Go back twenty, maybe thirty years, and you’d be hard pressed to find people with aspirations to forego their nine-to-five and set up on their own.
Today, the prevalence of micro-businesses (of which there are currently more than five million) is testament to the fact that we’re far more open to doing our own thing than ever before – and many people are taking the leap.
What’s interesting is that, while the number of micro-businesses has continued to grow, the monopolisation of the high street by global brands has stayed strong – until now.
In a recent survey, 48% of shoppers said they preferred to choose independent retailers over large chains. That’s nearly half of all shoppers, choosing to buy from smaller businesses over their corporate counterparts. And that’s a huge opportunity for independent business owners.
What is a ‘micro-business’?
According to Ofgem, a micro-business is any business employing fewer than 10 people or having a balance sheet no greater than £2 million. The growing number of micro-businesses in the UK reflects the increasing popularity of entrepreneurship combined with the developing technologies and services that promote sole proprietorship or small business mentalities.
As far as the consumer is concerned though, a micro-business is so much more.
Consider your last walk down your local high street. Corporate chains may have made up the majority of storefronts you passed, but how about that brightly adorned window full of independent goodies, or that A frame chalkboard with the kooky message that made you stop and pay attention?
It’s likely that the latter two were a) independents or b) trying to appear independent. And that’s because being a micro-business or an independent isn’t just about being small, it’s about being different to those corporate brands.
The power of brand
In many senses, being a ‘micro-business’ or ‘independent’ is a perception, rather than a reality.
Innocent Drinks provides a case in point. Once a fully independent brand, the company is now owned by Coca Cola, yet retains the independent feel thanks to the strength of its brand, which is all about environment, fun and goodness – as displayed most notably through social media updates such as their support of National Penguin Day and their bi-annual ‘how to change your clocks’ campaigns.
Brand, it seems, is the currency of the modern business. Where your brand is strong, you stand a better chance of compelling shoppers to choose you and, where you invest in a unique brand, you can be more sure of repeat custom too.
How to ‘microlise’ your brand
Whether yours is an independent, micro business or not, it can benefit from a few tips to help ‘microlise’.
Create a brand persona
A brand persona is a fictional individual who represents your brand’s personality, aspirations and even tone of voice.
One of the things micro-businesses have over larger brands is that they are made up of fewer people, so the chance of their brand values being diluted is hugely reduced. Tell a team of 5 ‘this is how we want to be known’ and that’s pretty easy to maintain across all communications. Tell a team of 500, and messages get lost in translation.
By agreeing a brand persona, you can ensure your brand is represented in the way you intend across all channels.
Consider your marketing materials
The marketing materials with which you promote your brand say a lot about who you are and how you want to be perceived.
It’s no coincidence that large branding agencies make their fortunes helping businesses to settle on a brand look and lace that look through all of their promotions. However, micro-businesses can achieve this too, and it needn’t cost the world.
Trends such as ‘chalk-boarding’ are all about cheaper alternatives to large scale ad campaigns, giving micro-business owners a platform to express their brand’s personality and better engage their audience. A simple pop up banner, when done well, can be a great tool for promotion – especially when its design is consistent with your other designs and communicative of your brand persona.
Know your audience
Another huge advantage for micro-businesses is that they can be really targeted in their audience communications. Because there’s no central ‘power’ to listen to or multi-national audiences to break down, small businesses are much better placed to speak directly to a niche segment of their target audience, to positive effect.
Whether you’re a large brand or a small business, taking this segmented approach to understanding your audience can be hugely beneficial. Be sure to spend the time getting to know what your audience likes and creating content that taps into that.
Why micro-businesses have the advantage
In a marketplace where the high street is struggling and large retailers are facing more and more challenges, micro-businesses have a huge advantage if they can make use of their own independence.
With a more agile approach, better audience segmentation and something unique to say, micro-businesses can win the battle of the high street.
Aaron Inglethorpe is a branding expert from Discount Displays, which provides a wide range of marketing and branding materials for businesses of all sizes. Over the last 30 years, Discount Displays has become the UK’s number one choice for exhibition stands, large format print and display systems.