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Large chains have the benefit, in many cases, of being the first place that comes to a consumer’s mind for certain products.

“I need a hammer. I’d better get to Home Depot,” for instance.

That, of course, is the natural result of massive marketing budgets, large corporate logistic structures, and omnipresence. A small business can’t compete directly with any of those. To occupy the forefront of a customer’s mind they often need to rely on the one area that big chains always claim to understand but rarely master: a sense of community.

In pretty much everything I write on subjects like this I tend to harp on the necessity of identifying and communicating correctly to specific audiences, and that is an important part of any business plan. But it’s not enough for long term success. The science is a necessary component, but building and maintaining a community is more nuanced, more human, more emotional. Marketing communication can get customers in the door. Making them a part of your community gets them to come back, hopefully with friends and family.

It starts with attitude and mindset: a customer who is treated and spoken to like a friend is more likely to feel at home and comfortable than one who is talked at and/or sold to. It enhances the associate’s credibility if they are both friendly and knowledgeable, and as a result it enhances the customer’s experience as well.

It is equally important for that mindset to carry through outside of the physical business location as well. A large business is visible because of its size. A small business is visible and memorable because of its effort. A store owner, for instance, who views the sidewalk in front of the storefront as the outermost boundary of his business has missed the larger picture. There is a difference between being “that guy who owns a shoe store” and “the guy that everyone goes to for shoes.” The first guy locks up the store and leaves the business when the work day is done; the second guy is always out and about – visible in some way, shape or form – not always talking about his shoes, but always talking to someone, always growing his community.

Spark BusinessSM from Capital One® estimates that there are over 23 million small businesses in the United States. That’s 23 million little communities. Some are clear and cohesive; others fractured and disparate. I think you can guess which ones are destined for long term success.

This post is sponsored by Spark BusinessSM from Capital One® and is 6th in a series of 8. All opinions are 100% my own.