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Entrepreneur

Who’s Telling Your Story?


By Tom Irmen


I’ve been following an ongoing news story out of Virginia that could potentially have far reaching consequences for many of us. A Virginia business owner, unhappy with about seven or eight negative online reviews regarding his company, sued and won in court to have the identities of these negative reviewers made public to determine if they had actually patronized his business. If they had not, and if he can prove that his business was negatively impacted by these reviews, the court will have to decide whether the business owner is entitled to punitive damages from the reviewers. This case is unique, as are the laws of Virginia. It’s not certain whether this owner could have succeeded in other states.

I’m a big fan of online reviews, although I’m often skeptical of a company or its product that receives both five-star and one-star ratings. Without question, online reviews are often abused. Sometimes by friends of the business owner and occasionally by their enemies, competitors, former disgruntled employees, and even those who claim to be customers but in reality are not.

I’m not taking any position on this Virginia legal action, which is continuing to unfold, but I do wish that online reviews were more reliable. No five-star rating from friends, and no one-star rating from competitors.

This story caused me to reflect on the significance of not only our reputations as small business owners, but our public perception as well. You might think I’m obsessed with accurately communicating your small business’s story, and I guess I am. You should be, too. What story do your customers tell others about you, and what do your marketing efforts communicate?

I know of multiple businesses who have incredible value propositions that clearly differentiate them from their competitors but whose advertising promotions ignore their strengths, focusing on pricing, leaving potential customers to view them as one more generic business in a sea of other generic competitors. You cannot afford to become a generic icon in today’s competitive marketplace.

If you’re not sure how to successfully differentiate yourself and your small business, we’d like to help.

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