As a small business owner, one of your top priorities is to care for your customers by delivering quality products, coming up with fair pricing, and making them feel at home. But how will they follow your thought process if you don’t let them know?
According to Tani Ahmed, owner of Sunbliss Cafe, educational marketing is the key to transparency with her customers. Hear from her and other business owners on three core strategies for connecting with your customers about what you do best and how you do it.
1. Describe what’s truly unique about your offerings
Sunbliss Cafe, which earned the #6 spot on Yelp’s 2023 Top 100 Places to Eat, boasts its fresh products, made with in-house sauces and syrups and locally sourced ingredients. Tani said since they already have fresh ingredients and never use high fructose corn syrup or additives, the quality is already guaranteed. As a result, she aims to educate customers on that standard of quality of her menu items through social media marketing.
“From the start, we already have good quality products, so there isn’t really much you can mess up,” Tani said. “So if you go on our Instagram, you see every once or twice a week on our stories, even in our feed, you’ll see something that says, ‘Did you know?’ Did you know the blue [coloring] is sourced from this type of flower? Did you know that our matcha is ceremonial? People know that translates to good quality.”
By simply letting customers know the details behind their dishes, Sunbliss is able to communicate the quality to its customers. Additionally, customers feel included and knowledgeable about what they are putting into their bodies.
Similarly, Adela’s Country Eatery, coming in at #5 on Yelp’s 2023 Top 100 Places to Eat, also informs its customers about its journey and mission. The business was initially created to reduce food waste and promote sustainable consumption. Millie and Elizabeth Chan, a mom-and-daughter duo, started their business after seeing Okinawan sweet potatoes being dumped on the ground and fed to pigs because farmers didn’t have the means to transport them to the market in Honolulu. They were inspired to use these sweet potatoes to create a staple in Hawaiian cuisine: noodles.
They’re also very transparent about their food creations, with large, descriptive posters detailing the ingredients they use and an open concept that allows diners to watch the noodles being made fresh. This gives customers a chance to connect with each other, the mission, and the employees. Gina L., a satisfied customer and reviewer of Adela’s, said the restaurant’s transparency and communication to customers about its ingredients resonated with her.
“When I was looking at the photos online, it had a photo of the banner that they had inside their restaurant indicating that some of their ingredients are locally sourced,” she said. “I feel like that’s really important for the economy within the island versus having them import items that are more costly and that bumps up the price. They’re able to not only support their farmers or just their neighbors, maybe their friends through their products just locally on the island.”
2. Explain the rationale behind your pricing
With high quality ingredients inevitably comes higher prices. It’s important to tell your customers why your prices are fair and why your products are ultimately worth it. In order to differentiate itself from other coffee shops that might have lower prices, Sunbliss informs customers of what they’re paying for and why prices may be heftier than other places.
“For $9.50, you’re adding good nutrients and good bacteria to your body,” Ahmed said. “Fresh is good, and people can tell what’s good, and they’ll pay for good… We make our own everything pretty much. I guess all of that together just equals good success and returning customers is good ROI.”
Harvard Business Review reported: “‘Demystifying’ how prices are set or changed can help establish a trusting relationship with customers.” In the case of Sunbliss, customers know that for a slightly higher price, they can trust what they’re consuming.
Another example comes from Neptune. The high-end furniture company delves into its materials, craftsmanship, service, and sustainability mission on its website to set the scene for its products and prices. “Using only the best materials is crucial in our mission to make furniture that will last for 100 years.” Sharing the behind-the-scenes details of its products and services helps the customer know exactly what they’re paying for and why it’s worth it.
3. Share the stories and memories behind your business
Every business has unique stories associated with how they started, how they operate, and more. Bring your customers on that journey, and show them the precious memories that come with your business.
Tani said it’s really important for her to share her own story and show customers a part of her life through some menu items. Specifically, she talks about the chai and Parle G cookie pairing, which is tied to a special memory she posts about often on Sunbliss’ social media.
“My whole life my grandma gave me that. It’s called Parle G, a special little cookie with this chunky monkey kid on it. She gave that to me every single day with my chai. Left it out on the table. I went to school with it almost every morning. And what we do at Sunbliss is we include the cookie with the chai, and we just basically want everyone to feel as loved and special as I felt growing up, as my grandma made me feel.”
Similarly, other business owners also add a touch of themselves into their businesses. Sascha Biesi and Yauss Berenji, owners of the bakery Skull & Cakebones, weave their personal life experiences into the way they run their business. Being an LGBTQ couple with a daughter who has severe food allergies, the two wanted to create a bakery that carried plant-based, allergen-free baked goods while also being a safe space for LGBTQ individuals and those who struggle with mental health.
Having struggled with mental health herself and losing a staff member to suicide, Sascha partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to host a “depressed cake shop” pop-up to combat the stigma behind mental health and start conversations among her customers. Through this initiative, the couple has garnered support from their community.
“The fact that the business supports local businesses, mental health awareness, and LGBTQ just adds to the awesomeness,” reviewer Kate S. said. “New fan girl here.”
By letting their own personal experiences shine through, they’ve been able to connect with their customers and create an environment where people can feel safe in talking about problems they might not have felt comfortable opening up about.
“I think that doing the depressed cake shop and raising awareness for mental health really did create that safe space where people, they just kind of show up to have lunch,” Sascha said. “And before you know it, you’ve had a 30-minute conversation with them, and everybody feels better. We want to be that space. I think by just being honestly who we are, we’ve created that space and the community has kind of rallied behind us.”
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear more from Tani, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.
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