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Small Brand Scrutiny

Hi all, Caroline here! I wanted to write about something today that I’d like to call ‘small brand scrutiny’. As we continue the whirlwind that is 2020, something has struck me that seems to apply to several scenarios: different standards depending on who you’re referring to. I have read about many BAME women’s experience of being held to a different standard than their white peers. As a small brand owner, I wonder if small brands are also held to a different standard than big brands? And are ethical or sustainable brands held to a different standard than others?

I sometimes think that small businesses receive more of everything: more love and more scrutiny. I do love having a small brand but it can also be exhausting and for obvious reasons it can get very personal. Setting out to create a sustainable brand was daunting, but I felt so happy to be doing it when we first started. And I feel happy about how we are progressing. I remember fearing backlash when we openly declared we were going to be as sustainable as possible, because I thought it was an open invitation for people to criticise all the ways in which we were not (yet) sustainable. And at the same time, I like it when customers point things out to us that either we have missed, or that we are already working on behind the scenes. Because I do think it’s the right thing to do, to reach out to a brand and not let them ‘get away’ with things that are important to you as a customer or important to people in general. And for brand owners it’s important to remember that you will never be able to please everyone and that people will always have their opinions, which isn’t inherently bad at all!

The idea I personally struggle with the most is one of progress versus perfection. If you as a customer can see that a small, independent brand is making clear and distinct progress, little by little, are you barking up on the wrong tree by commenting on the things that are not yet perfect? Are you better off contacting a brand that needs a push in the right direction? Or is this my ego speaking? I remember someone on the internet commenting on a particular product and how we had done really well in 4 out of 5 elements, but the fifth we hadn’t, and therefore this person concluded we had failed entirely in that category. And I thought about it way more than I care to admit, because it was actually one of the categories of this product that was closest to my heart! In contrast, a big brand changes its packaging tape and it rains praise. I’m exaggerating, but maybe you get my point.

I think this is more complex than we think, without a clear conclusion. There could be several things at play here:

  • Small business owners are more invested in their businesses, therefore we might take it more personally when we are criticised. If I go to work in a big office for a company I don’t own, I would potentially find it easier to leave work at the office and not let the small things get to me.
  • Small business owners might not have a person or a team to delegate to, therefore all comments, enquiries and criticism arrives in your own inbox for you to deal with. Perhaps this heightens the idea of the amount of traffic you actually receive.
  • Customers might feel like their comments are more likely to be heard or dealt with when they are directed to small businesses, and therefore are more likely to do so. Or they feel it’s more personal, they probably know the face behind the brand, and so the threshold for contact seems lower than with a big brand.
  • Smaller brands will probably have a more distinctive customer base: more clued up and more invested, and probably also more loyal – the customer base might be more inclined to see their favourite small brands do well and ‘do good’.

My conclusion? I have none! This is a reflection on something I have noticed as the owner of a small business, and it’s neither 100% bad or good. As a brand owner, I would rather stand for something and receive criticism, than have no clear standpoint at all and just cruise by. As soon as you put yourself out there, with whatever product or service, the comments will start, both positive and negative, and that’s just the way it is. Starting a brand isn’t something to do if you want to avoid that altogether. I admire customers for reaching out with things that they feel strongly about and I feel frustrated when it’s something I care about too but I simply haven’t been able to implement it yet for business reasons.

Ultimately, criticism will happen in all areas of life, whatever you set out to do. And perhaps there is comfort in that!

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