We talk quite a bit on this blog about how small businesses can take advantage of their differences from big companies, rather than trying to hide them. I recently ran across an example of this in a somewhat strange context: the National Football League.
You've probably never heard of Kevin Payne. I certainly hadn't heard of him until a couple weeks ago when he was traded from the Chicago Bears to the St. Louis Rams (the team I'm unfortunate enough to follow). Payne isn't a superstar player, and I don't really know much about him, but he's now one of my favorite players. Why? Because he posted a couple stories and a YouTube video on a Rams blog that I read. The posts weren't anything particularly special, and they're probably a somewhat calculated PR move, but I don't care. He took the effort to post and became a real person to me instead of just another guy in pads and a uniform.
This type of interaction is exactly the kind of thing that a small business can do to take advantage of its size. For years, small businesses have survived in the face of growing competitors by providing a personal touch. Big companies spend tons of marketing dollars carefully cultivating their brand and their image, but that's only necessary because (a) big companies with thousands of employees don't have an intrinsic personality and (b) they can't directly interact with their huge customer base. Your small business doesn't have these challenges; you already have a personality comprised of the relatively small number people who work there. All you have to do is show it off.
A couple decades ago, showing off your small business personality was as simple as talking to the customers who came in to your brick and mortar store. Today, the internet obviously provides additional opportunities. We've talked before about how starting a blog can help with search engine optimization and getting inbound links to your site, but it also provides a great opportunity to let your customers get to know you. That's enough to go a long way towards crafting your company's personality.
If one of the stars of the Rams made a few posts, he'd probably be so overwhelmed with replies, he'd have no hope of keeping up with everything. A star almost has to carefully craft his image through other means. Similarly, it can be really hard for big business to maintain a personality through these types of channels. Just like Kevin Payne, a small business can interact directly with its customers precisely because of its size.