For independent, brick-and-mortar retailers, whether in a big town or a small one, staying top of mind with customers is a daily focus. As indie stores, we usually take more of a grassroots approach to building our brand and customer base. Word of mouth is huge. So, with every interaction, we strive to be memorable in a positive way.

Knowing whom we’re selling to and what they’ll get most excited about is a conversation we all have within our stores. Advertising can be a struggle, because it’s a gamble to try to determine what to advertise, how to target your advertising intelligently and what avenues to use. Social media outlets have become the primary method for many indie stores to reach an audience. But it raises many questions: Are you reaching the right people? What, if anything, are you actually posting? Are you treating your social media efforts as another opportunity for interaction?

Helping your social media and video efforts generate a response that is more lasting is a must. For the most part, social media is free, and it’s something that indies love and that nearly everyone uses. The music products industry offers a lot of resources to help small businesses grow. However, our own efforts to present ourselves as different from our better-financed competition can be highly effective, and they cost us considerably less than you might think. By creating a personality for our social media pages, posts and videos, we can make an on-screen image as effective as face-to-face interactions are. Sure, it might not always be easy, but giving up isn’t in the vocabulary of most indie stores, is it?

If the highest-rated and most-shared videos on YouTube are of cats—yes, I watch them, too!—then it’s clear to me that most viewers logging on are looking for an escape. Recognizing the desire to step away from “real life” is the starting point for all of us. If you craft videos that aren’t spouting technical specifications or pricing, it presents the opportunity to engage the audience in a more personal way, and one that’s truly more current. Manufacturers offer plenty of detailed videos about their products; rarely, however, do they talk about or show the fun that the end user will have. Trumpeting that message is 100 percent up to us…and we’re not doing it well enough. Most other industries never make that mistake. Don’t believe me? Look at any car, cell phone, potato chip or tennis shoe ad. Stylized reach-outs that capture the excitement of music and that highlight your store’s individual personality grab people’s attention, make them laugh and spark inspiration. Sometimes, the video that isn’t “selling” the product you’re showcasing becomes your most effective selling tool. The mindset should be that every avenue is a selling tool.

Videos are an incredible medium for reaching people, but the key is consistency. Your viewers should be asking and looking for your next video. Alternating video posts between “produced” and “guerilla-style” offerings will keep your followers checking back regularly. A produced video might have simple graphics and music added, and it might follow a basic script or plan. The guerilla-style videos can be shot on phones for a more action-themed feel. It’s pretty cool to get a call from a customer who watched a quick phone video and hear that it reminded him of his favorite video game. What’s cool isn’t that the video reminded him of a game, though; what’s cool is he called the store and told you. Impact made!

The staff members who appear in the videos also become familiar, which helps relationships grow. The news industry and car dealers have used familiarity for years to establish trust; we should do so, too. Seeing the same people in clips massively increases the chances of viewing and sharing those clips. Asking customers, teachers or reps to join in on videos will recruit advocates who can help spread your brand and message. Invite customers to film their own video clips, and then post or share them on your social media pages. That’s a tool that not only solidifies your bond, but also takes up none of your time. And it’s not just relationship building; it’s also an incredible driver of sales.

You don’t have to spend money to make an effective video, either. Use your imagination! The store videos we produce are a riot, and that’s what has grown our offerings so much. Your staff is composed of unique personalities, so use them! The same thinking applies to the language you use in your videos: Speak conversationally and be approachable. Over the long term, confidence and relatability will do more for your brand than sharing technical specs will. Small details like a salesman’s favorite band or team can be revealed over several videos, so customers will walk in talking about that. They’ll feel like a part of our stores. That’s something no amount of advertising can do; only we can do that.

You should whet your customers’ appetite and drive them into your store for something special. They can shop online all day long from the comfort of their office. Your job is to sell yourself, your team and your store experience. If, on a daily basis, you place value on that, your customers will place value on you.

Twenty-sixteen hasn’t been any easier for our industry than previous years have been. We cater to a tiny percentage of people, and they have an overwhelming selection of places from which to buy. The relationships and partnerships we, as retailers, cultivate have to focus on more than just the immediate close of a deal. By truly investing in our customer base, we can achieve great results.

The big boxes aren’t going away, but that doesn’t mean that smaller indie stores have to be victims. The term “thinking outside the box” has never been more crucial than it is today. I guarantee you that building on your team’s personalities and your store’s uniqueness will be effective.

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