Small-business owners following their passion and excitement for retail enter a marketplace filled with competition. The dynamics of retail giants present sizable challenges to smaller, locally-owned businesses; however, these goliaths remain inherently weak — making way for undersized competitors to take charge.

The idea is not to battle the big retailer, but to identify strengths that customers will notice in a smaller environment, says Christian Kratsas, digital marketing manager at SnapRetail. While reaching people and building a brand are the most powerful ways to grow sales, limited resources and expertise stymie even the basic components of this ideology for new and smaller shops. But even though big-box retailers’ massive marketing budgets can seem like an insurmountable advantage, there are many ways smaller stores can connect with existing and prospective customers.

Know Your Strengths — While there are many ways big-box retailers dominate, the luster of deep discounts and easy access fades if what matters — a positive experience — is missing. An estimated 85% of business can be lost due to customer service blunders, which indicates that credibility outweighs convenience in the retail game. Expertise is essential in establishing a strong position in the marketplace. In this area, the tailored and personal approach of a smaller shop offers a huge advantage over the inexperience and lack of information typically offered by employees at larger retailers. Why is this so important in marketplace positioning? People generally have low expectations when it comes to customer service, so when the experience is good, they will share it with others.

News Travel Fast — Social media helps get the word out — quickly — and 88% of consumers are influenced by online customer reviews when considering a purchase. Kratsas says social media is the most vital element to any new or small business and should begin even before a business opens.

“It’s the best way to get your footprint out there and it’s free,” he says. Though social-media options abound, Kratsas cautions against casting a wide net over them all. Know your target audience and understand the demographic appeal each channel provides. For instance, did you know there are almost as many Facebook users are there are people in the world, while Pinterest subscribers are 80% women and Instagram is geared to the 15- to 34-year-old population? Know your target demographic and go from there. Instagram may be the perfect choice for licensed skateboards, but University of Oregon orthopedic walking shoes may not gain the traction desired.

Social Strategy — A whopping 97% of consumers search products and services online before making a purchase. Ironically, while the search begins online, research shows that more than 90% of purchases ultimately are made in the store.

Kratsas encourages another useful (and free) app that connects people in similar circles to local products and services. Google Local can put a small business on the radar, and share information and reviews linked to a social media page. Pictures and events also can be added. This app is useful in growing a business from the grassroots level and connecting with an audience searching for a specialty item and the expertise expected with it. Yelp offers similar exposure and is mobile friendly. Deliver all the information about the products you offer to a nearby audience with additional GPS capabilities that lead the customer straight to your door.

Marketing on the Move — The proliferation of smartphones demands that retailers communicate with consumers virtually anytime, anywhere. Today, more than two-thirds of Americans own smartphones, up from 35% just four years ago. More than 85% of the millennial population (those between ages 18 and 33) owns a smartphone, echoing not a trend, but today’s basic portal of message delivery. Targeted email messaging has reliably delivered the “need-to-know” information to those who want it. But smart mobile engagement shows Short Message Service (SMS) messages have an open rate of 95%, compared to the average 16% of email. Kratsas encourages new approaches that uniquely connect customers to you, but maintains relevancy and impacts your bottom line.

Old vs. New — Some great traditions morph into the obsolete as omni-channel platforms transform from popular to practical. Yellow Pages directories are a thing of the past and traditional mail may not be far behind. Kratsas acknowledges mail delivery offers an exceptional personal touch that customers appreciate, like “thank-you” notes or birthday cards. But, as with any outreach, you should track the impact and deliverables. Require customers to redeem promotional vouchers in-store. The same applies to newspaper advertising. Recommended in the messaging mix are niche publications or local magazines where readership is concentrated to a topic or interest, Kratsas says. The key is knowing your audience and where to customize an appeal to lifestyle and interest.

Connecting to the Consumer — Marketers feel pressured to be innovative, but attracting new customers and sustaining current ones requires a pique of interest. Reaching the customer is just the first step. Retailers must connect and keep the experience engaging and prolific.

The modern shopper must be sought. Whether it’s via social media, email, Internet, print or mobile interaction, associate your audience to something special. Use the immediacy and intimacy of social platforms to offer something exclusively unique that others don’t, Kratsas says. Research shows that when people touch things they’re more likely to buy them, so offer demos or introductions to new products. Blog or post “demo days” and have a product specialist, professional or semi-pro athlete on hand. First impressions are lasting; research shows a good experience has been proven to linger on a customer for up to two years, keeping them happy, loyal and guaranteed to return almost 90% of the time.

The New Customer Dynamic — Today’s small-business owner must understand today’s customers and their expectations. Studies show customers today expect to be recognized and remembered, with 91% saying they should be able to “pick up” where they left off. Seamlessly continuing the conversation from one channel to the next makes marketing relevant and contextual at every point. Maximize the value of your database and leverage every insight you have with current customers and potential new one, Kratsas says. Knowing what matters to them makes you unique, too.

People have different interests, lifestyles and expectations. Just as diverse as the marketplace are the countless ways to reach them. Growing as a small retailer takes a powerful, but practical approach. Matching the right audience with the right message can be effective and essentially free. Defining your business, understanding your audience and connecting in smart ways will enable you to keep your customers for a lifetime.

Tricia Warrick is an Atlanta-based strategic relations consultant who specializes in content development and branding for maximum visibility and impact across omni-channel platforms. For more information or to comment on this article, email Tricia at triciaw31@msn.com.