Paul Stonier

Small Town Hero or a Fish Too Big For Its Own Pond?

Business

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In a small gathering of business owners and entrepreneurs that I was part of last week, I was especially intrigued in a part of our discussion. The owner of a company who understands the importance of professional design and branding, brought up that now that their newsletter looks professional, it no longer feels like they are a small town company. His fear is that his client-base of the small town is being turned away by the idea that the company is too big.

The small town customer comes to the small town company often because of the fact that they are a small town company. But what happens when the company doesn’t look like a small town company? Can it actually bad for a company’s brand to look professional? Even if the company provides a higher level of quality in service while remaining a small town company?

It seems to me that there are two ways to approach this conundrum. One way is to refocus the brand in a way to not necessarily pull back in quality, but shift the message providing a strong focus on the town and the people being affected. The other way would be to actually reach out and grow to a size that is accurately being represented.

But where did this correlation of size of a company and the level of professionalism in the design of a company’s materials come from? When did this happen? Did this actually come from larger company’s having the budget to pay a designer or a studio to create their materials rather than a neighbor’s daughter who has photoshop? I’m very interested in what your thoughts are.

  • I have several comments on this that I’ll try to summarize into this one reply:

    1. I think that being a small business that puts on a professional hat will be taken seriously by both their competitors and by potential customers. But I guess that is making the supposition that their potential customers are looking for a “professional” business. In this case we are really talking about marketing 101 “Know Your Target Market”. This is where statistics and market research are important. Who is my product/service for? And how am I going to reach my customer?

    The comment in the story above that says that “The owner of a company who understands the importance of professional design and branding, brought up that now that their newsletter looks professional, it no longer feels like they are a small town company. His fear is that his client-base of the small town is being turned away by the idea that the company is too big. ” tells me that the owner has the tools to play with the big boys, but not the aspirations…He fears looking professional because he thinks it will alienate his company in his small town. I think the misunderstanding here lies not in the design of his newsletter, but his perception of his company. Maybe his company is growing larger. That doesn’t mean he still can’t service his clients like a small business. I believe that he needs to embrace that his company may be growing in another direction from what was originally intended and find new ways of reaching his target market. If you feel that your newsletter looks too professional for your small town clients, then change it…I’m not saying riddle it with spelling errors and bad punctuation. But instead have a designer use colors and schemes that fit within the boundaries of what is aesthetically pleasing to your clients. At the same time keep your more “professional” newsletter for those new clients that are professionals in your town. Just because you live in a small town doesn’t mean that there aren’t a myriad of so-called professionals that live and work there. Doctors, lawyers, etc. are considered professionals and may respond better to being addressed as such, whereas a housewife (or househusband) might respond better to a more personal newsletter.

    The moral of the story is know your brand, and know your customer. Just because you appear one way to one set of clients doesn’t mean you can’t have a different image for another set of clients. Either way, treat people the way you want to be treated and deliver outstanding service and problems like this won’t exist.

  • Nic, thanks for responding. It means a lot.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “the owner has the tools to play with the big boys, but not the aspirations”, but I’m not sure if different materials for different audiences would necessarily be the best answer. If that’s the case, where do you draw the line? Separate brochures? websites? logos?

    I think a simple shift in the message just needs to be addressed; in which the locals need to be reaffirmed that their personal hometown service will be maintained while the company is growing in order to serve them with greater resources.

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