The challenge for small business is always how to stand out in a crowded marketplace. No matter how good your product or how committed you are to grow your company the opportunities for breakout moments seem to be few and far between. Growth is the key to survival but growing in an ever-changing economy against fierce competition and with limited resources is often too much for start-ups. Bloomberg reports a sobering fact that 80% of small businesses fail in the first 18 months.
For those that avoid collapse, the struggle to grow is daunting. Your small business may be the strongest sapling in the forest but you are still just that – a sprouting upstart among established redwoods. Grabbing your share of sunlight to grow is a tall order. Tall, but not impossible. One key to going from bland to brand is developing what I call, “Curb Appeal.”
It’s your daily commute. You drive through your neighborhood, passing countless houses you barely notice. House after house whiz by in an endless stream of unremarkable shapes and colors so ordinary that you pay no attention. Until, you pass it. On every commute, there is ONE house that grabs your attention, one house that locks your gaze and makes you look.
This property is impeccable. It demands attention. The landscaping is precise – neat, green, trimmed with perfectly placed shrubs and flowers that collectively invite your appreciation. The structure is impressive with bold exterior colors and clean, crisp accents that set off the finest features of the building. It isn’t the biggest house in the neighborhood, not the oldest or newest or most historic. Its footprint is probably no more than its neighbors and yet it appears to be so much more than every other house on that street. Every detail is impressive and you unconsciously slow down to appreciate it just a moment longer. That’s curb appeal.
As a small business owner, you need to see your company in the same way. You need to recognize that the marketplace is packed with competition, lined up like those houses in your neighborhood and that somewhere in that community of commerce is your address. You need to understand that everyday potential customers are “driving” down your “street” and passing “house after house” of similar products, barely garnering a glance at most. It is not only easy to be overlooked in this sea of non-descript neighbors, it is highly likely.
The truth is, the marketplace won’t notice you until you make it notice you – and you do that by being that ONE house that stands out. You force the “commuters” to take an interest by triggering one of their primary senses – sight.
Take Photographs, Not Pictures
We are visual creatures. We crave visual stimulation. We believe that a picture is worth a thousand words.
In culinary arts, experts preach that you eat with your eyes first. Presentation is as important to the fine dining experience as the food itself. We value what we admire. In business, research shows that a job candidate has a 7 second window in which to make a positive first impression in an interview. Unconsciously, the interviewer evaluates dress, posture, smile, eye contact and presence within seconds and immediately establishes an interest level. In real estate, curb appeal is the powerful visual impression a property offers before you ever come close to inspecting it. Positive visuals work to predispose you to acceptance and eagerness, piquing your interest subconsciously before you ever set foot on its grounds.
Curb appeal in business starts with how “commuters” – better known as customers – see your products and that starts with impeccable photographs. The difference between a picture and a photograph is the connection it creates. A picture shows you something – a photograph connects you to something.
Photographs transform what the customer sees to something they experience. If you are selling carpet, then skip the pictures of color squares and photograph a family gathered in the living room playing a board game on the carpet. If you are selling tires, then make it about family safety in adverse weather. If you are pitching foam shoe inserts, then sell mobility to do things you love. It doesn’t matter what widget you are selling if you connect it to people’s lives, likes or experiences.
At Chocolate Pizza Company, we have quadrupled sales in about 5 years and more than tripled online sales. One secret in doing that was to create photographs of our gourmet chocolate that looked good enough to eat. We needed images so appealing that consumers wanted to know more, photographs that made your mouth-water anticipating how good that had to taste. Our photographs must immediately convey a product that is unique, delicious and impressive.
We take our own photographs. For our signature products, Chocolate Pizza® and Peanut Butter Wings®, we prefer a mix of angles and zoom that often deliver tight shots that showcase the texture of our chocolate, the vibrant colors of our toppings or the skill of hand-decorated custom orders. The perspective may not show the entire product but what you see immediately commands your attention and invites you to investigate. For gift baskets and chocolate towers that are popular as holiday and business gifts, we show our chocolate unwrapped so the chocolate, not the packaging, is the star.
Professional photographs are exceptional but they are expensive for a small business. The good news is that you can take your own photographs. Technology today allows the amateur to capture high quality images and edit with just a few clicks. We invested a couple hundred dollars in a photo-cube with white lights and use a digital camera to bring our chocolate to life on our website and social media. It is so easy to do that to not take the time is inexcusable.
Images are not the only factor that drive more customers to take an interest in your products but it is often the first factor. Creating a visual stimulus that connects to people is how small business can grab a bit more attention in that forest of competitors. It’s a business fundamental that doesn’t cost much to implement but can be very costly if overlooked. The payoff in building curb appeal for your business is grabbing a few more customers each time they drive through your online neighborhood – and that is worth every penny.