The world isn’t set up for small businesses to thrive. In fact, the odds are against us.

Large corporations have an undeniable advantage when it comes to anchoring themselves in the minds and habits of their audience.

They can afford to pay for big ad campaigns, celebrity endorsements and to lobby governments to legislate in their favour.

Yet, they aren’t always successful.

A Tale of Two Companies

Consider L’Occitane, the high-end beauty product brand that is so ubiquitous they even have a location in my local mall here in Calgary. The company has asked for bankruptcy protection.

Michael Scott from the Office yelling "I declare bankruptcy"

Meanwhile, cult indie brand Glossier managed to raise $800 million dollars from investment partners earlier this summer.

What’s going on here?

On the surface, this appears to be a fight between an established bricks-and-mortar brand and a direct-to-consumer upstart, with DTC coming out on top during the pandemic.

It’s More Than Strong Channel Strategy

There is another take that I happen to believe explains a lot of the high profile retail bankruptcies in 2021.

See, you can’t have a successful online business without amazing marketing that generates lots of leads. People aren’t going to walk by your shop in the mall, or drive by your sign.

Starting in 2014 when the company began, Glossier put a lot of effort into finding out what their audience wanted that no one else was providing (barely-there makeup in cute packaging) and where their buyers learn about new products. (social media, mostly)

Then, they set about cultivating a loyal fan base through their powerhouse blog, Into the Gloss.

Not So Unique

Many small businesses and startups find success by capturing the imagination of their audience, and commanding loyalty in a way large corporations cannot imitate.

Walmart could start a blog tomorrow, (I dunno, maybe they already have one?) but everyone who reads it will filter the content through the “giant corporation, I can’t trust you” lens.

Small businesses, indie brands and startups have the opportunity to forge the genuine audience connection that big brands rarely have. If these companies manage to stay true to their values, they will hang on to this brand loyalty long after their companies can be considered anything close to small.

Some Examples

Examples of businesses that have managed to do this include independent shoe retailer Poppy Barley, which recently introduced quality vegan shoes out of cactus “leather.”

Another would be billion-dollar outdoor juggernaut Patagonia, which climbed over its competition by staying true to its corporate values.

Same goes for my personal favourite beverage, La Croix. (not sponsored, but I drink about nine a day, so I’d take it if they offered)

No alt text provided for this image

The cult favourite sparkling water maker has maintained its proud niche status even after being acquired by another small-ish beverage corporation 20 years ago. Its fans are not only rabidly enthusiastic, but also trend setters. Pepsi rolled out Bubly and Coke launched A-Ha to try to compete, but still haven’t put much of a dent in La Croix’s popularity.

What this Means for Small Business

Just because the major players’ marketing budgets obliterate ours doesn’t mean they win. We have an opportunity to connect to the market in a way they just can’t replicate.

That connection is forged with words.

Not just any words, but perfect copywriting describing what makes your business so special. What makes it right for your audience. This simple power of persuasion is what cultivates an affinity for your offering.

If you run a small business and can’t afford to beat the big guys on marketing spend, you can at least make sure your message is crafted perfectly. It’s the most reliable way for your target buyers will find you, love you, and stay loyal to you.