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  • Writer's pictureDennis Sullivan

Competing with Big Brands?

No worries. You have one thing they don’t that gives you the edge

The one thing that gives you an edge over the biggest and toughest competition is your personal touch.

One of the best parts of my job is finding new ways for small businesses to compete with major brands. It’s like David taking on Goliath. We love a good challenge! The big brands seem to have all the advantages with their deep pockets, endless resources and advertising campaigns.

But there is one thing the big competitors don’t have – your personal touch.

That doesn’t stop the big brands from trying. But coming from them, attempts at the personal touch just come across as contrived, fake and even self-serving.

Coming from you, an offer to share advice, pass along discount offers for family and friends and raise money for charitable causes aren’t perceived as corporate publicity stunts. Instead, they are seen just as most local business owners intended – as sincere efforts to connect with customers and the community in which you live.

For the uninitiated to this column, you will often find me talking about the value of building relationships with customers. One of the best methods is to leverage your personal touch. It’s not expensive, but it does require some strategic thinking and attention to detail.

Take for example a car detailing business. Most entrepreneurs would consider the business to be straightforward – ask people to call or go to a website to schedule an appointment, perform the work and send them promotional offers afterwards to keep them coming back. But we took a very different approach. We asked: How can we build a lifelong relationship with customers using a car detailing service? The discussion that emerged led to a 12-point touch system, in which the principles can be applied to just about any business…

  1. Ask customers to schedule an appointment. All marketing and advertising highlights the same call to action: Call or go to the website to schedule a time for detailing. Although this step is not radical, it does trigger an automated email or text campaign depending on the customer’s preference. The first contact should trigger a series of personal touch points.

  2. For the first automated message, send a short confirmation with the time and date of the appointment and a request to call if the customer needs to reschedule.

  3. Next, send the customer a message that describes what to expect during their visit, the level of professionalism that goes into each job and a few more details about what makes the business different – and therefore better – than competitors. Reinforce a sense of confidence that your customer made a smart decision by selecting your business.

  4. Send an appointment reminder 48-24 hours in advance with a message about who will perform the work and include a picture and brief background of the employee. Remember: people do business they like; they like people they trust. This is a terrific way to build trust.

  5. Perform the service ensuring that you have lived up to your promises and not just met expectations, but exceeded them!

  6. Before the customer leaves, schedule the next appointment. Doctors, dentists, chiropractors and Jiffy Lube do a fantastic job of getting their customers to become repeat customers, and so should you!

  7. Take before and after pictures and videos of the work you perform. It’s a great reminder to show the difference you’ve made for a customer.

  8. Post the pictures and videos (with your customers’ permission) on Facebook / Instagram / Pinterest -- wherever their friends are on social media so they can share them. Include a short description of the work you performed. Social media is Word of Mouth Marketing on steroids! Take advantage of it by giving your customers a reason to share your work.

  9. Send a survey. My favorite is a short 2-question survey that tells you everything you need to know: (1) On a scale of 0 to 10 (0 = extremely unlikely; 10 = extremely likely) how likely are you to recommend us to a family member or friend? (2) Why did you give us rating you did? Responses to the first question give you quantitative data you can use in future marketing and the write-ins you receive to the second question are gold!

  10. Send promotions to your customers with incentives to come back again and again. Then send more promotions. And send more … you get the idea.

  11. Invite your customers to pass along discounts or coupon offer to family and friends. These offers work especially well during the Christmas holiday season.

  12. Stay engaged with customers by sending them tips, practical guidance and information they can use on their own. You are an expert in your field. Share some of that expertise and continue to build trust.

How can you use this 12-point touch system to develop a personal touch with your customers and create life-long relationships?

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