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It’s Good To Be Small (Or How To Humanize Your Brand Online)

by Andrey Milyan October 04, 2017
Milky way

Many startups try to compensate for being small by creating a big company image online. They remove all personality in hopes of somehow appearing bigger and more credible. Fake it until you make it, so to speak.

While there is some logic to that, especially in the B2B setting, a cold and impersonal approach is exactly what consumers hate about doing business with large corporations. People want to do business with people and not some faceless entities. In other words, it’s good to be small.

Of course, the irony is that large corporations know that too and work hard to present a “smaller” image to the public. For example, here is how Hillshire Farms wants us to see their brand:

Brand image example

Source: a scene from the Hillshire Farms craftsmen commercial.

Obviously, if you know anything about the modern food supply chain, their production facility looks nothing like the serene farmland above. It’s probably a huge concrete factory with dozens of assembly lines, cargo areas and so on. But who wants to see how the sausage is made, right?

This is not a theoretical discussion either. When I decided to start consulting independently, I was faced with the exact same dilemma. Should I create an agency brand or focus more on a personal brand? There are some pros and cons to each approach but, eventually, I chose to be transparent and add a human element to my professional interactions online.

So how do you put a human face on your online presence? Here are a few places to start.

Tell Your Story

Most businesses have a compelling story to tell. How did you get started? What were some of the challenges and the lessons learned? What are you trying to achieve? Today, consumers want to do business with companies that align with their values. They want to know who is on the other end of a potential transaction. That, more than a fancy logo and an expensive website design, builds trust and credibility.

There are many ways to approach storytelling. You can dedicate a page to your story on your website or create a video featuring the founding members of the team, where you talk about who you are and what you do.

Show Off Your Team

Create a team page and show that there is a real business and real people behind the website. If you are feeling bold and want to go one step further, offer an ability to get in touch with each individual team member. If you are worried about spam and endless sales calls, they will figure out your contact information anyway.

If you have a mailing list or an automatic email nurture series for prospects, highlight your team members in one of the emails. For example, if you have your promotional emails go out from a certain person, dedicate one of the emails to talk about that team member and who they are as a person. The next time your prospects receive one of your emails, it won’t feel like an unwelcome intrusion from a faceless company.

Avoid Generic Stock Photos

This problem is much more prevalent in the B2B world, where I see the same stock photos being used at least once a day (I’m certainly guilty of this myself, although my excuse is that I’m running a blog). Regardless, a generic stock photo of a smiling couple on the beach does not inspire much confidence in the business behind the website.

Of course, don’t take my word for it. According to one study, 67% of online shoppers believe high quality images are “very important” in their decision to buy. It was even more important than ratings and reviews! In a real world test, consumer preferred a real person with a name¬† and a title over a generic stock photo by roughly 35% (via ConversionXL).

Add Some Personality to Your Voice

You voice should fit the audience you serve. You should not be retweeting trending memes if you’re in the business of treating cancer. You should not start your emails with “Hi guys” when you’re writing to Baby Boomers. That said, a little personality goes a long way in your website copy, email communication, social media posts and so on.

There are a lot of good examples out there. Dollar Shave Club and their intro video, which combines storytelling with a lot of personality. Trader Joe’s and their Fearless Flyer, which is clearly not intended for me since I still don’t get it.

Engage With Your Customers

So many businesses make a mistake of ignoring conversations and comments about their brand online. It does require a little bit of time and effort but responding to your prospects and customers on social media is a relatively inexpensive way to win some major brownie points and show that there are real people ready to listen.

There are plenty of tools out there to monitor mentions and engage in social listening. You can get started for free with something as basic as Google Alerts and increase your efforts from there.


It is a natural inclination to fake it until you make it when you’re just starting out. Remember that there are distinct advantages to being small. One of the most important is the ability to offer a personal touch that’s very difficult to replicate at large scale. Use that to your advantage to humanize your business online.

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