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Your small business #goals aren’t dead. Break into 2021 with smart strategies.

So, let’s be real for a minute. How’s your marketing performing this year?

If you are crushing 2020 with smart strategies and flawless execution, then by all means, close out of this tab, pour yourself a nice tall glass of lemonade, and start stacking that cash. 

Ohhhh, right… pandemic.

Suffice it to say that this has not exactly been a year for #goals. Expectations got dashed. Piggy banks got smashed. Businesses crashed.

But here’s the thing: You’ve still got a massive opportunity to take the solid small business you’re running and make it go gangbusters.

No, really. You do! The beauty of being a small business comes in its ability to bob and weave where the big guys lumber. Change is your bread and butter. The very best thing you can do is set smart new goals that allow you to roll with the punches.

And by smart, we mean SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely.

Think of your pie-in-the-sky aspirations as a staircase, and your SMART goals as steps. Set as many as you want for your small business, as long as you’re sure they keep leading you to where you want to go.

For us, this email series has been one step in our goals staircase. We want to be seen as a thoughtful, creative space, AND a force for closing the gap between small businesses and their audiences. 

So… 

  • If your 2020 marketing didn’t produce the results you wanted…
  • If you felt like you were guessing at what to say in your sales emails….
  • If you know your website stinks but don’t know how to fix it…
  • If your ad spend felt like lighting money on fire and watching it burn…

We can help. It’s what we do. But don’t take our word for it; see for yourself.

We’re also on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram (@emagencyinc), and we’re hanging out in our office right in the heart of Winter Garden. 

Have lemonade, will travel. 

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The struggle of making your small business visible in crowded markets

Today, right now, literally hundreds of millions of Americans are reading magazines, watching TV, driving to work, using the internet—and most importantly, seeing advertisements. With so many eyes out there to absorb your messages, does your small business still feel invisible?

The good (and also kind of bad) news is, it’s not just you. Every Fortune 500 company, small business, and independent creator on the planet is vying for the same space and time in consumers’ minds. As a result, there is a whooooole lot of content out there, leaving the advertisement space unbelievably crowded. How crowded? This crowded:

  • The average American sees up to 10,000 advertisements per day.
  • About 3.2 billion images are shared on social media each day
  • Around 82 years of video content is uploaded to YouTube every day. 
  • There are around 340,000 billboards in the US
  • There are nearly 1.8 billion websites on the world wide web

So how does a small business become visible among the billions? If you follow this one rule, it’ll instantly place your content in the top percentile of small business advertisers:

Don’t half-ass it.

Let’s be blunt; not all advertisements work. Many are boring, busy, forgettable. But that makes thoughtful, well-crafted content all the more visible. Take these four tips the big companies know that’ll up your small business’s advertising game.

Simplify. Cramming five messages and ten images into your advertisements doesn’t make any of that content memorable. Decide on the most important thing and make it the thing. Spread the rest across your other channels. 

Drop your biases. No one medium is king. Print is not passé. Digital is not drab. Broadcast is not bloated. It depends on your audience, your selling point, your business model. (We happen to know a lot about that.)

Make your reader feel something. Entertain them. Inspire them. Reassure them. Hell, make them angry, if you think it’ll work. In the iconic words of Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Don’t forget to connect. When it comes to visibility, nothing beats a handshake. (Or, during pandemic, the elbow bump.) People connect with people. Your best  📣 might very well be the one you offer face-to-face. 

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Value: Actionable ways for small businesses to bring it, get it, and show it in their advertising

Boy oh boy, it’s hard to get people to buy. Particularly during a year often described as “uncertain” and “unprecedented”—not words that typically get the cash flowing. So what are small businesses to do? They add value—not necessarily through advertising BOGOS and discounts that cost them money, but through maximizing what they already have.


Bringing Value

What brand is your vacuum cleaner? What color is it? Do you know? Do you care? If your brand is Dyson, then your answer was probably yes! Dyson enthusiasts spend hundreds on their sexy, silver-and-purple, high-performance, oh-my-God-life-changing stick vacuums because the brand’s value goes far beyond its ability to clean.

How can your business do that? Let your advertising focus not on the product itself, but what the product offers consumers, the “product of the product.” This idea is a super easy way for small businesses to boost their perceived value, without upping their expenses.

Not sure where to start? Here are four tried and tested products of products that you can apply to your small business model in different ways.

Feelings. Theme parks sell excitement. Insurance brokers sell peace-of-mind. And even though the time spent waiting in long lines or worried about your insurance far will be the bulk of the experience, we make our decision based solely on the value of the feeling.

Experiences. Starbucks in particular is incredible at this. For their customers, the value isn’t in the $4 frap; it’s in the atmosphere, the service, the Instagrammability (is that a word? It is now.) of their name hand-written on the cup.

Status. Cars are the go-to example for this. The difference between a BMW and a Nissan really isn’t a whole lot, but there is value in the clout associated with a luxury or muscle car that a standard consumer model can’t match. (On the opposite end, a used car offers the anti-status—financial value—which works just as well).

Results. This category is the bang-for-your-buck approach, the most straightforward value of any product or service, small business or otherwise. Does your vacuum clean? Does it make cleaning easier or faster? Dyson wins because their design and experience matches their results. The very best value you can give a consumer is the ability to stand behind your product promises.


Getting Value

Every small business needs to squeeze the most advertising value out of their limited time and budget. The simplest way to measure the value (apart from cost, of course), is to measure these four aspects:

  • Visibility: How many people see a single ad, and how often they see it
  • Saturation: How many other businesses are advertising in that space
  • Mileage: How long a single ad lasts before it expires or is replaced
  • Timeliness: How often you can change the ad, and how quickly it can get published

For example, digital advertising offers great value in visibility and timeliness, but because it’s a heavily saturated market with low mileage, it’s not a strong platform all by itself. A billboard or outdoor ad, on the other hand, is much less saturated because yours is the only ad that can be in that space, while a magazine ad offers more mileage because they get shared and remain in circulation for much longer than the month they’re printed.


Having Values

The very best value a small business can offer consumers is the ability to stand behind its advertising promises. While you certainly don’t have to write a manifesto, we always recommend writing down a few statements that represent your values as a small business. It gives both your customers and your employees something to believe in, and it adds integrity to your company name. The best part? It doesn’t cost a dime.

We gave Em’s values statement its own page on our site. It reflects not only our personal and company values, but also our voice and approach to creativity.

5 Tips for Writing a Smart Brand Voice for Small Businesses

“Is your small business ready to generate more proactive models and foster a matrix for groundbreaking initiatives? Our revolutionary methodologies leverage robust solutions to maximize profitability.”

Whew! Did you understand any of that? Yeah, we didn’t either. Which is exactly why we avoid writing like that. But for some reason, this style of writing, or “voice,” is common in small business messaging. Buzzwords and corporate jargon like “synergistic” and “paradigm” pop up in messaging like pimples on picture day. And it’s not just hard to understand—it’s hard to like.

The most useful thing your brand messaging can have is a unique, authentic voice that is 100 percent relatable to your audience.


What does your small business sound like?

Even if you’re not a writer, there’s plenty about your voice that you already know—if you know a little bit about yourself. We’ve got five tips to help you along.

  1. Figure out what you’re about. People are shaped by what they believe in, and businesses are no different. Do you promote luxury? Value? Innovation? Hospitality? Use that as a theme to center your language around.
  2. Write like you talk. People don’t carry thesauruses with them everywhere they go. They call each other “we” and “you,” despite what your tenth grade English teacher says. They use contractions. The more you write like a conversation rather than a master’s thesis, the more people can relate to you. 
  3. Hook ‘em on a feeling. Every message from your business should give your customer a particular feeling. Should they feel confident? Should they feel unique, or cared for, or that they got a hell of a bargain? Whatever you decide, just stick to it.
  4. Play it safe with slang. It depends on your audience, and how formal your brand is. If you’re a stock broker, avoid it. (Unless you’re a cool one.) But if you’re a biker bar or a lifestyle outfitter for hip tweens, you can spit the hot lingo your homies are down with. Just be sure you know what those words actually mean.
  5. Know you’re stuff. Grammar and spelling have to be airtight. (Case in point: You probably balked at the incorrect “your” at the beginning of this paragraph. Joke’s on you.) While yes, you are aiming to be human and yes, humans make mistakes, people will never miss an opportunity to roast companies that can’t get their “theres” straight.
  6. BONUS TIP: Get your way of writing in writing. The big guys use style guides that instruct their writers on what their brand’s voice sounds like. While you don’t have to go into super heavy detail, it might be good to have a list of terms that describe your services and your personality. We prop MailChimp’s style guide up as a beautiful example that is both useful and is itself a good example of its voice.

Brands that talk the talk

As an agency, we are big on voice, and we spent a lot of time working our own (check some of that out). So much time and effort went into making it casual and friendly, you would never know how many tears were shed and blood was spilled getting it just right. Once you’re done there, here are some bigger brands whose voices we adore:

Saddleback Leather Co.: Jamie is a real fan-boy of theirs and saves every email he gets from these guys because their voice is so strong.

Welly: Its fun, go-with-the-flow attitude is perfect for daring souls both big and small, in Caleb’s mind.

Anthropologie: A strong voice doesn’t have to be clever or fancy. Heather loves the breezy, casual approach of this brand.

The best way for small businesses brands to attract audiences? Authenticity.

We’ve all had fake friends. You know the type—they never make time for you, put you down to make themselves look good, and only come around when they want something from you. No one likes fake friends. No one likes fake brands, either. Now more than ever, authenticity is vital for small businesses. But you already know that. 

The big question for small businesses is how to be authentic— at a time when “selling” can’t be the top priority.


Find your truth.

Small businesses open and thrive for tons of reasons. They might be filling a niche or offering more quality or better service in their industry. What it all boils down to, though, is that your small business has something that no one else has. That “something” is called the Unique Selling Proposition (USP), and it’s the driving force behind every authentic brand. 

A USP can be anything, really, but it has two key things it must do:

  1. Set you apart. All laundry detergents clean your clothes. All healthcare facilities have experienced staff. More importantly, consumers already expect that. If you want your small business to seem more authentic, you’ll need to go beyond the obvious.
  2. Be true. Not in the sense that you’d lie about your motives, but in the sense that it is the thing closest to the core of your identity. We’ve talked about the power of honesty before, but during a crisis, it’s all the more important—and all the more elusive.

Let’s take a brand we developed, Go Figure Accounting, as an example. For this woman-owned accounting firm with a casual, friendly approach to business, we focused its core messaging on the personalities behind the business. We began with the name. Go Figure certainly speaks to accounting, but also is a fun, memorable use of the common phrase. The word “go” also conveys action, as in Go Boldly, Go the Distance. Visually, we pair clean, open space with bold-yet-feminine colors and fonts. For imagery, we avoid the stuffy corporate cronies, opting instead for realistic small business owners.

GoFigure Accounting Logo

Do you know your truth? Here are a few questions to ask yourself. (Hint: if you say “yes” to more than one or two of these, you don’t really know how you stack up with your competitors.):

  • Are you the most convenient or affordable option?
  • Are you the most luxury, high-quality option?
  • Are you the most local, friendly option?
  • Are you the most forward-thinking, innovative option?
  • Are you the most established, trustworthy option?
  • Are you the most exciting, experience-driven option?

Live your truth. (Without the hard sell.)

With a strong USP, your small business grows from simply being a seller of a product to a champion of an idea. Just like that, you’ve boosted your brand authenticity naturally, and unlocked a whole new way to engage your consumers by reflecting their own authenticity back at them.

What does that actually look like? For some, it means being bold and unapologetic. For others, it means being insightful and inclusive. Are you the most affordable brand? Couponing and DIY are suddenly way more authentic coming from you. Are you the local brand? Area news and hometown heroes are now your jam. If your core value is the people behind your brand, course your content from your employees. (You know who did this well? Honey Bunches of Oats.)

You can borrow inspiration from any brand, but it will only work if you apply it correctly to your audience. A company that sells beard balm is going to be authentic in a much different way than one that sells luxury jewelry.

Want some examples? Here are three major brands that we think showcase their most authentic selves through their audience.

Red Bull Logo

Red Bull:  As a brand that hangs its hat on the absurdity of adventure, it has released videos and sponsored events that focus on extreme sports and pushing the limits of human ability. 

Dove

Dove: The #RealBeauty campaign went beyond promoting beauty as we know it and moved to change perceptions of an entire society.

Nike Logo

Nike: If this 2012 commercial doesn’t say it all, then we have nothing left to say.

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