I Can't Kill Jake

There’s this thing that generals do when they send regular folk to war.

They encourage the de-personalization of the enemy.

The plan is that our regular folk shouldn’t see the opposing forces as another group of regular folk from another country. It makes it hard to kill them.

Much better that they are seen as baby-eating, devil-worshipping demons. It’s easier to kill evil ‘opposing forces’ than it is to kill a group of individual people.

What can this unpleasant little observation possibly have to do with small business online?

It illustrates, albeit in an extreme fashion, that the relationships we have with groups is very different than the relationships we form with individuals.

The moral of the story? Put yourself behind the counter of your small business online. People will find it harder to abandon your business if they have to ‘kill’ you first.

Here’s an example:

Anyone heard of Jake Levich?

I don’t know what he does. I’ve never seen a photo of him. I neither like nor dislike him.

But his is the name in the ‘from’ line whenever I get an email from About.com — formerly The Mining Company.

I subscribe to a lot of newsletters, discussion groups, reminder services and rewards programs. I like to find out what people are doing. But I don’t like my inbox clogged with a zillion emails that are of only marginal interest. So the average lifespan of any subscription in my online life is about a month.

I must have subscribed to the About.com newsletter almost eighteen months ago.

The secret of its survival?

I’m sure that the reason I haven’t ‘killed’ my subscription is because I’d feel bad about ‘killing’ Jake. His is a familiar name in my inbox. If the name in the ‘from’ line had been ‘About’ – I’m sure I would have unsubscribed a long time ago.

Yes, there is an irony here. Here I am, suggesting that being able to ‘put yourself behind the counter’ is an advantage that small businesses have over their larger counterparts. And, of course, About.com is not a great example of a ‘small’ business.

Well, let’s just say that Jake has been smart enough to lift a great small business advantage and use it with a big business.

Here’s another example:

I’ve mentioned Jay Steinfeld a couple of times before in my articles. He’s a nice guy and a great example of someone who has created a successful small business online. If you go to his online store, Nobrainerblinds.com, you’ll find a site that is sometimes as baffling as the domain name itself.

But don’t be fooled. He has a great business. And part of his success lies in the fact that Jay is always behind the counter and ready to serve. If you’re a first-time visitor, you can click and find a letter from him, in his own voice, his own signature and even a cartoon of the guy.

Same thing with Ken Evoy of Sitesell.com. He’s hugely successful and he’s always right there, behind the counter and in full view. His voice, his views, his personal guarantees.

But isn’t the idea of being ‘behind the counter’ a little corny? Not at all.

Companies online spend a fortune on creating ‘relationships’ online. It’s the Holy Grail. It’s the goal of Permission Marketing. It’s why big ecommerce companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on ‘relationship marketing’ software.

The big guys see the same thing: One-on-one relationships last longer and offer better insulation against being ‘killed.’

As a small business, you don’t have those hundreds of thousands to spend. But how much does it cost to put your own name in the ‘from’ line of an email?

How much does it cost to add a link to a personal letter of introduction from you to your customers?

How much does it cost to add a page of ‘My personal favorites’?

As a small business, you do have an advantage. With a very light and inexpensive touch, you can make yourself the focus of the one-to-one relationship.

And people will find it harder to sever their relationship with your company if they have to kill their relationship with you first.

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