Small business marketing: be an ‘X’ in a sea of ‘O’s

small business marketing

Making your business stand out in a crowded market place can be hard.

But the way to win business is to offer something that no-one else does. This is true whether in the form of a unique selling proposition (USP), or from a branding perspective.

Legendary ad man and copywriter Dave Trott explains this perfectly in a video filmed at the Pro Copywriters’ Network Conference in 2013

Here we see him writing a number of circles on an overhead projector, like so:




This represents the conscious desire to blend in that many businesses owners – especially small business owners – have.

In the figure above, each ‘O’ represents a business, every one the same as the next. Blending in is all well and good for local shops with a captive market.

But how do you entice people to choose your small business from the next?

The answer is by standing apart from the crowd like this:




As Dave Trott says, you have to stand out to be noticed.

And the way to stand out is to be different, like an ‘X’ in a sea of ‘O’s. You can see one of his adverts in the video below:

This is one of the most memorable TV adverts from my childhood.

And the main reason this masterpiece sticks in the memory is because it’s different.

Some people loved it and some hated it – my Dad used to shout at the telly when it came on – but most remembered it. This shows that retention is the key to successful marketing and great copywriting.

This simple ad stood out in a sea of similar products and marketing, 

Consequently, the unknown Ariston brand quickly became a household name.

The product went on to sell a million washing machines in the UK over the next four years. The ads were so memorable that then-Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, mimicked the “and on… and on” tagline in a speech. 

It’s true that Dave Trott mostly works with big brands.

But the same rule also applies to small business marketing. And in some ways even more.

Yes, there are plenty of successful small businesses without a USP.

But do you really want to give your business a boost? Then embrace your differences and shout them from the rooftops…

Before I start writing copy, I get to the root of what sets you apart from the rest.

I can then write in ways that shine a light on things that make you great.

Because even if you don’t think you have a USP, I bet you do.

In my role as a freelance copywriter, I stress this to some clients who either don’t want to stand apart, or who don’t feel they can. 

What is not a USP?

It’s never enough to simply say “I’m the best!”

Because no doubt many people in your industry claim to be better out of pure bias for their own product or service.

Nor is it enough to say ‘we offer a warm and friendly service’. This isn’t really a USP, as many others offer that too.

Be a local ‘X’ in a sea of local ‘O’s

Where I live in Leeds, a local business that stands out in its field is You Can Play Guitar.

Head honcho and guitar teacher, Owen Griffiths, stamps out his mission to make lessons fun for his students.

This works because it appeals directly to his core audience: teenagers with short attention spans who need to find something compelling to take it in.  

This makes Owen stand out among the legion of guitar teachers itching to teach scales before riffs.

Owen knows that kids often just want to learn songs. And they definitely don’t want to feel like they’re at school.

His business has an affirmative name and the website has a friendly tone.

And both highlight a true USP in Owen’s personality and teaching style.

The point here is that every business has its own way of doing things. This shows it’s possible to stand out in the market, no matter how small your business.

When it comes to local marketing, the little guy has the edge

Do you own a small local business? Then you have a massive amount of marketing power at your fingertips.

Local marketing is one of the few areas where the little guy can outfox the fat cat.

After all, most people feel more comfortable buying locally.

Why? Because it’s easier to trust someone when they’re within reach. This is evident in the fact that for every pound you spend, 63p stays in the local economy.

And as Matt Redford of Keyword Eye points out, local marketing is also vital for search engine rankings.

Even if you don’t express a USP as such, you can make your small business stand out by taking advantage of content marketing.

How? By finding ways to entice your audience in ways your competition doesn’t…

Get a website with sizzling copy on it.

Climb aboard the social media train and toot your horn.

Write about the things in your field that please or irritate you.

Speak to your audience and share your knowledge in ways that make them take notice.

Show the passion you have for your business and you have more chance of success.

The fact is that most of your competition doesn’t do these things. So if you take these steps, you’ll stand out from the crowd and send your sales flying in no time.

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