C-Suite Advisory

4 Lessons Large Businesses Can Learn From Small Businesses This Holiday Season

Sure — large companies might have countless employees, mountains of cash, and seemingly endless resources at their disposal. However, that doesn’t mean they should look past small businesses as a source of inspiration. This holiday season, legacy organizations that take a page from smaller businesses could truly set themselves up for success.

There’s only so much businesses can control when it comes to a successful holiday season. And in 2021, the holiday season will still be impacted by the pandemic — from evolving consumer shopping habits and economic uncertainty to supply chain holdups and manufacturing delays.

This year, it will be more important than ever to connect with consumers emotionally and provide them with seamless, exceptional shopping experiences. Luckily, the small businesses that survived and thrived during the tumultuous COVID-19 pandemic serve as excellent trail guides for larger legacy companies. These successful small businesses proved their ability to pivot and connect with customers to separate themselves from the pack.

With this in mind, larger businesses would be wise to draw from the small business bag of tricks this holiday season. Here are a few ways to start:

  1. Remember that physical footprint still matters.
    Brick-and-mortar footprint continues to be a source of confusion for businesses. Social distancing and remote work have changed foot traffic patterns, and companies are struggling to develop omnichannel approaches that mindfully incorporate brick and mortar as part of the customer experience. Holly Draher, national account director at Harbor Retail, says smaller, more flexible locations could be the next step.“As big-box retailers continue to experiment and develop these capabilities for key demographics, understanding how to operate in a smaller footprint will open up new opportunities to bring those smaller retail formats into urban locations (suburban locations, too, if need be),” she writes in Total Retail. She also suggests that smaller storefronts allow companies to “fail fast and learn quickly on the quest to meet ever-changing customer needs.” As you get to know your customers’ behaviors this holiday season, smaller footprints will certainly make it easier to pivot merchandise or change displays.
  2. Tell a good brand story.
    There have never been more buying options for consumers, and that will prove especially true during the holiday shopping season. Why would a customer choose your offering over your competitor’s? Companies should be working harder than ever to capture and retain customer loyalty based on shared values. Small businesses are good at building connections with customers for plenty of reasons, but two stick out the most: First, they typically share a community with their customers. Second, it’s easier for customers to become familiar with the people behind the business.When it comes to purchasing gifts for others, consumers might be more concerned with that emotional side of your company. This holiday season, then, make sure the human side of your business shines through in any marketing or communication activity. The first step is to identify your brand story — and even more than that, the values your brand believes in that your customers would relate to. Then, use storytelling methods such as video, social media, design elements, web content, and in-store experiences to allow customers to absorb and relate to your story. They’ll be proud to give your products as gifts to loved ones.
  3. Show customers you care about them.
    In addition to having plenty of choices at their disposal, customers often had to change their shopping habits during the pandemic based on availability or convenience. This means they might have experimented with new brands. In this case, it’s not enough just to tell your side of the story — it’s also vital to establish a two-way connection with customers. “A genuine moment between a customer and a brand occurs when the customer experiences something real, something that’s more than a transaction,” explains Daryl Forkell, product and marketing creative director at Hallmark Business Connections, in an article for MarketingProfs. “It may be as simple as a human interaction between a customer and a brand representative, or it could be a personal message to the customer that hits home.”What’s the best way to make that connection? By surprising and delighting your customers with personalized, thoughtful touches. Small businesses are good at personalizing services and messages to their customers, partly because they don’t have the sheer quantity of customers that large businesses have. But you can bet that effort will pay off. One way to add personal touches this holiday season is to send cards, but make sure those cards are going to physical mailboxes instead of electronic ones. After all, e-commerce purchases mean you have each customer’s mailing address, whereas it might be harder to capture email addresses.
  4. Create an unforgettable unboxing experience.
    During the holiday season, consumers are likely to attach more emotion and meaning to products than other times of the year. And one of the best ways to keep driving a connection with your customers this year is to curate an engaging, delightful unboxing experience.Experience continues to reign supreme in a digital world, and perhaps never more so than after the pandemic’s forced isolation. Take a note from the small business playbook by creating a special unboxing experience that includes personalized details. In fact, an infographic published on Multichannel Merchant suggests paying attention to minute details in the unboxing experience because it shows customers that you care. So consider writing a note by hand, including a small freebie, or devoting resources toward creating special brand-aligned packaging (after all, the holidays are the perfect time to refine and elevate your packaging materials).

This holiday shopping season is sure to be different than any other, just like it was in 2020, and larger businesses have plenty to learn from smaller ones in terms of how to best reach, connect with, and delight customers throughout this time. The holiday season is the perfect time to build deeper emotional connections with your customers — and what are the holidays about if not spreading cheer?


Written by Rhett Power.

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Rhett Power
Rhett Power is responsible for helping corporate leadership take the actions needed to drive impact and courage in their teams that will improve organizational performance. He is the author of The Entrepreneur’s Book of Actions: Essential Daily Exercises and Habits for Becoming Wealthier, Smarter, and More Successful (McGraw-Hill Education) and co-founder of Wild Creations, an award-winning start-up toy company. After a successful exit from the toy company, Rhett was named the best Small Business Coach in the United States. In 2019 he joined the prestigious Marshall Goldsmith's 100 Coaches and was named the #1 Thought Leader on Entrepreneurship by Thinkers360. He is a Fellow at The Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School affiliate. He travels the globe speaking about entrepreneurship and management alongside the likes of former Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann and AOL Founder Steve Case. Rhett Power is an acclaimed author, leader, entrepreneur and an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.