I’d like to kick off this small lecture on small business by talking about candy. Specifically – candy buffets. If you aren’t familiar, candy buffets are those decorative spreads of sugar sticks and bon-bons, often presented in apothecary jars, which have taken wedding receptions and other celebratory gatherings by storm recently.
At first, these tooth-racking tables of sweets might seem totally unrelated to running a business –save for that you might feature one at your holiday party. However, if you take some time to consider the sudden rise of the candy buffet, you’ll notice that many of the principles that make these dessert tables so appealing can also be applied to a successful small business marketing strategy. Specifically, here are a few lessons every marketing guru can learn from a simple candy buffet.
1) Learn to present your strengths. On their own, wholesale candy sticks might not seem all that appealing. However, when you bundle them up in an apothecary jar, they look positively delightful. Nothing has changed – they’re still just candy sticks – but a little dressing up has made them much more appealing.
This is exactly what you should be doing with your company. As a startup, every day is an elevator pitch. You need to present yourself to customers in a way that highlights your best qualities without crossing the line to dishonesty. You might be a bunch of candy sticks at the moment, but damned if you won’t be the most appealing candy sticks they’ve seen all day.
2) Stand out by embracing the competition. A professionally-made candy buffet often features several “centerpiece” name-brand candies that are complimented by other, more generic brands. Though it might seem like loading a buffet with competitive candies might actually distract from the centerpieces,
Research has shown that this principle applies to business as well. The best way to make your company stand out from the competition is to acknowledge and embrace them. When you pitch to potential clients, don’t focus on yourself but rather your role in the industry as whole. Describe the competitors in your field and explain to potential clients what it is that sets you apart. Maybe you offer a more specialized service or your logistics allow for shorter production time. Explaining yourself thusly will make you more worthy in the eyes of your customers and help you create a more intelligent growth plan moving forward.
3) Don’t oversell yourself. Candy buffets aren’t popular because their respective party hosts advertise them to death. They’re popular because they appeal to a desire or need – in this case, partygoers’ sweet teeth – and happen to be available at that moment to appease that desire or need.
This is a basic tenet of entrepreneurship that far too often is ignored by small business owners. Your business should fulfill an unmet need in your industry and your marketing strategy should focus on making your target demographic aware of that need. If you’re relying on hyper-aggressive salesmanship to attract buyers then there’s already a fundamental flaw in your business plan.
4) Don’t make the candy – make the candy buffet. There’s an old saying among entrepreneurs that you should work “on” your business, not “in” your business. What this means, in so many words, is that it’s your job as an entrepreneur to push your business forward. Spending too much time “inside” your business, making products or managing employees, puts you at risk of stagnation and ultimately failure.
For example, let’s say you own a candy company. Your employees should be the ones making the candy while you focus on making the candy buffets –because the buffets are what attract attention to your company. It’s important to focus on the details when you’re just starting out, but your eyes should always be glued on the bigger picture.
At the end of the day, candy buffets and smart marketing have more in common than you might think. So the next time you see a crowd flocking around one of these dessert tables at a party or reception, take a minute to consider why the candy buffet is so popular. Then, apply those principles to your marketing strategy. It might sound crazy – but a little out-of-the-box thinking could lead to some very sweet success.