Over the years, as a trade magazine editor, I had the opportunity to go into many large industrial companies and talk to the marketing and engineering people there. It was almost inevitably a disappointment. It’s not that they weren’t nice people, it’s just that they were permanently looking over their shoulders and spoke constantly in a stilted “company mode”, a split personality you’d never come across if you met them down the pub at the weekend. At smaller companies, it was so much easier to get to know people, what made them tick, and what made their companies interesting. This attitude almost certainly gets through to customers, and of course it’s always been one of the reasons why smaller companies can – and do – compete so well with larger organisations.
In terms of marketing, it’s traditionally been harder for smaller companies. When you’ve got an apologetic benchtop display at a trade exhibition, next to a competitor’s massive custom-built stand manned by 30 people in suits with a hospitality area upstairs, it’s difficult to get noticed. So the right attitude has been to accept the difference and make it an advantage.
However, every company’s marketing home ground is now its website, and that’s much more of a level playing field. The smallest company can make a website which (at least superficially) looks like its largest competitor, if it wants to. Many small companies have jumped at the opportunity, without thinking why. Unfortunately, the sites they’re copying, from large industrial companies, are often a real mess, made by bureaucratic organisations trying to please every internal department. Small companies seem to have been so enthralled by the opportunity to look like the big ones, that they’re copying something which doesn’t work in the first place. Instead of emphasising their differences, they’ve done the opposite.
The most successful small company websites celebrate their owners’ specialisations. They guide visitors to their destination in one or two steps, and use the simplicity to slip in marketing messages in a way which larger sites can only dream of. Their home pages say “this is what we do, this is why we’re great, and here are the two or three things you might want to look at next”. They have a blog, where real people talk about real issues in a way which clearly hasn’t gone through a three-week authorisation process. And as a customer, I think: “this might not be the big name in the business, but it’s one I’d rather have as a supplier”.