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What Most Marketing Advice Doesn’t Tell You

CO.STARTERS is a Small Business Too: Part IV — Learn the next step for business survival in this fourth article in a series on how we're adapting our own small business.

CO.STARTERS is a Small Business Too: Part IV

The fourth in a series of inside tips on how we’re adapting our own small business to the current challenges.

Perhaps the single most common question we hear from entrepreneurs is, “How can I improve my marketing?”

By now, you’ve probably read thirty Medium pieces and Forbes articles about how marketing is really about storytelling, and storytelling is really about branding, and branding is really about image, and well, you get the picture. And while that’s true, these approaches to marketing often leave out one very important consideration when creating a marketing strategy.

What Do Customers Want?

Marketing just means the way you talk to your customers and the people you want to gain as customers. And, as cliche as it may sound, this is a relationship that you need to cultivate just like any other important relationship. Think about good and bad dates you’ve been on—what do the good ones have in common that the bad ones don’t?

There is no hard and fast rule for how you communicate to your customers, since different businesses need to attract different kinds of people. But one universal principle is that you need to talk to your customers the way they want to be talked to.

You are a complex person who’s had challenges and successes throughout your life—tell your audience what you have learned and how you are going to solve their problems.

Most people want to be spoken to by other human beings. We’re relational beings, and sometimes people forget that fact translates into the marketplace. The typical customer wants two things: 1) their problem to be solved, and 2) to have a relationship with the person who solves that problem.

If you don’t provide that relationship, your customers will drift toward convenience, purchasing from Amazon and other large corporations with more efficient logistics.

Building the relationship.

To grow your relationship with your customers, you need to tell your story. Know where you are and be honest. You are a complex person who’s had challenges and successes throughout your life—tell your audience what you have learned and how you are going to solve their problems.

This advice applies just as much to us at CO.STARTERS. Back in March, there was so much uncertainty. We knew that we were going to have to pivot as a company, but we ended up pivoting too far and neglecting our existing customer base in search of new ones. This move ended up costing us, but we learned valuable lessons about the importance of customer relationships as a result.

But after learning these lessons we’re being up front with our customers about the mistakes we’ve made and why we made them? Why? Because our customers want to buy from real people, not an algorithm or generic brand identity.

We’re relational beings, and sometimes people forget that fact translates into the marketplace.

Whatever your weaknesses are, don’t go to pains to hide them from your customers. In fact, they will make you more trustworthy.

Relationships Protect You From Competition.

Sometime in the future, another business will enter your market and solves your customers’ problems better than you do—it’s a fact of entrepreneurship. But the relationships you have with your customers can work for you when the competition gets tight—if you play your hand well.

This is what has kept small, local bookstores in business amidst the rise of Amazon. They invest in their communities and build relationships and social trust with their customers, so that customers want to buy from them, and only go to Amazon as a last resort.

Entrepreneurs seriously underestimate the degree to which customers want to feel good about their purchases, to feel like they are making a difference or shopping well. It’s part of the reason places like Whole Foods are thriving—they want you to feel like a “better” person when you shop there. A very similar dynamic exists with shopping at small ventures.

Take your customers seriously. Relate to them the way you want to be related to. They will thank you for it.

About the Author

Jose Alfaro is the Director of Growth at CO.STARTERS, where he works to build strong and sustainable business models to support CO.STARTERS work at scale. He is an experienced operations director who has successfully scaled organizations in the community development and hospitality industries. Jose loves the creative approach CO.STARTERS uses to help individuals and communities thrive through entrepreneurship. Jose’s first business was a catering company, but his dream is to build a sustainable food accelerator that supports minorities by expressing their culture through food.

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