Small business on the rise? Make a big impact on consumers

We hear it all the time: Customers expect more from brands than ever before. And if their expectations aren’t met, they’ll take their business elsewhere.

But what does this mean for small businesses without a household name? Do their size or limited resources prevent them from competing with larger competitors, or is it an advantage? What do small businesses need to do to stand out?

To find out, we surveyed 1,000 Canadian consumers and 1,000 Canadian small business owners.

Encourage loyalty

Overall, the findings paint a positive picture for small businesses. Nearly twice as many Canadian consumers prefer shopping with small businesses over big businesses. And one in three Canadians (30 percent) are making an effort to specifically support small businesses.

Not only are they planning to shop more with small business, one in five Canadians (21 percent) say they’re willing spend more on products if it means supporting small business.

So, why do Canadians consumer prefer shopping small? Community commitment comes out on top. Supporting the local economy was the main reason for shopping small – followed closely by supporting local families and residents, and receiving better customer service.

More than half the respondents (55 percent) said the personal touch of shopping with a small business was one of the chief reasons they prefer it in the first place. And when it comes to how they prefer to shop, triple the number of Canadian respondents said they prefer an in-store experience to shopping online (58 percent vs. 18 percent).

However, more than half (62 percent) said they believe it’s still crucial that a business of any size has a website, with another one in three (34 percent) saying businesses should also be active on social media. Online traffic appears to directly impact in-store traffic and potential sales.

These figures are cause for concern for small businesses, as only 43 percent of Canadian small businesses have a website, while another 42 percent say they don’t use social media at all for their company.

Vistaprint focuses on helping small businesses look professional across all their marketing. Even with limited resources, business owners can differentiate their brand online. We’ve pulled together three practical tips on how you can market to prospective customers online without blowing your budget:

Make it personal

To find success online that leads to sales in store, small businesses need to personalize, not generalize.

You need a clear picture in your mind of who you’re speaking to. Start by observing your customers. See what types of customers come into your store and take note of who follows you on social media. Facebook provides detailed behavioral and demographic insights about your millennial audience, which you can draw on to create personas.

A typical customer persona for a small smoothie shop may look like this:

Samantha is 28 years old. She’s single, has one dog, and is a fitness instructor living in Toronto. She’s always on the go and looks for healthy food options she can pick up between the yoga classes she teaches. She primarily uses Instagram to follow her friends and fitness/wellness accounts. Due to her busy schedule, she’s typically online late at night.

Having one or two personas in mind will help you create content tailored to the lifestyle, behavioral traits and social media usage of your customers.

Share your expertise

Once you’re clear on who each audience is, define how you’ll speak to those people.

Canadian consumers perform at least one online activity prior to an in-store purchase. These actions often include researching products or services and seeking helpful advice to guide their decision.

The knowledge, skills and experience you used to create your business mean you’re well placed to become that expert. To build on the previous business owner example, someone who built a successful smoothie shop will likely have insight into the latest health trends, as well as useful advice on nutrition and wellbeing.

This can be turned into content that provides value to your customers by answering their common questions, for example:

  • Blogs – informative blog posts on improving wellbeing
  • Social posts – nutrition tip of the day and inspirational posts
  • Videos/stories – showcase healthy recipes that go well with a smoothie

If you can help customers solve a problem, they’ll be more likely to trust you when they’re ready to purchase.

Manage your reputation

As well as proactively engaging with your audience, keep a close eye on what people are saying about your business.

Online reviews and comments are a powerful source for customers. Research by Bright Local, including respondents from both the U.S. and Canada, shows that 86 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. But what should you do if you get a negative review or comment?

It’s always best to thank the customer for their feedback and sincerely apologize for the negative experience. Follow up with an honest statement about your continued effort to provide a high-quality product or service to your customers.

Offer them an opportunity to discuss their concerns further in private either by email, direct message or phone call. If the customer responds, listen to their thoughts, apologize directly and offer a solution. Your public response will reassure future customers you care about their experience.

Final thoughts

While some small businesses struggle to bridge the digital gap to drive in-store action, marketing to Canadian consumers on a budget can still be highly effective. Make sure you know your audience well, create content that adds value to their lives and act on their feedback.

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