Counterintuitive tips to grow business:

  • During tough economic times, instead of slashing your budget, invest in your brand.
  • Give products away for free to build good will with consumers and summon buzz.
  • Recognize that an engaging customer experience can sometimes be delivered better virtually than in person.

In business, sometimes what at first might not appear to be the most logical course of action can in fact yield surprising benefits.

That’s what executives from S’well, Jersey Mike’s, Verizon and Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions discovered.

At S’well, a maker of sustainable, fashionable water bottles, giving the product away for free turned into a powerful tool to generate awareness and build the business. At Jersey Mike’s, investing in promotion and store remodels during the pandemic was a winning strategy for the sandwich chain. Verizon, meanwhile, discovered that in-person meetings are no longer necessary, and Toshiba believes that being memorable by making connections creates a more lasting impression than “doing something crazy.”

Here, executives from S’well, Jersey Mike’s, Verizon and Toshiba share how the companies took what otherwise might be viewed as conventional business wisdom, and turned it on its head to drive results.

 Headshot of Sarah Kauss, founder of S'well.
Sarah Kauss, founder and executive chairwoman of S'well. — S'well

S'well: Give your products away for free

Sarah Kauss, founder and executive chairwoman

When S'well was just starting out, I quickly learned the power of getting our bottles into the hands of as many people as possible—from retailers and conference attendees to media and influencers. By creating opportunities for people to experience the beauty of our products firsthand and be delighted by their performance, we generated a groundswell of buzz that delivered meaningful partnerships and sales opportunities.

[Read here on the difference between sales and marketing.]

 Headshot of Hoyt Jones, president of Jersey Mike's.
Hoyt Jones, president of Jersey Mike's Franchise Systems. — Jersey Mike's

Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems: Instead of slashing your budget in tough times, invest

Hoyt Jones, president

Many companies cut their budgets when faced with a downturn, whether it’s a recession or unexpected event like a pandemic. At Jersey Mike’s, we do the opposite. We believe companies that continue to invest in their brands during tough times come out stronger as they remain top of mind. In March 2020, the world practically shut down due to COVID-19. To provide financial relief and support for customers during this difficult time, we made a big investment in advertising to let people know about promotions for 50% and 25% off subs, as well as free delivery services. We wanted our customers to know we were open and operating safely.

Helping our communities was a top priority, and we invested heavily in TV time to invite customers in to support Feeding America. Over two weekends [in April and November 2020], we donated 20% of sales, raising more than $4.5 million for the organization, providing 45 million meals. These were some of the busiest days in Jersey Mike’s history.

Another example of this counterintuitive approach is choosing to continue our program to retrofit all 2,000 locations across the country despite fewer customers coming into the physical space of our stores. This roughly $175 million investment includes a brand-new look, along with operational improvements like adding a second make line [a team of workers that prepares virtual orders] to accommodate heavier digital orders.

As states begin to reopen, our sales continue to grow, thanks to the awareness generated throughout the past year. As customers return to our restaurants, we hear how they love our new look.

[Read here on signs you’re ready to expand your products and services.]

We believe companies that continue to invest in their brands during tough times come out stronger as they remain top of mind.

Hoyt Jones, president, Jersey Mike's

 Headshot of Wendy Taccetta, SVP at Verizon.
Wendy Taccetta, senior vice president for nationwide small business and channel chief, Verizon. — Verizon

Verizon: In-person isn’t necessarily personal — sometimes ‘we know each other better by engaging virtually’

Wendy Taccetta, senior vice president for nationwide small business and channel chief

What was counterintuitive three years ago is now table stakes. We always think that great customer experience has to be personal. And that’s true. But personal doesn’t always mean in person. In a lot of ways, we know each other better by engaging virtually.

The most common thing we hear from business owners is that they have to be available when the customer needs them. That used to mean sitting in the office so they could find you. Now it means having an application like One Talk [which Verizon developed so that companies] can find who is available to take the next customer call no matter where they are physically. [It’s part of] the Complete Business Bundle we created in January to specifically address the needs and challenges of small businesses.

[Also], having a simple video call is not enough anymore. Now, we need the ability to chat, share documents and collaborate with virtual whiteboards. We’re helping businesses explore the ways they can create a signature experience in person or virtually because they will both be part of our future.

 Headshot of Fredrik Carlegren, VP of marketing, Toshiba.
Fredrik Carlegren, vice president of marketing, Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions. — Toshiba

Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions: Take the ‘four Ps of marketing’ with a grain of salt

Fredrik Carlegren, vice president of marketing

Still to this day I hear references to the ‘four Ps of marketing,’ to which someone inevitably adds their own unique twist like, ‘Don’t forget that fifth P.’ Sure, there is relevance in the understanding of how product, place, price and promotion fit into the narrative of your business. But this all misses the point. Or perhaps stated differently, it ignores the more fundamental understanding that we are dealing with people, human beings. People that buy, that influence, that use. People who want to look good for their boss, have their own fears and aspirations and more. People who are skeptical, and others that are trusting.

[One takeaway is to] be memorable — but genuinely so.

‘Being memorable is easy—let’s do something really crazy,’ said someone, but not likely a serious marketer. They key is being genuine in this journey with you and your business fully and inextricably connected to your core mission and value, and by creating a deep connection between your brand and [your clients] and in how you strive to always put them first. You’ll be faced with numerous challenges large and small, expected and unexpected. Listen intently to the voice of your customer at every turn, then create the genuinely memorable experiences that will keep them coming back.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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CO— is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Published June 28, 2021