Nicole Fenton is the coauthor of Nicely Said. She reads and writes in Brooklyn.

Strategy for Small Brands

Every now and then, lovely strangers email me to ask for content advice. A few people asked me this one lately: “How do I get more customers as a small brand?” This post summarizes some things I shared freely, including ways to keep customers you already have. (There’s a tip in there about how I come up with blog topics.)

A few things to note

As a consultant, I spend a lot of time listening to my clients before sharing recommendations or looking at their website. Obviously, I’d need to get to know you and your business to give you more specific advice than this. My hope is to give you a few places to start. And before I dive in, I’m including a couple of links from Facebook, because I think they can help you. I don’t get anything for that, and I’m not saying to avoid competitors. Yadda yadda.


Define your goals and strengths

What’s your company all about? Can you articulate your mission in 1–2 sentences? Do you and your coworkers agree on what you’re doing in the next 3 months? If you’re not sure, try working through these Starter Questions.

It may be easier to unravel this if you start with one of your products as a model. What’s special about it? Your service? Materials? Style? Attitude? What are you most stoked about, or in business time terms, what do you value? Stand out by being yourself, instead of trying to sound like a big company.

Understand your audiences

Everyone has multiple audiences. Think about goals for each type of customer you have. As an example, middle-aged moms have different priorities than high school students. Put together some personas if it helps you. Check out Avoiding Bullshit Personas from the peeps at Bolt Peters. Take time to think about your different customers and get to know them. It will help you empathize with their needs and develop an appropriate tone in your communications.

Find your voice

If you understand your audiences and their different mindsets, work on how you talk to them. Kate Kiefer Lee does a fabulous job at summarizing how to develop voice and tone. Start here:

It may sound like a joke, but I pay my bills with these words: “Read it aloud. Does it sound like a nice, genuine person said it?” If the answer is yes, then you’re on the right track. Make sure it makes sense too.

Keep an eye on your competition

Look at local competitors and similar brands in other cities for inspiration. Find a few examples outside of your immediate field. For example, if you work in alternative medicine, I might suggest looking at sites from other kinds of doctors, massage therapists, psychologists, and hair stylists.

Once you find a few competitors and inspiration sites, evaluate what they’re doing differently on their website and in their shop. Does it make sense for your customers? Is it worth trying for a month or two? Did you notice any patterns or gaps?

Get the word out

Talk to your customers on your blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Don’t expect people to read all of your posts. Write for new audiences in case an avid fan shares something with a friend.

MailChimp talks about this sort of thing on their blog. Consider doing extremely targeted ads, whether you’re promoting something specific or trying to get more people to know you exist. Facebook is a good place to try this, even on a teeny budget.

Whenever you run an advertising campaign, try a few different headlines and calls to action. If you’re a non-profit, for example, the calls to action might be: Donate, Donate Now, Give, Give Back, and Get Involved. See what works for your audience by testing a few options. If you sell merch or food, try partnering with nearby events where your product will shine.

Don’t underestimate the awesomeness of teaming up with other local businesses. Look into programs like Facebook Offers. Again, you can try these sorts of things with a small budget to see if it’s worth investing in seasonally or when you launch a new product.

As a small brand, word of mouth is probably the most common way people find you. That means people probably find out about you when a friend recommends you in person or online. Deals are a nice way to thank your best customers and encourage them to bring friends along.

Refine things over time

Test the content in your newsletter. Is it working? What can you learn from the data there and in your site analytics?

Make sure your website navigation matches up with what people need most, rather than how your company’s organized.

Pay attention to things people ask you about. Make sure you address those questions on your website. You probably don’t need an FAQ, but find a way to show your customers that you’re listening and aware of their needs.

Long reads

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