What Small Biz Can Learn from Big Biz

And how big businesses learned from them.

Sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday is Small Business Saturday, a day dedicated to supporting small businesses nationwide, and the brainchild of American Express. Aside from all-important holiday revenue, participating small, local businesses have much to gain in the way of digital growth. 

This is because American Express provides participating businesses with free online marketing materials, such as digital banners to place on their websites promoting their participation. Small business owners also receive sample tweets, Facebook posts and emails to use. By utilizing and understanding the importance of these resources, as well as taking a look at how big businesses use them every day, small businesses can truly establish or grow their Internet presence. 

And, although it's estimated that more than 50 percent of small businesses are operating without a website, the following tips on what small businesses can learn from big businesses, is made with the assumption our readers are also website owners or workers. 

Social Media

For many small business owners, it may seem like an uphill battle to participate (let alone compete) in the digital realm. Their worries, however, don't diminish the importance of doing so. Consumers, especially young ones, want a best-in-class experience at all times - across all channels (e.g. mobile, social, website, in-store). And, there is no better way to begin meeting their demands than through social media. 

Example: Nordstrom's number one goal has always, and always will be, to improve its customer service. And, the 100-year-old-plus company looks at its social media pages as an extension of its customer service. Jamie Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom Direct, even said that at one point the company's Twitter account was shut down due to sending out too many tweets answering customer's questions. 

"The customer is completely in control," said Nordstrom. "The retailers who are embracing that are going to thrive."

Additionally, Nordstrom has stern and even out-of-the-box social networking guidelines for its employees. Among the latter is "be humble." 

"Our number-one goal is to offer each customer great service, but we're certainly not perfect and we do make mistakes. Let's stay focused on working to deliver great service instead of bragging about it."

Lesson Learned: Small businesses should heed Nordstrom's example, as it is not enough to create social media pages and post about company-related topics, but it also important to actively respond to customers. Additionally, small businesses should set its social media guidelines to include ones that are in-line with company goals and ethos. Don't type something on a social media page that you wouldn't say directly to a consumer, in-store. A business's customer service hat should never come off, even in the comfort of the digital space. 

Online Advertising 

Eighty-five percent of consumers search online for local businesses, according to Local Consumer Review Survey (2012). That said, business owners not advertising online and employing SEO tactics are also not raising awareness about their business, they are not encouraging repeat visit and they are not generating sales (or conversions). They are also likely losing out to their competitors, as according to e-Marketer.com, next year's spending predictions include a $7 billion increase in online ad spending. But, even those who are spending the most can still struggle.  

Example: SEMrush estimates Groupon's search engine traffic (the cost of purchasing the same number of visitors through ads) as $1,014,508. Clearly, Groupon makes significant investments to acquire subscribers through online marketing initiatives, such as search engine marketing, display advertisements, referral programs and affiliate marketing. But while this may have worked for the company's original goals, which was to acquire new subscribers, the company now has to leverage different promotions (e.g. discount codes) to achieve its current goal, which is to activate subscribers (get those who have subscribed to actually purchase). Groupon, however, doesn't go at their online advertising alone. According to BuiltWith.com, Groupon uses Google's DoubleClick.net for online advertising assistance. 

Lesson Learned: In the virtual world, businesses (of all sizes) have to be flexible with strategies and goals. Being open to change, as well as virtually asking for help, by employing agencies or seasoned professionals, can improve the bottom line and improve a customer's experience. 


The long-standing relationships that many small business owners are able to create and sustain with their customers are only in the dreams of many large enterprises. The former's face-to-face interactions, not only give consumers a face, but merchants are also on hand to customize their customer service approach and promotions to them. However, many small businesses are missing out on using that information for future communications, such as email.

Example: UGG Australia uses a combination of marketing emails with a segmentation strategy based on interest, triggered actions and personalized communication based on browsing behavior. In order to ensure all of its email communication with the consumer is effective, the company leverages consumer data, sales trends and product interaction to reach a positive return on investment. Additionally, the majority of its email communications goes through a third-party email service provider, Silverpop. The company also leverages Demandware's native functionality for transactional and back-in-stock emails. Its personalized email communication comes from integration with MyBuys.

Lesson Learned: Again we see that third-party providers increasing a company's digital prowess and improve customer experience. There are plenty of available email marketing solutions that can help small businesses. For 50 of them, visit Website Magazine's 50 Top Email Marketing Service Providers article

The true lesson learned for any business - both small and large - is to put customers/clients first. And, while small, local businesses don't often (if ever) make news for quality customer relations, it is to them large, digitally responsible companies turn to and try to emulate. We see that through Nordstrom's use of social media, Groupon's online advertising and UGG Australia's email practices. Let us not forget who is driving our success, and ask for help when needed. Innovation is happening all around us and plenty of digital companies - covered every day at WebsiteMagazine.com - can accelerate digital growth. 

And as a final note for small businesses looking to reap benefits of Small Business Saturday, look at how American Express uses the same design elements, logos, banner ads, etc., in all the event's marketing collateral and try to emulate a streamlined experience of your own, long after Small Business Saturday closes.