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Business Unplugged™
This blog features Carol Roth's tough love on business and entrepreneurship, as well as insights from Carol's community of contributors.

Customer Service: Playing by Small Town Rules

Written By: Barry Moltz | 3 Comments

No one has to tell the average business person that things are now different. Radical economic factors and technological changes have altered the very course of our society. As a result, business is now forced to play be a different set of rules.

Through the Internet, every customer can now talk directly to each other. It’s similar to living in a small town where every customer knew every other and your company lived or died by what they said! People listen now more to what customers say about your company than your mass advertising. The human voice in business is valued over big corporate mission statements. People online are banding together in small communities with common interests. Given a choice, consumers would rather buy their products locally than abroad. 

Every consumer now behaves like they live in a small town. As a result, companies now need to play be a new set of “small town rules.” These are the same rules that have made rural entrepreneurs successful for centuries.  They apply to small businesses and big brands, no matter how big or how urban.

Many familiar companies started in small towns likeVikingRange, L.L. Bean clothing, and Sonic Drive Ins. Wal-Mart may be the single most powerful brand to come from a small town and remake the world, affecting both small businesses and huge national brands.

Small town business people have tried everything to survive and thrive within the limits of their towns. The best ones have a reputation for knowing every customer personally and for catering to their customers. But, there are deeper strategies and tactics behind the scenes: managing multiple lines of income, thinking long term, being frugal, creating community and building local connections.

If all businesses would act more like small town entrepreneurs, they could be more profitably in the long term.

So what do you think? Has business changed? Do we need to need to create a local feeling in a global economy? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Article written by Barry Moltz
Barry Moltz is a Chicago-based serial entrepreneur, business consultant, marketing expert, mediator, speaker and author of several books on small-business success. Look for his advice on Crain's blog for entrepreneurs every Monday. Barry is also a regular contributor to the American Express Open Forum. Follow Barry on Twitter: @BarryMoltz
  • Thanks for your insight Barry. I think the most important feature of a small town and the thing that brands are trying to duplicate is the idea of creating a community.  Small towns (or at least the idealized version of a small town – because you know, small towns are being hit particularly hard in this economy) is that the there is a sense of community.  But community is much more than belonging to something.  It’s about doing something together that makes belonging matter.  They have volunteer fire departments.  They have active participation in their Chambers, Legions and business associations.  They have small summer fairs.  It’s the active engagement of individuals that BELONG – I suppose the best example I could give for a large brand that has achieved a community would be Nike and their running groups.  Very diverse individuals from across the globe have come together to log their miles, compete and brag.  So Nike, even though they sell shoes, has managed to create a ‘belonging” to something that has its reward within the community. It was not enough that Nike put a “like” button – they understood that to create, what you term as a ‘small town’ they needed people to belong to something that mattered deeply to them – to engage, share, laugh, cry with other passionate runners.  You can call it a small town, or a community – but I agree, it is the holy grail for marketers.

  • I am always excited to see the results from blending offline and digital business behavior.  Blending ideas has fast become a hallmark of internet-fostered communication, as well as success.
    Small Town Rules notes that the recent economic changes have altered the ways small businesses must operate to survive.  The result is a new small town paradigm for businesses of all sizes, with advantages and disadvantages altered in illuminating ways.  For example, Moltz and McCray note that geographic location, once advantageous because  “Craftspeople wanted to be located near raw materials.…Merchants had to be on the trade routes”, is an eliminated factor.
    You had very well manage the article to describe idealized version 🙂

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