Thinking small to get big in a fragmented marketing world

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Anyone older than the age of 30 is probably feeling a certain sense of déjà vu these days. The world of marketing is turning upside down again just as it did in the mid-1990s when mass adoption of the Internet revolutionized the way businesses were marketed.

This time around, the culprits are the spread of broadband connections, advances in mobile technology and an unprecedented ability for consumers to create and share their own content online.

In the face of these changes, the right response is the counterintuitive one. In order to get big, think small.

Thinking small has many implications for a marketer. It means thinking about your prospects in smaller clusters.

It means reaching out to prospects in smaller and more targeted ways. It means doing the small things your customers truly value. While most of us cannot ignore the broad, mass-market approach to getting attention, the key to growth may be executing effectively in smaller and smaller spaces.

Although one might be tempted to lump hundreds of thousands of customers into a single amorphous mass, that would be a fatal mistake.

Ruthless segmentation is the key to survival. Think small by slicing your segments as thinly as my favorite sushi chef slices raw ginger. A dentist in Atlanta wants a different relationship with a service provider than a freelance graphic designer in Chicago. It's much more than the product and how they use it. They have different communication styles and needs and different expectations for service and support.

Understanding these differences down to the smallest level can reduce cancellations, improve loyalty and increase the profitability of each customer.

Thinking small naturally leads one to consider the awesome power of the Internet and, in particular, Internet search.

Indeed, the smallest space of all is inside the mind of the individual consumer or small business owner, and Internet search can put you on the computer screen just when your prospect is researching options or getting ready to make a purchase.

This is as true for business-to-business companies as it is for consumer marketers. Internet search is one of the fastest-growing channels. Having a tested and creative Internet search strategy is a must for any "small thinking" company.

A physical analog to Internet search is the use of channel partners to help deliver your message to small businesses.

There are any number of large companies that are all trying to reach the same small business market, and partnering with one or more of them in a non-competing industry can help deliver added marketing punch.

If you're trying to sell Internet service to small businesses, consider partnering with a major bank to deliver a customized insert inside the envelope of the statements that bank sends to its business customers.

Finally, think about the small things you can do for your customers that help build long-term loyalty. The custom publishing industry is booming, and for a good reason.

Stressed-out small business owners place a premium on news and information they can put to use immediately, and a custom-published newsletter or magazine can add enormous value to a customer relationship. Launching such a publication is not prohibitively expensive, either, especially if you partner with an existing custom-published newsletter and repurpose its content under your own brand.

The fragmentation of marketing channels and customer preferences is making it harder and harder to have a big impact. Thinking small is one solution that can help direct marketers continue to grow. n

Neil Metviner is executive vice president at Pitney Bowes Inc. and president of Pitney Bowes Direct, Stamford, CT. Reach him at neil.metviner@pb.com.

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