As small business owners—yes, that includes us, too—one of the biggest challenges we face is discovering the magic formula that makes our brand stand out. Especially in the crowded and ever growing technology marketplace. Finding the secret sauce that makes our brand resonate with the right customers is an ongoing exercise. Regardless of business type or market, there will always be bigger (and smaller) competitors out there. Some have significantly more resources or advantages but all are chasing the same customer. So how do you find your “thing” that makes you rise above the rest? There is no silver bullet for every category or a perfect algorithm of time + effort + money, but there are a lot of great businesses out there that you can learn from.
When we started Aisle Planner, we felt like the tiny sapling standing among the great sequoias. We were barely noticeable, much less standing out. When you’re in your sapling phase, the forest floor is a very crowded place. Not only are you fighting for every second of sunlight streaming through the forest canopy above, you’re competing with lots of other saplings in the very same survival mode. They’re going after every inch of soil, every drop of rainwater, and every ray of sunshine just like you. At that time, we actually joked about how lucky we were that no one knew we existed. Our biggest advantage was our own anonymity!
Our first years were all about focus. Focus on building the best possible framework for the product. Focus on working with our community to refine our vision and learning ways we could do more to support our customers. During this time, we didn’t grow tall, but our roots spread wide and our trunk grew strong. The health and toughness of our foundation would be important when we made the move to grow upward.
When we launched in late 2014, we were so sure of ourselves. We knew absolutely that the world would take notice. Our reality, however, was a tough pill to swallow. No one knew who were or seemed to care. Then, the strangest thing happened. One of our friends whom we’d featured on the site called to say how beautiful the story was. “We have to get the word out that you guys are here for us!” they proclaimed. Within a week, she had helped to arrange a meet-and-greet at a mutual friend’s flower studio nearby with two dozen planners in our neighborhood.
We knew how important this opportunity was to us. This was our “coming out” and we needed to create an event that embodied our brand and domain expertise in a way that wasn’t intimidating—as tech often is—but showed the value of our product to our market and the value of how it came to be. To tell our story completely, we needed to speak to how our software works to connect the business of event planning and project management with their processes. And, we needed speak to the fact that we paired our collective industry experience with hundreds of conversations with our professional peers and the insights they shared about their own tech needs and process pain points. This one event kick started our marketing and gave us the base ingredients for a recipe that has helped us stand out.
We’re going on six years now and we’ve grown from that little sapling to a much taller, healthy tree. Standing among the great sequoia of our industry, we know we still have a long way to go. We’re committed to growing in the right direction and taking our own place in this forest with a very strong root system grounded in that same recipe.
So how does one survive and, more importantly, thrive starting out on that overcrowded forest floor? We know what works for us. Early on, we identified the things about our brand and our relationship to our community that were absolute. We continue to work at leveraging these into the elements that define our brand, our story, and our products. These are the things that have and continue to give us our intangible “something special” that connects us to our customers. These are the things that surprise and delight them. They inspire them to adopt us as their partners and provide the motivation to turn them into evangelists for us.
Since every company and brand is different, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that works for every type or size. That’s why we’re spending the month of November exploring ways to make your own business, products, and services shine. Of course, we’ll be sharing examples from members of our own community, too. It’s our hope you’ll mine a nugget or two that help you find your own piece of forest floor. Or, if your roots are already firmly planted, maybe you’ll glean an idea to strengthen your trunk or grow your branches long. Either way, every forest is a singular ecosystem and we’re looking forward to growing tall and strong with you, side by side.
CEO & Co-Founder