One of the biggest challenges facing small businesses on the web is how to differentiate themselves from the competition. Yes, a unique domain name or site design can help. Great products and good prices makes a difference as well. But sometimes, it really is the little things that can push you over the top. In fact, for just sixty cents (give or take a nickel), one small business in DeKalb, Illinois cemented it's brand in my "gift shopping" bookmarks and sparked a post on this blog that will reach hundreds of thousands of potential customers.

Last week I had a little shopping I needed to do. I was looking for something for a friend or two and I wanted it to be the type of thing I couldn't just run down to Target or the mall and pick up. In the course of my search, I ran across a web site called Moxie. They had the sort of off-beat products I was looking for and the prices were right.

Overall, it was a fun and productive shopping experience. (I mean seriously, who wouldn't like a shop that sells Hairdo playing cards and an invisible bookshelf?)

I didn't think about the site much after I placed my order, other than to log a little mental reminder that I should go back and bookmark the site for birthday and Christmas shopping.

Then yesterday, I checked the mail. There in the stack was an envelope addressed to me and sealed with a giant blue "Moxie" sticker. Since most of my correspondence takes place online, it's fairly unusual to see a hand written envelope. I pulled it out of the stack and opened it up.

moxie.jpgImagine my surprise when I found not only my receipt (since the gift had shipped to the recipient) but a hand written note thanking me for ordering from the team at Moxie.

Forty-one cents for a stamp plus a bit more for a sticker and a note card. Less than one minute to write and seal and address the envelope. A super simple thing that any business, no matter how small could afford to do.

And it worked.

moxie2.jpgWhile I liked Moxie and was pleased with my purchases, the note from Courtney sealed the deal. Not only is Moxie going into my bookmarks (and likely my year end gift guide on my parenting blog), it also got a write up here, will make it's way into at least one presentation and will prompt me to tell quite a few folks about my great shopping experience there. It's these tiny little actions that show the humanity behind a company that often spark word of mouth buzz. (Any one remember I heart Zappos?)

When I talk to small businesses about viral marketing and social media, I spend a lot of time trying to remind them their size is a benefit in the game of social media. The Internet is making the world a smaller place. Shoppers no longer need to buy from the shops within driving distance. Since prices rarely vary by enough to make a true difference in where you shop, it often comes down to customer experience, customer service and the personality of the shop. Making a personal connection with your buyers can seal the deal to keep them coming back for more.

A handwritten note? It might not seal the deal for everyone, but it certainly had an impact on me. I'm willing to bet it has an impact on a fair portion of their other shoppers as well. Sixty cent branding? Sounds to me like the type of branding a small business can't afford to pass up.

Ask yourself, what simple gesture can be incorporated into the way you do business online to show your humanity? Commit to doing it for the next three months. I'd wager you'll be pleased with the results, as will your customers.

April 8, 2008

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


We are so used to getting mediocre service then when we do get great service we are BLOWN AWAY.

The way for a small business to get an edge on big box stores is to humanize the process AND over deliver customer service. You will stand out.

People are so savvy and cynical that that they see newsletters , thank-you emails , surveys, coupons etc as an obvious marketing ploy and are underwhelmed. Those all have their place but thinking outside the box like the company Jennifer write about, will thrill . Surprise your customers once in a while.

Awesome idea, and so easy. Obvious, really, once you see it in action, but (for some reason) so hard sometimes for small businesses to think of doing things like this. (And Moxie is a way cool store -- thanks for pointing them out to us, Jenn!)

Now THAT is customer service! Providing the time spent sending the notes out to every single customer can get this kind of reaction out of is certainly all worth it! We would be equally impressed with this small gesture and definitely use a company more often. Great article.

I think Moxie was brilliant for sending you a personal thank you card. It's obvious they value their customers-- which goes along way in the ecommerce world.

Another great tip - I've alerted the folks at FC, just in case they weren't paying attention. Looking forward to Houston!

I have seen this in action for several years now as I used get my perscriptions filled by a drugstore in Canada. They didn't send a "snail", but rather included it in the box that my pills were shipped in.

Over the years, although I knew that the box would contain the "MOXIE" hand written thank you note, but I always appreciated it... and it always help brighten my day.

I enjoyed the thought provoking article. Thanks for sharing!

I have just started a paid online business directory. I have no tangible product. I will immediately implement something similar to Moxie's example but of course the invoice will go to accounting.

Your article on "Sixty Cent Branding" is absolutely right. The small hand-written note is one of the best ways to separate the small business from the big coporations.

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Sixty Cent Branding: How One Minute of Effort Sparked This Post