One of the most important principles advanced in his now classic “Guerrilla Marketing” by Jay Conrad Levinson is that small businesses can achieve success, even against large competitors because they can now conduct highly effective marketing at a fraction of the cost. At the heart of his “Guerrilla” strategies is the use of internet marketing and social media. The fast growing Digital Advertising industry is considered by many to be proof positive of this phenomenon because many of them cater to mostly small and medium sized businesses.
Many of us take the view however that: 1) We would like to see conclusive results that small business owners who invest their scarce time and financial resources in online marketing reap a substantial return on investment. 2) It has become increasingly competitive and demanding to develop and maintain effective e-mail, blogging and social media campaigns. 3) Many big companies have ‘smartened up’ and now have individuals and even departments dedicated to overseeing digital marketing. They can also engage the best agencies by out-spending their small business counterparts.
So – is Levinson’s premise of 10 years ago still valid or is it a Myth that small businesses have a competitive edge over the Goliaths of their industry? I think the honest answer lies somewhere in between. In spite of the barriers cited there are many examples of small companies that have made it big through the highly effective use of internet marketing and outstanding use of social media. Here are three of the most striking, particularly because of the strength of their major competitors:
• Dollar Shave Club – As a newcomer to the shaving products industry in 2012, the California based company grew its sales from $4 million to $150 million just 3 years later and are poised to take a hard run at global giant Gillette which has 70% market share. A quick look at the company’s brash, in-your-face, breakthrough video tells the story. It quickly went viral and received an AdAge award in 2012 http://ca.dollarshaveclub.com. The company is also active and growing in Canada.
• TrueCar – A relative newcomer to the “Negotiation-free” car buying and selling industry, this Santa Monica, California company competes with well established industry icons such as AutoTrader.com and Edmunds.com. Largely through its highly effective online marketing strategy, it has grown to 2015 revenues of $260 million, with 750,000 new cars and light trucks sold to TrueCar users.
• Coconut Bliss – Founded in 2004 in Oregon this Specialty Ice Cream maker has grown by leaps and bounds, making major inroads in the US market long dominated by household favourites Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs.Though a private company, its sales are estimated to be in the $20 – $25 million range. While the husband and wife founders, Luna Marcus and Larry Kaplowitz initially relied almost entirely on house parties and taste testing they quickly moved on to an intensive internet marketing strategy. The company is well known for making major new product announcements on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. Here’s a great example of what’s worked so well for them: http://alturl.com/vj6mu
Whether a large number of small businesses can achieve similarly positive results is a question not easily resolved as it ultimately depends on how committed the small business owner or manager is to an online marketing strategy. Equally important, of course is how effective he or she is in the execution. Probably, the most compelling argument for implementing an ambitious and aggressive internet marketing program is made by Nicole Leinbach-Reyhle in her Forbes article on the subject. In it she bluntly points out that “the single most important reason you need to be consistently and efficiently using online marketing as part of your sales strategy… customers. Customers are online, which mean you need to be, too.” http://alturl.com/p8jm4
From experience gained in my practice … as Google’s business coach for Canada, working with owners and executives of digital agencies, but also with clients across all industries, I wholeheartedly agree. The only issue really facing small businesses is how to develop and execute superior internet marketing strategies that will generate a strong customer base and revenues!!