There are an abundance of articles out there that discuss what small businesses can learn from big companies. I get it; process, research, calculated risk, etc. But surely big businesses can also learn from the little guy? When I got it in my head that I would write this reverse angle, I assumed it would be equally overplayed in story form. But unless my Googling skills are in dire condition, that’s not the case.

Having worked alongside large brands and inside of small businesses, exchange of knowledge would be beneficial on both sides. However, I do have a soft spot for the small business. And, when it comes to digital marketing, there is much to be gleaned from how they do it.

Disclaimer: When I speak of small businesses – I’m speaking of those small, scrappy companies (product or service oriented) that value digital marketing and do all they can do with it. I am also not suggesting that some big companies aren’t grasping some of these principles (see: Dominos, Delta).

1. Agility Leads to Creativity

Agility is defined as “having quick, resourceful and adaptable character.” This is something small businesses have in bucket loads, adapting constantly to the changing needs of the business, the industry and their customers. A constant state of adaptability breeds creativity; being unencumbered by process and procedure and the opinions of many frees the way to swiftness and creative thinking. As the old adage goes, “too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the soup.” It’s where problem solving turns into original ideas. Innovations like online reviews were developed in small business (notably popularized by Only in the past couple of years have risk-adverse big brands taken to online reviews. And that’s not an insignificant gap, considering the research available today that shows the important role online reviews play in buying decisions for web-connected consumers (see: 84% of Americans say online customer evaluations influence their decisions about whether to purchase products or services. Online Research Corporation)


Take Away: Innovation breeds in small groups. In large companies, task forces could be used to accomplish a similar purpose.

2. Relationships with Customers Are Defining

Generally speaking at least, a dissatisfied customer of a large brand will do little immediate or lasting damage. However, flip that to a small business and even a single dissatisfied customer can mean failure. Always on alert, small businesses begin to anticipate problems, react quickly and respond with a personal effort. Soon, relationships with customers begin to define the business. Ways to improve the interactions between company and customer become more important. It drives choices about website functionality or even the messages that are communicated through digital channels. Call it research without the research.

Take Away: Customer relationships should play a role in informing digital marketing decisions. Seems simple enough; maybe even words wasted on large firms who hire research companies to do just this kind of intelligence. But it’s not the same as the intimate learnings taken by small businesses in their interactions with customers. Big brands can supplement their research by using feet on the ground and social listening – to push towards innovation rather than status quo.

3. Digital Marketing is About Experience Not Flare

Sure, small businesses love some creative oomph, lots of buzz or a viral campaign that takes off. And it definitely happens. But, digital marketing for these companies, particularly when it comes to website design, is driven by usability. The easier it is for a person to use their site, or to develop a connection with the company, the more likely they are to buy and to recommend. So every effort is made to break down barriers to purchase. This happens with more consistently at small companies. Largely because site revamps are dramatically expensive and cumbersome for large brands. Fnctionality and upgrades then to feel grafted on. Small businesses also tend to view usability not just from a functional angle, but from a social one; “Social Usability.”  This is particularly important when it comes to ecommerce. In fact, I spoke about this in some detail in a recent blog post about Social Commerce. Creating a user experiences that values UX in equal measure to social context is the future of online shopping. And it’s small businesses that are capturing it first.

Take Away: Large companies can create micro experiences (microsites, social integration and experiences, etc). And focusing efforts on where the most drive-to-purchase value is will drive business. Big biz –  take a note from Delta’s playbook:fans can now book flights directly from Facebook. See below.



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