Small business guide: How to compete with the big brands

Competing with bigger brands on their own terms can be more than a small company can manage, but finding your strengths and playing to those can help you make your mark in the sector you’re targeting.

Know your enemy

While bigger brands are not necessarily the enemy per se, their influence can make it seem as though breaking through in your particular sector is a near impossible task. Anyone who’s starting a small business is going to be clear on what they can offer to the marketplace, but what’s not always as clear is how your proposition is different from the bigger brands.

To further demonstrate this point I found two companies, decorative home accessories specialist Decorque and established fencing supplier Grange Wood Fencing, trying to compete with bigger brands. Both these companies operate in highly competitive niches with big brand competitors, yet they try to compete by offering unique products and services. They tick all the boxes by maintaining active social media accounts and have active blogs.

Yet the question remains despite their efforts, is the wider marketplace aware of their unique proposition? The answer is probably not.

Taking on a big brand on its own terms is likely to lead to a costly failure. They have small businesses just like the two above outgunned in just about everything from marketing budgets, brand recognition and customer loyalty. However, once you know what your big-brand competitors are doing you can position yourself to fill a gap in the market they didn’t know they were leaving.

Even if the products that you are offering are similar to those provided by a bigger firm, there is still a chance to compete. Rather than focusing on the item itself, find other areas where you are different. Whether it’s the fact your products are eco-friendly, you are accessible 24/7 or even that you can deliver products straight to the customer’s door in a clown costume, something about you will be unique and that’s where you need to focus your efforts.

Find a new angle

If you’re a small fish swimming in a big pond, it’s important to have something to get you noticed and set you apart from those with whom you are competing. This can either be in the type of product that you’re offering or in the buying experience for the customer. For some people, ordering from a large company means that they don’t get the personal touch, so being able to discuss the product and their specific requirements can be a unique angle in itself.

Giving customers a different way to shop is also a great way to attract new clients. People searching for gifts or home furnishings can have a hard time finding something that fits with their concept or colour scheme and once finding what they think is the perfect item only to discover that it doesn’t come in the colour they wanted can be a huge cause of frustration. Decorque’s website for example, offers visitors the chance to shop by category and colour, this gives their customers a new way to shop and an improved online experience.

The angle you find may not necessarily be an obvious one. Arguably, the less obvious it is the more likely you are to corner that particular part of the market. You could be the first ever carbon-neutral greeting card manufacturer or an interior decorator who uses nothing but reclaimed fabrics. Whatever angle you choose to come from, picking one that’s unique will not only offer something different to customers; it also makes your company stick out in their minds.

When you’re competing with big brands as a small player, finding your niche is vital. Giving your customers something different to what they’d find elsewhere, whether it’s in terms of the product or through the type of service you offer, will cement your place in the marketplace.

Aaron Hopkins is a professional writer.

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