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Talkable Brands: The Small Business Advantage

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I’m a guy who places significant importance on a quality haircut.  Some call it metrosexual, some call it vain.  But heck, who doesn’t love that feeling of walking out of the barbershop with a fresh new cut?!  Regardless, I’ve always been willing to travel great distances and endure considerable troubles to find the right barber.  And if you fulfill my quaff-powered needs, you’ll find yourself a customer for life.  Unfortunately, my regular barber recently suffered a major flood and has since been put out of commission.  And so the journey begins….

In dire need of a clipping and with limited time for in-depth research and analysis, I headed to the joint I frequented back in high school.  It was the middle of the day and only one barber was there when I arrived.  He seemed welcoming enough and I was desperate so I went for it.  Good conversation, satisfactory haircut, reasonable price.  He sold me on a second visit, but hadn’t yet cemented his place in my heart.  I went to see Ed again yesterday and experienced much of the same type of conversation and quality scissor maneuvering.  During our chit chat, I mentioned that I was headed to California the next day on a dreadful six-hour flight.  We both agreed on the discomfort that recycled airplane air causes us both.  He stopped mid-sentence, put down his clippers and sprinted to the front lot to grab something from his car.  (I won’t lie, “Am I about to get whacked?!” popped into my head immediately.)

Moments later, Ed returned with a portable ion air purifier.  “Here you go, man, try this thing out.  See if it helps.”  He even walked me through how to use it properly.  I was simply floored.  A guy I’ve only met twice for about a total of 40 minutes just went well out of his way to provide me a service that had absolutely nothing to do with what he does for a profession or why I came to see him.  He didn’t even ask me to bring it back when I was done with it!

The first of Andy Sernovitz’s “Three Reasons People Talk About You” ( is “You“.  He goes back to explain, “They like you.  They feel a connection to your company, they respect what you do, and they want to support you.”  This is never truer than when talking about small businesses.  At Marcello Entertainment, we do a lot of local small business folks.  While they all have the same fundamental challenges (lack of free time to dedicate to branding, miniscule budgets, limited marketing expertise), they also tout the same distinctive advantage over the Big Dogs – personalized customer-centric service.  As owners, operators and – in many cases – front line employees, most of our clients have the rare opportunity to be the face of the brand, controlling their own destinies when it comes to ever-important customer interactions.  As Sernovitz recommends, “Be likeable.  Make great stuff.  Provide great service.”  Be likeable.  I’d argue that being likeable is a monumental key to success for small business owners and their word of mouth campaigns.

Was Ed’s service out-of-this-world, blow-my-mind phenomenal?  Certainly not.  But good enough to secure repeat business.  His conversation tone, his willingness to move beyond drab “Did you catch the game last night?” type chit chat, his ability to convey his unique personality points are what made me consider him for the full-time barber gig.  But a clean fade a few funny jokes weren’t enough to send me to the rooftops singing his praises.  It was the air purifier move.  This guy doesn’t know me well enough to know if I’ll ever bring it back to him.  And I don’t get the impression he’s a  word of mouth genius, planning an elaborate tactic beginning with recycled air conversations.  I walked out of the shop with the feeling the he genuinely cared and was “just a good guy”.  And can you guess what I did next?  Yep, told at least three people that day about my experience.

Don’t get me wrong, no amount of good-guy-itude will make up for shabby service or poor communication skills.  But once the basics are covered, be likeable as a person.  For the small business man or woman, the brand of you can be your biggest differentiator.



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Growth obsessed startup co-founder (MusicBox) and strategist-for-hire.

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