Running a small business is tough. You don’t have a dedicated marketing team to get the word out, easy access to additional funding, or any of the other perks that come with size. Maybe that’s why 50% of small businesses fail within the first two years of opening according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
So how do you launch your small business from the trenches of struggle to the heights of success with limited resources?
Going viral means people are sharing your business with co-workers, friends, family — who are sharing it with their co-workers, friends, family — who are also sharing it.
And everyone is sharing it because they want to. Not because you’re spending thousands of dollars on ads or bribing them with freebies.
Going viral means exponential growth and exposure at no additional cost or effort from you.
If that sounds good, keep reading.
What do tribes have to do with it?
While not a fail-proof guide to breaking the Internet, Seth Godin’s Tribes contains some valuable tips on how to build a powerful brand — a key to viral success for any business, small or large. In the book, Godin reframes some basic marketing principles around the concept of tribes.
A tribe is a group of people with a shared interest and a way to communicate. Godin encourages people to make tribes and become leaders because the world needs tribes and leaders to encourage progress and enact change.
For a small business:
- Leader = You
- Tribe = Loyal Customers
- Leader + Tribe = Viral Growth
So how do you attract and lead a group of loyal customers that are so excited about your business that they share it with everyone? Other than providing quality products or services, you need to tell a story.
Good stories make history.
Behind every powerful brand is a powerful brand story. Let’s look at how stories contributed to the success of two renowned brands: Apple (ranked by Interbrand as 2019’s most influential brand in the world) and Disney.
When Apple first entered the tech scene in the 1980’s, computers were seen as large, mysterious machines used only by governments, scientists, and corporations.
The company’s “1984” ad was not only a landmark moment in TV advertising but also a storytelling-as-branding masterpiece. In just one minute, Apple positions itself and its “personal computers” as the rebel — the little guy against giants like IBM and the “establishment” — who will save the world from an oppressive dystopia.
The computer itself isn’t even shown. But the point is clear, and the rest is history.
Disney as a brand epitomizes the power of great storytelling.
It does the opposite of most companies. Most companies create products, then spin stories around those products. Disney tells stories, then makes products to fit the stories.
First comes Mickey Mouse, then the figurines, mouse ear headbands and amusement parks. First comes Frozen, then the Elsa dresses, snowflake-shaped candy and skating shows.
It’s a unique approach that has led to great success and which exemplifies the possibilities that open up with great stories.
In a world where attention spans are shrinking and people are bombarded with information from every direction, without a powerful brand you are nothing. And to create a powerful brand you need a powerful brand story.
You might be thinking — I run a small business. What does Apple and Disney’s large-scale storytelling success have to do with me?
Branding is just as important for a small business as it is for a large one. But with a small business, you are the business. So it’s more about personal branding than anything else.
Personal branding is the practice of marketing yourself as a brand. You identify the skills, experiences, and passions that make you who you are as a professional and communicate that in a way that makes people want to work with you.
So how do you create an attractive personal brand? Same way Apple and Disney created industry-changing business brands — tell a good story.
What makes a good story?
Godin gives us two key points.
#1: Good Stories Upset People
Who are you upsetting? If the answer is no one — go back to the drawing board. Powerful stories take a strong stance, and strong stances almost always make someone uncomfortable.
Godin warns against trying to please everyone by diluting what you truly believe in. He stresses that opponents are GOOD. Their opposition strengthens your message and brand.
#2: Good Stories Are Authentic
Have you ever immediately disliked someone because you felt they were being fake? Or the opposite — clicked with a person because of their authenticity. The same goes for stories, brands, and businesses.
Make sure your brand story reflects your beliefs and values. Customers will be able to tell whether or not you’re being genuine, especially in a small business where you interact with them on a regular basis. And no one likes a fake.
It starts with one.
Building a small business can seem daunting, but remember it only takes 1,000 true fans to be successful and much less than 1,000 loyal customers to go viral.
In fact, it starts with one. One person who shares your business with co-workers, friends, family — who share it with their co-workers, friends, family — who also share it.
So tell your story. Create your tribe. What are you waiting for?
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