Think small, act fast, repeat

What can large organisations learn from small businesses?

Perhaps for the first time in marketing history, large companies should look to small and neighbourhood businesses who have completely transformed themselves in days or weeks as an initial response to the COVID-19 crisis and then adapted further as regulations and necessities change.

Initially, store setups were changed to reduce density, while high-end restaurants offered dining experiences in complete isolation by delivering food and cocktails and playing live music online during delivery hours.

Shows and concerts moved to Zoom and wine tasting nights started to run over video conferencing, with selected wines being delivered to homes.

Businesses built donation platforms to support charities and frontline workers while keeping their employees busy. Coffee shops in the US even started to sell COVID-19 t-shirts.

When government rules and requirements changed, pop-up stores appeared and outdoor dining areas sprung up. Some provided appointment-only services; others organised drive-through music events. Businesses even invented new packaging and products.

These are a few examples of what small businesses have been doing. The speed at which they’ve adapted and are still reacting to a new and evolving normal is inspirational.

Here are seven clear lessons that large organisations can learn from small businesses, to adapt faster in today’s rapidly changing business landscape.

Size matters

Fewer decision-making layers means quicker adoption. Large corporations must identify which core business units should contribute to the COVID-19-era business decisions, building smaller task forces with the authority to act.

Time is money

Timely and relevant offers can drive competitive advantage. Consumers are open to paying for new products and services now, regardless of who brings them the solution for their new and changing needs. The offer may not be perfect, but it can answer an immediate requirement and even drive loyalty later.

Less is more

Paolo Coelho says, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” But when you want 20 things, even the universe is too confused to deliver it all. Fewer goals help to deliver results faster, so keeping your troops – suppliers, consultants, employees, agencies – focused on one goal can bring a better return at the end.

Wear different hats

Despite a lack of resources and the emotional burden of the situation, many small businesses still managed to adapt quickly by refocusing their limited human resources across multiple areas of the business. For large organisations, it is important to find ways to unlock existing employees’ secondary skillsets to create rapid change without the need to hire new talent or wait until additional resource is available.

Know thyself

We are all emotional creatures, even when we spend money on the most functional item. Knowing your organisation’s emotional contribution to consumers’ lives can help to shape your new offer. That’s why your local coffee shop can sell the feeling of belonging by offering t-shirts, rather than a daily dose of coffee.

Know thy customer

Small businesses often have the advantage of knowing their customers personally. They don’t only understand their customers’ changing needs, they also stay in touch, keeping up an honest conversation with them. In the context of larger organisations, this may require the use of CRM and on-the-ground employee knowledge. Wouldn’t it be great if your marketing and innovation team were to have two-way communication with core customers, receiving their feedback and running ideas with them on the fly?

Transparent is the new black

Many large organisations appear as a perfect automaton, producing goods and services or taking us from A to B with no humans involved. This is probably why consumers have less empathy towards larger brands compared to smaller ones. Being human, transparently and humbly explaining the state of business and the decisions behind business actions helps to create empathy. It also helps consumers build tolerance and helps organisations to lessen a key obstacle against speed to change: the fear of failing.

Brands should think like neighbourhood stores and consider adaptation speed as a key metric to hold their ground and even grow, always remembering the mantra: think small, act fast, repeat.


Please contact Eleni Constantinidi for more