A Secret Weapon to Make Your Struggling Small Business Stand Out From The Masses

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A great product or service will die on the shelf without superb marketing and promotion. But in a world that’s overrun with brands, small businesses especially struggle to make an impression. Fortunately, whether you know it or not, you’ve got a marketing secret weapon—authenticity. I’ll show you exactly how to unleash it.

Is Authenticity Just a Buzzword? Not if You Do it Right

“Authenticity” has indeed found its home as a frequent piece of jargon in the marketing community. But while other catchphrases have come and gone (bye bye, “bleeding edge” and “big data”), authenticity has become the core of so many brands’ marketing efforts.

But authenticity isn’t so much a marketing strategy as it is an enhancement and upgrade that can help your struggling small business stand out and build a loyal following. To apply it to marketing, you can tack the term onto any and all strategies you’re using (e.g. authentic social media, authentic advertising, authentic email) and make a shift within each strategy.

As defined by Neil Patel, “Authenticity has nothing to do with how much you share. It is about what you share. Being authentic means being true to who you are as a person, writer, or company.” Authenticity is a state of being, not a technical adjustment.

Struggling Small Business- Women Laughing


Why Authenticity is the Entrepreneur’s Secret Weapon

Marketing is important for all small businesses and entrepreneurs, but authentic marketing can completely change the game. (And, by “game,” we mean how consumers perceive your business and how you stack up against competitors.)

Authenticity is a surefire way to grow your struggling small business and garner substantial attention. If you want to build a business that’ll exist for a long time, attract committed and loyal customers, and do meaningful work rooted in strong values, listen up.

Consumers crave real connection and want to do business with those that share similar values. They want to feel like brands are striving to build a relationship with them as individuals, not just as consumers. They want to work with and buy from organizations that are truthful, genuine and dependable. This all boils down to authenticity.

Entrepreneurs, we’re at an advantage here. Our product or service offerings are narrow, our marketing strategies are scrappy, and our teams are small. (Here’s a special shout-out to those operating as a one-person show!)

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That puts us in the perfect position to be open and honest with our audience, to talk “with” our consumers instead of “to” them. It’s easier for us to be authentic than not, but so many entrepreneurs shoot themselves in the foot trying to pose as something they’re not.

In a world of disingenuous, robotic advertising, authentic marketing gives you the competitive advantage.

Turbocharge Any Marketing Strategy With a Shot of Authenticity

Regardless of your marketing strategy, you can always weave in authenticity and personality. Let’s review a few top strategies.

1. Authentic Content Marketing

As marketers and communicators, we’ve talked a lot about content marketing strategy and how to repurpose content to extend your budget. We’ve discussed producing videos, publishing blogs, creating webinars, and ways to reach and engage with audiences in new ways via Instagram and influencer marketing.

But we know content for the sake of content doesn’t work. Here’s how to ensure the content you’re creating and marketing is truly authentic.

Feature content from real people

User Generated Content (UGC) is a good place to start. According to a recent report from Percolate, 86% of millennials believe UGC is a good indicator of whether a brand is good and trustworthy. UGC not only acts as social proof for wavering potential consumers, but also encourages existing customers to participate as bloggers, copywriters, or photographers, creating an engaged community around your brand.

Travelocity used TINT for their #IWannaGo campaign, encouraging their audience to post pictures with that hashtag for the chance to win a $30,000 vacation. It’s been their most successful marketing campaign to date, involving more than 25,000 consumers and garnering 30 million impressions.

Struggling Small Business- iWannaGo Campaign

Customer testimonials and case studies are just as powerful. Since nothing brings in more business than word-of-mouth, don’t discount the power of customer stories. In fact, 90% of consumers say they base their buying decisions on reviews and testimonials by other customers. Why do you think sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Angie’s List are so successful?

Dubbed Customer Content Marketing (CCM), reviews, customer stories, and case studies all share one important component: They offer insights into your business from the viewpoint of the customer. And happy customers singing your praises will travel further than you singing your own.

Consider Xero, an online accounting software for small businesses. On their website, they feature factsheets, product features, and other content that’s meant to convert. But they feature none of this on their homepage. Instead, they showcase a section called Customer Stories, where they link to plenty of videos featuring real Xero customers. Essentially, they let their customers do the converting for them.

Struggling Small Business- Xero

Bottom line: Facts tell, but stories sell. If empowered, your customers can write better content than you. Gather their ideas for your next content release.

NOTE: To exercise authenticity in your business, you need the right marketing strategies. And we’ve got 28 of these strategies to share with you. Click below to access them!

Get Instant Access To 28 Proven Marketing Strategies For Startups Here!

Don’t promote

When publishing content, focus on pain points instead of promotion. Authentic marketing offers solutions to consumers’ problems. Create content that helps people, not just your business. Successful content marketing attracts consumers (versus traditional publicity, which interrupts and eventually pushes them away).

Authentic content marketing strives to educate and connect. This can be through telling stories, exploring new opinions, or even giving away previously exclusive “expert knowledge.” Also, customized, fluid content that responds to customer inquiries, comments, or complaints can tell your audience, “We hear you!”

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Henneke Duisermaat, founder of Enchanting Marketing, says it best:

“Stop thinking like a salesman and start acting like your reader’s mentor. A salesman wonders how to get his next sale. A mentor cares about his students. He wants to help them get ahead and live a more fulfilled life. By providing solid advice on a regular basis, you build authority and trust, and that’s how you win new customers.”

To apply this to your business, think about what you’re selling and who your customers are. When creating content, consider the “endgame” of your product or service. For example, if you sell athletic gear, you’re essentially selling a fit, healthy lifestyle. The same goes for jewelry (beauty and poise), magazines (education and culture), and even a vacuum cleaner (the satisfaction of a clean home). Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and imagine how they’d benefit from your content and, eventually, your product or service.

Don’t be a fake! Consider your tone

Advertising and marketing language is notorious for sounding, well, fake. Business-speak, jargon, technobabble, gobbledygook … there are many ways to describe this language. Avoid it at all costs. If you want your content to resonate, use language that consumers can connect with.

Consider your authentic brand voice. Do you sound like you? Who are you trying to connect with?

If you’re having trouble nailing down a genuine tone, take a page out of Story2’s Moments Method. Face a mirror, look yourself in the eye, and explain your brand story (or marketing content) aloud. Do you believe it? Now tell a friend or family member, preferably someone who isn’t familiar with your business or business strategy. Is your listener enthralled? Does it connect with them? If the answer is yes, take that authentic story you told and write it down. “In authentic storytelling, there’s no need to ‘business-fy’ it,” says Carol Barash, founder and CEO of Story2.

Foundr’s target demographic is millennial entrepreneurs. We literally exist “for the rebels, the dreamers, those who take action.” To match our mission of thinking differently and disrupting the status quo, we strive to offer content that stands out against your typical business journals and entrepreneurial resources. In consideration of our audience, we use a playful, down-to-earth tone, complete with humor and no-nonsense advice. Our authentic brand voice has helped us grow to 250,000+ email subscribers in less than two years, and more than a million Instagram followers.

There’s an important distinction to make here, regarding tone. Using Foundr as an example, we write and talk the way we do because it’s really just who we are. Most of us are scrappy, struggling entrepreneurs ourselves. You want to use a tone that matches your audience, but it also should be true to who you are.

You may see a potential conflict here. That is, if your brand is chasing an audience that demands a tone that isn’t true to you and your team’s personas, you’ll have a much harder time getting your tone right.

Struggling Small Business- Foundr Website


2. Authentic Social Media Marketing

Social media should be part of every entrepreneur’s marketing strategy. Social media provides a way to share content and drive potential customers to your site, but there’s far more to it than broadcasting your agenda. Social networks help small businesses gather feedback, build relationships, and boost credibility.

As described by Kelly Samuel, managing director of Qode Media, “The benefits of using social media are obvious to users, but social media management is critical to local businesses, brands, and services. It reinforces legitimacy for your company and provides a platform for you to showcase your brand’s unique personality.”

Here’s how to weave authenticity into your social media marketing strategy.

Don’t buy likes or followers

You’ve probably heard this quote by journalist Hunter S. Thompson: “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.” In other words, Thompson was saying, “Hey, entrepreneurs, don’t cut corners and purchase engagement on social media.”
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Okay, so maybe he wasn’t talking about that, but his quote applies nonetheless. Good things take time, and social media engagement is hardly an exception. Purchasing likes and followers can be tempting in the beginning, as your accounts lay bare and posts go unnoticed.

But purchased engagement is incredibly obvious, especially in an age when most users are digital natives. Not only will purchasing engagement alienate your actual followers, but it’ll also skew your analytics in the long run.

Quality content takes real effort and expertise, the latter requiring time and a lot of trial and error. But when your social media engagement takes off and helps convert real followers, you’ll thank yourself for the effort you put in.

NOTE: To exercise authenticity in your business, you need the right marketing strategies. And we’ve got 28 of these strategies to share with you. Click below to access them!

Get Instant Access To 28 Proven Marketing Strategies For Startups Here!

Consider your tone (again)

We touched on this above, but it’s arguably even more important on social media, because the limited character count paired with the average user’s attention span forces you to say more with less. How are you going to connect with consumers within 140 characters and/or eight seconds? By being you, of course.

Whether you’re a quaint bakery, a local law firm, or an independent videographer, your brand voice should be unique and relevant to your target demographic. Remember, tone is critical to attracting the right audience. And with social media, you have more room to work with personality and humor.

Let’s look at Wendy’s, for example. Their advertising and web copy showcase their lighthearted brand voice, but Twitter is where the brand really shines. By posting and replying to tweets with a natural tone, Wendy’s not only entertains their younger demographic, but also stands out as memorable and authentic.

Struggling Small Business- Wendy's TwitterStruggling Small Business- Wendy's Twitter

Capitalize on your customer service

Customer service is real-time marketing, a chance to promote your product or service by keeping your customers happy. As social media marketing has grown in popularity among businesses, customer service conducted on social networks has followed suit. A 2012 Nielsen study found that 33% of users preferred to contact brands about service and support through their social networks.

Authenticity on social media doesn’t simply refer to content you post; it also refers to how (and how often) you respond to consumer inquiries and concerns. Instead of opting for a generic response in favor of speed, take the time to answer genuinely, perhaps signing your name or offering direct contact information such as an email or phone number. In fact, a Gallup poll found that consumers prefer quality service over speedy answers.

Struggling Small Business- Social media Customer Service

Genuine customer service on social media also gives you the chance to showcase your awesome employees (or you, if you’re a one-person show). Giving consumers insight into your team dynamic and fun personalities not only reminds consumers that you’re human, but could also serve as a great way to attract solid talent for your company.

3. Breathe Authentic Life Into Your Paid Advertising

A ton of research has been done concerning how many advertisements and brands we come into contact with daily, and that number seems to fall anywhere between 1,000 and 5,000. It seems that promotion has become as second nature to us as breathing.

It’s great that we as consumers have learned to block out much of this advertising, but it’s not so great that we as entrepreneurs must compete for attention in such a saturated space. What can we do to help our marketing stand out from the very busy crowd? Start with authenticity. Here’s how.

Create in house

Whether you’re paying for advertising on social media, pre-roll on YouTube, or prime time on television (big budget difference, I know), consider creating your media content in house. Enlisting creative help from an agency can help your content shine, but the foundation of your advertising should come from the people who know your service best—you and your team. Sourcing copy, imagery, and even graphic design from your own team can give your marketing a human, down-to-earth edge.

A recent Marketo survey found that almost 65% of consumers are downright exhausted by generic, repetitive advertising messaging. What better reason to source your creativity in house. That’s what Johnsonville did when the family-owned company let its employees not only come up with its commercials, but also act in them. “The campaign works for Johnsonville because it’s earnest and it’s true, and it’s tightly linked to the DNA of their company,” says Droga5 group strategy director Aaron Wiggan.

Struggling Small Business- Johnsonville Ad

Be transparent

Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising report shows that “trust and action go hand in hand.” As a brand, solidify this faith through truthful advertising. Because it’s paid or sponsored, your advertising will be under more scrutiny than your organic content. To help it stand out, infuse it with human elements—relatability, transparency, and genuineness.

A good place to start is simply getting real about your own pain points. As Suzanne Evans said, “The mess is your message.” When you show that behind your brand is a real person (gasp!), with a real life that is hardly perfect, people will flock to you, because they sense a kinship. A study conducted by Forrester Research found that emotion was the top indicator of customer loyalty across 95% of the industries studied. Don’t shy away from transparency and authenticity in an effort to seem perfect, professional, or put together. Let your cracks show!

Consult your audience

Even the most seasoned marketer can’t always know what their audience needs and wants. For a small business with an even smaller marketing budget, it’s unwise to take a shot in the dark. Consulting your audience on their concerns, questions, and feedback will not only maximize your marketing spend, but also increase your authenticity. They’ll appreciate that you have a vested interest in solving their problems and helping them succeed. After all, isn’t that why your business exists in the first place?

Struggling Small Business- Laptop on Desk

Market research is not out of reach for small businesses. You can easily use social media or email to ask your audience questions. Tools like SurveyMonkey, Typeform, and Survata can help you send out beautiful feedback surveys for free. Paid services like Temper, Loop11, and Userlytics help you tap into consumer usability and perception of your website.

If you’re looking to conduct standalone research, SocialMention is a great way to check out what’s buzzing online. Pew Research Center, Google’s Marketer’s Almanac, American Fact Finder, and County Business Patterns are free databases to help you understand your target demographic.

Time to Hold Up the Mirror

Now that we’ve reviewed how to prioritize authenticity in your marketing, it’s time to see how your strategy compares. Are you speaking truthfully and transparently to your audience? Are you striving to educate or promote?

Take a step back from your marketing and advertising. Remove yourself from the trenches of your social media, your email campaigns, your content offerings, and your sponsored posts. (That’s right – take a break, grab a snack, go for a walk.)

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Now, take a look at your content from the perspective of a consumer, perhaps one that isn’t familiar with your business. Is your marketing talking to them in the same way that you would? Does your marketing sound like a warm-blooded human, or does it sound like something written by a robot in a suit? If you’re having trouble separating yourself, ask a friend or family member.

While your tone and brand personality are great measures, you can also evaluate your marketing authenticity by the involvement of your audience. Is your marketing content inspired by or directly sourced from your customers? Does it answer questions, solve problems, or educate? When creating your marketing content, always keep your consumer in mind. Ensure your marketing is interacting when them in the same way that you would (if you could converse with thousands of people at once).

Lastly, review your values. What do you and your business stand for? While you don’t have to immediately link yourself to an international cause or trending movement, you should define your “why.” Not only will this give your business depth and direction, but it’ll ensure that you find common ground with your consumers beyond a product and paycheck.

NOTE: To exercise authenticity in your business, you need the right marketing strategies. And we’ve got 28 of these strategies to share with you. Click below to access them!

Get Instant Access To 28 Proven Marketing Strategies For Startups Here!


Authenticity is a state of being. It can be woven into any marketing strategy (as an upgrade, in our opinion). Authenticity is what sets a business apart as long-lasting, committed to loyalty, and operating on the basis of strong values. Authenticity ensures competitive advantage. And best of all, it’s always within your grasp.

How have you employed authenticity in your marketing strategy? Is this something that’s come easily to your organization? How do you determine where to weave in personality and honesty? Let us know in the comments below!


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