let people get an in-depth view of your products through demonstrations, they’re more likely to buy. And, the more creative product demos are, the better your chances. Bring in mixologists who can show how to make holiday beverages using your locally-crafted cocktail mixers. Enlist brand ambassadors to make and handout samples of your cold-pressed juice from a pop-up location to keep people’s energy up while shopping. Or, set up stations to help kids get hands-on with a few of this year’s hottest toys. These types of initiatives not only add value to your offerings, but also to consumer experiences – often with minimal effort.
If you’re a retailer, you know customer-centric tailoring was positioned to be the consumer engagement strategy of 2018 and beyond. And, you may have thought that a fully-custom consumer experience needed high-tech tools or was out of your budget. Think again. Consumers’ idea of personalization isn’t what many brands believe. Consumers want you to provide “memorable and emotional experiences” that make them “feel valued.” And, with this being a stressful time of year due to its hustle and bustle, a little effort can go a long way.
Brand activations might include personality quizzes that guide consumers to the best product in your suite. Or for a spirits or beverage brand, it might allow attendees to craft the perfect cocktail using your product, then provide them with a custom recipe card to replicate their creation at home. Small things like this can make a big impact in terms of making attendees feel that the experience is “all about them.”
An Inc.com headline reads, “90 Percent of Small Business Owners Expect a Great 2018—Yet Nobody’s Hiring.” Instead, the new norm is to run “lean” despite revenue growth. The reason is “small business owners have learned to do more with less.” Plus, “growing sales without growing payroll” is said to look “pretty good to most business owners.” But, does that make it the right path, especially with the holiday season approaching?
The answer, according to a Forbes article, is no. Without optimal staffing, its reasoning follows that of Dell. Opportunity is lost. In fact, a study says businesses lose out on an extra 10% in sales, an increase that likely outweighs labor costs. Yet, it’s also important to consider how new people can enhance the customer experience, meaning you shouldn’t hire just any warm body. Make sure seasonal employees bring the skills and personality you need to ensure people spend money with you, knowing U.S. holiday spending may reach $720 billion. In the U.K., recent reports show online spending is growing at a “fast rate,” so all brick-and-mortar retailers must prepare to take risks to get their share.
The main purpose of experiential marketing is to give consumers a great experience. Yet, it also serves to show what’s behind your name and logo. This means, even if your retail marketing strategies or other marketing strategies need to be refined or take new paths, they should always give people an authentic look at your brand.
If your style is simple, execute uncomplicated, yet creative experiences. If your offerings are upscale, never offer incentives that make it anything less. The bottom line is to be authentic. And, this makes it important that your event staff, whether street teams, product specialists, brand ambassadors, or others, convey the same.
As a last tip, don’t save these experiences for Small Business Saturday and other special occasions. Experiential marketing is a great means for generating traffic and business year-round. Use each activation as a stepping stone to your next great experience, never following the crowd and never regretting the paths you chose for your business.
At Elevate, we are proud to provide event and experiential staffing services for brands large and small. We are also passionate about bringing great content to our community each week. Subscribe to our blog to get great articles and insight in your inbox each week.