Small Business: Playing copycat with the big brands

All throughout life, we’re always told to be original and never steal ideas from other people. Plagiarizing on a school project would land you a failing grade, or a suspension. Directly copying someone’s words or product designs could land you in a copyright or intellectual property lawsuit. Even as a young child, one of the worst accusations anyone could hurl at you was “You’re a copycat!”

hamburgerWhy small businesses should imitate big businesses

In the world of business, things are a bit different. As the Grasshopper Blog explained, while it’s definitely wrong to do a full cut, copy and paste of another company’s ideas, using what others have done as a springboard for your own ideas is a great way to quickly get your bearings. As a small business owner, you don’t have the time or resources to try and reinvent the wheel.

By looking at what some of the most successful businesses in the world have done to grow themselves, you’ll start to get an idea of what they did to get so big and how you can adapt their ways of thinking to branding your business and creating something special. Don’t think of it as stealing or plagiarizing, think of it as looking for creative inspiration.

That said, here are some things you can “steal” from successful enterprises to help your grow your small business’ brand.

Know who you are and what you do better than anyone

Earlier this month, the fast-food chain Shake Shack went public. The burger chain has grown rapidly, all while producing what many consider one of the top fast-food burgers in the country. How did they go from a small chain to being on the path to being a key player in their industry?

According to Esquire, it’s simple: They do burgers the right way – classic toppings and fresh patties, perfectly cooked and without all of the questionable postmodern interpretations that so many chefs in America are trying to bring to this classic dish.

What small businesses can take from Shake Shack is that you don’t have to try to be everything to everyone. In fact, you don’t even have to do anything radically different. Find out what your business is best at and focus on honing that to perfection.

Make your customers feel like they’re at Disney World

If you’ve ever been to Disney World, you’ve noticed that Disney has taken great pains to ensure that every aspect of the park is geared toward giving the customer the most exciting experience possible.

But as Grasshopper explained, the characters are what make Disney World stand out from its competition. Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the team of princesses are what make Disney World come to life and create a memorable experience for the guests. That’s why not everyone can be a Disney character. The park only hires those who exude positivity and a desire to make people smile.

disneyYou and your employees don’t have to dress up in costumes, but you should take the same mindset into every interaction you have with your customers. Every interaction they have with your business should make them feel like you care more about their needs than any of your competitors.

If done correctly, world-class customer service, which comes from hiring the right customer-facing employees, can set you apart from your competitors without necessarily outspending them.

Get your community involved

Entrepreneur stated that the key goal of branding is to draw people in and make them feel that they’re part of a community, that they have a bond with the rest of your fans and your business.

Expedia, the travel website, encouraged this a great deal with its “Find Yours” campaign. They made the idea of a community explicit by asking participants in the campaign to share their travel stories by posting videos on Expedia’s social media and website. This kind of community building has the dual purpose of increasing brand exposure as well as deepening the relationship existing customers have with the Expedia brand.

Small businesses can easily copy this tactic for their own community building: Ask your customers to share their stories in relation to what you offer. Feature their photos or social media posts on your own channel. Anything that removes the divide between business and consumer and makes everyone feel like part of a group.

Understand your customers on a deep level

talkingOne of the most successful viral marketing campaigns of all time was the Dove “Real Beauty Sketches,” which featured real women talking about their insecurities. To date, the video has just over 65 million views on YouTube. What made this video so powerful is that it truly hit a nerve in its target audience. Whereas most beauty products push for a more upbeat message, Dove talked openly about widespread insecurities that many women are expected to sweep under the rug or cover up. It was different, and most importantly, it was honest. It didn’t feel like marketing.

None of this would have been possible if Dove didn’t have a deep understanding of what makes its customers tick. But you don’t need to be a massive enterprise to get access to these same insights.

Grasshopper recommended that small businesses take advantage of the various data analytics tools at their disposal to see how past users have responded to messaging, what their buying patterns are like and other key demographic data points. Additionally, small business marketers should take the time to reach out to their customers and ask them for feedback. Once you’ve learned as much as possible about what’s going on in your customers’ heads, tie it all into your branding and marketing messages and show how your offerings fit your customers needs down to a T.

As a closing point, you should remember that while you can imitate a big business’ ideas and tactics, you won’t be able to just copy their growth and success unless you can find a way to make them your own.