I’ve spent most of my ad career serving large companies with equally large marketing budgets. These companies invest many millions of dollars pursuing all sorts of push marketing efforts. But that’s not my concern at the moment.
Recently, I’ve been realizing how much small businesses mean to me. My friends work in, and own, small businesses. And when these friends ask me about their web site or advertising, I most often find myself recommending no advertising spend whatsoever. Instead, I ask my friends to invest in building their own media brand with mostly free DIY tools readily available to them, and to anyone with a web browser and the will to learn.
There’s still plenty of counseling involved. That part of the agency relationship between me and a small business owner remains intact. But before I suggest that I, or a team I assemble, is the right content team to actually produce and/or curate the day-in and day-out content, I need to assess whether or not there’s an internal content team waiting to be found, trained and put to work on their employer’s behalf. Because finding that internal team is a better option for everyone.
So, I’m not advocating social media because it’s the “it” media of the moment. I’m saying use social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, LinkedIn, Tumblr, etc. to tell your company’s story, your way, the way you do every day when interacting with customers. Because you can!
When you do this consistently and with heart, you won’t need much advertising. Large brands will continue to need advertising because no matter how human they make their brand sound, everyone knows it’s really a big (maybe bad) corporation playing games with social media (to see if there’s a score to be had). But that’s not true for a small business. A small business really is human, so the brand’s voice in social media is likely to be authentic.
One final note on the use here of the term “small business.” Small businesses can be pretty big. Take Powell’s Bookstore here in Portland. Powell’s is a small business, especially when compared to Amazon.com. But Powell’s is a big business as far as reach is concerned. The same might be said for Bridgeport or Widmer–they’re small businesses with an extended reach. Would any of these brands forgo spending on advertising to tell their own story? I don’t know if they would, but I know they could.