When it comes to competing against big companies with deep pockets, small retailers often struggle to make ends meet. While the lack of financial clout is one big impediment, another has to do with the talent and skill set of the entrepreneur. In most cases, a small business operator enters retailing with very limited expertise. For example, they may be good at providing certain services but not very strong managing their finances. This places a small retailer at a major disadvantage compared to large competitors, who employ specialists in nearly all business functions.

But while entrepreneurs may not be skilled in a wide range of business activities, there is one advantage small business operators may have over big competitors – connections with customers. This is because being successful as a small retailer almost always requires the development of a close relationship with those who shop in their store. In turn, getting to know customers enables the retailer to gain insights and develop new ideas that address what customers may want long before big competitors can learn this. For instance, the bureaucracy the often exists in huge chain retailers often means they cannot respond quickly to emerging customer needs. This is because those involved in marketing are often housed in office buildings located well away from customers and in-store personnel, who are engaging customers, may not possess the ability or incentive to implement or even suggest new ideas on their own.

A good example of how smaller retailers are addressing customer needs with innovative ideas can be seen in this story from the Los Angeles Times. The story looks at small players in the $17.5 billion pet supply retailing market. To compete against industry heavyweight, such as Petco and PetSmart, and large general products chains, such as Walmart and Target, smaller pet retailers have added unusual product offerings, such as dog scarves, in-store pet cafés and specialize pet services, including tooth brushing. The ideas for such products come from the close relationship these retailers have developed with their customers.

Of course, if these ideas take off expect the big guys to adopt them and to lower the price of offering these products. Thus, the cycle will need to start again, and the small guys will once again have to come up with something new.

Whole Foods ExpandsThe ultimate goal of nearly all marketers, and especially consumer-oriented companies, is to get to the point where the name of a product or company is instantly recognizable. As we note in our Product Decisions tutorial, building a strong brand offers a number of benefits. And one of the major benefits is that when customers see or hear the brand name they associate this name with important attributes of the brand, such as great taste, excellent service, low cost, etc.

While the benefits of strong brand recognition are indisputable, there is a major downside that comes with this. The downside is that perceptions customers have about the brand can hinder the expansion of the brand into other markets. This is especially a problem for brands targeted to either very high-end, high-income markets or targeted to markets at the lower end of the economic spectrum.

Why is this a problem? Because people perceive a brand as serving a certain population.  And targeting customers outside this population may not only be difficult (i.e., targeting high-income customers with a brand perceived as a value brand), it can also impact existing customers' perception of the brand. They may wonder if the brand is still as good as the brand they have come to know because it is now targeting customers who may not be like them.

So how does a company with a well-recognized brand name grow if they are stuck with a brand perception that may impact current customers if changes are made? Well, high-end food retailer Whole Foods is about to find out. According to this Fortune story, Whole Foods will attempt to grow its business by creating a new grocery chain targeted to more cost-conscious customers.

It appears from a company announcement, Whole Foods will launch this chain using a "uniquely-branded" approach. This appears to be code for naming it something other than Whole Foods. This is also a bit of a gamble as there are not many examples of retailers that have successfully launched a new retail concept using a name that does not contain the well-known brand name. For instance, Nordstrom has their Nordstrom Rack outlets stores, Target has a smaller version of its store for urban locations called TargetExpress, and Macy's has said they are testing a discount store approach. But each has retained its well-known name for the new outlets. Developing a new brand of retail outlets, with a name and retail model that is quite different from that of the main brand, is not easy. So it will be interesting to see how Whole Foods moves forward with their new retail concept.

This weekend is one of those special times when sporting events will dominate television. In particular, three events – the Kentucky Derby, the Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao Fight and the National Football League player draft – are likely to attract hundreds of millions of viewers. While there are certainly other sports occurring this weekend, such as baseball and golf, the marketing activity that takes place as a lead up to big-time events dwarfs that of standard sporting contests. The reason is simple - there is enormous money in special event sports. For instance, the Mayweather-Pacquiao battle is predicted to generate over $300,000,000 just from those watching the contest on pay-per-view. The Kentucky Derby may attract nearly 160,000 paying customers and high advertising dollars from companies craving the over 15 million watching on television. The NFL draft, which is spread out over three days, also offers huge advertising dollars to both ESPN and the NFL Network.

While these sporting events are very different in terms of the competition taking place and, possibly, the customers they are targeting, marketing plays an enormous role in each. This can be seen in obvious ways such as through television, print and online advertising promoting the event, but in a less obvious way each of these events relies heavily on the news media to build customer interest. As we note in our Types of Public Relations Tools tutorial, the task of building customer interest through the news media is performed by PR professionals. And, one of the main ways they build a trusting relationship with the media is to respond quickly to media requests for information. For instance, a PR professional handling media relations for each of these events makes sure access is provided to those running the events, such as Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner and Kevin Flanery, the president of Churchill Downs where the Kentucky Derby is run. Even though these executive are highly skilled at dealing with the media, they still require a strong PR staff to provide assistance, such as prepping them with key talking points.

Public relations also tries to make sure the athletes in these events (i.e., players, fighters and jockeys), also understand the importance of talking to the media. However, unlike those in charge of the event, athletes may not fully buy into the media's role. This was evident during the 2015 Super Bowl when Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch had his "I'm just here so I won't get fined" talk with the media.

So while watching these events this weekend, keep in mind that interviews with any of the participants is likely occurring thanks in part to the efforts of the event's PR staff. Moreover, what some of these folks say may, in part, have been prepared for them a PR professional.

We have talked many times about companies facing big problems when a product category reaches the Maturity stage of the Product Life Cycle (PLC). For instance, in 2014 we looked at how changes in the beer industry had dragged several older beer brands into the Maturity stage. Also in 2014, we saw how slow sales in the golf industry were likely a signal it was entering the Maturity stage. And back in 2010, we discussed how Apple's introduction of the iPad was driving several competitive products to the Maturity stage.

As we note in our Planning With the Product Life Cycle tutorial, while reaching the Maturity stage may seem like a bad thing, it also should be a signal to marketers that changes are needed. Such changes come in many forms including: adding different features to a product in hopes of renewing customer interest; keeping the product mostly the same but targeting new markets; or accepting that things are changing and different products are now needed. The key to all of these options often comes down to timing. Marketers, who are ahead of their competitors in recognizing a leveling market and make the needed changes, often end up in a much better position than their rivals. Of course, if it turns out the market is only temporarily leveling off, such as what may occur during a recession, then making big changes may prove costly if the market recovers. But if a company has made the right decisions and the market is leveling off then their changes may pay off in a big way.

We can see an example of company winning by making changes ahead of a flattening market in this Fortune story. It provides insight on the strategic changes beverage company Dr. Pepper Snapple has instituted in the soft drink market, where carbonated beverage sales have declined for ten straight years. While other companies, including industry giants Pepsi and Coca-Cola, have seen their sales decline, Dr. Pepper Snapple sales have increased.

To keep ahead, Dr. Pepper Snapple has made a number of marketing adjustments including adding new non-carbonated products, addressing demands of growing markets, such as the Hispanic market, and engaging in product distribution deals with rivals Pepsi and Coca-Cola.