Marketing Guide for Small Business Owners

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), small businesses with under $5 million in revenue should invest seven to eight percent of their revenue into marketing. This money should go toward campaigns that raise awareness of your brand and appeal to new customers looking for your product or service. In this marketing guide for small business owners, we’ll focus on how to increase your company’s exposure.

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Why is marketing important for small businesses?

Marketing is fundamental to small business success. It’s a high-ranking need for every business because it:

  • Builds brand awareness. Marketing campaigns position your company in certain ways. For example, if diligent customer service ranks among your core values, you might advertise yourself as the most responsive company in your specified market.. Doing so builds brand awareness, as putting yourself out there as uniquely responsive can be highly persuasive. It’s certainly more memorable to customers than just stating what you sell.
  • Distinguishes you from your competition. Maybe part of why your excellent customer service is so memorable is that you’re in an industry known for poor communication. In that case, your marketing can distinguish you from your competitors. When you market your excellent customer service to consumers, they have all the more reason to choose your company over others.
  • Educates customers. What else do you want potential customers to know about your brand before they even glimpse at your offerings? Marketing is your first chance to share this information and educate customers accordingly. Combining what you want to share with a compelling story or emotional appeal is an especially powerful approach. This way, you’ll more quickly get customers’ attention and help them retain information about your business.
  • Ensures you don’t get lost in the shuffle. Consumers only have so much money to spend and seemingly endless options to choose from when it comes time to spend that money. Marketing increases the likelihood that your potential customer learns about you and considers you worthy of their business. Without it, one of those other businesses might get their business instead.
  • Builds your customer or client base. The key takeaway from all the above is that marketing builds your customer or client base. With so many competitors telling so many stories, you need to go to customers instead of expecting them to come to you. Marketing is how you do that.

The most popular marketing strategies

As you might guess from the above reasons why marketing matters, marketing is somewhat of an abstract, flexible art. Great marketing ideas for small businesses can vary widely, as there truly isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution that works for every company. What’s best for you may take a bit of trial and error, but at the end of that process, you’ll know which methods give you the best return on investment (ROI) for every dollar spent. The below is a small sampling of the best marketing strategies for small businesses that can help boost your bottom line.

  • Content marketing. Blog posts, email marketing, webinars, and demos can all be part of your content marketing strategy. They work especially well if they’re simultaneously tied to your brand and not explicitly promotional. For example, an HVAC company might post an educational blog about the best types of filtration systems to establish itself as an authority. Without explicitly promoting itself, this company could then start hearing from customers who need filtration systems.
  • Printed collateral. In the digital era, it’s understandable to assume that print ads are no longer effective, but that’s incorrect. Print ads and all kinds of printed materials, ranging from flyers to direct mail, can still effectively garner interest in your company. They’re also easy to create and distribute in DIY ways that may help lower your marketing costs.
  • High-low pricing. Especially in retail, high-low pricing can be an effective marketing route that barely even registers as marketing. It entails initially pricing items higher than the current market price, then offering a big extended sale down the line. This combination of potential current unattainability and future accessibility can lead to customers feeling a sense of urgency when prices drop. Pushing that sale on all your channels is a marketing tactic that can help you acquire more customers.
  • Online review management. Take the time to respond to all customer reviews. Express your gratitude and enthusiasm to happy customers, and consider offering them discounts for future purchases. You should also respond to negative reviews. In some cases, you can convert a dissatisfied customer to a satisfied one. That’s both another customer for you and something great to show potential customers.
  • Social media. Your social media channels are among your most powerful tools because many of their features are free. Regularly posting interesting content costs no money (though admittedly, creating that content isn’t always free). It’s also free to engage with your customers’ public replies and direct messages. You’ll be doing so on platforms home to hundreds of millions, or in some cases billions, of people worldwide. The marketing potential here speaks for itself.

How to get your business out there

Getting your business out there increases brand recognition and customer engagement while strengthening your reputation. Combined, all these factors can put your company in a position to make more sales. You can spread awareness of your business through some combination of the marketing approaches below:

1. Cross-marketing

Cross-marketing entails partnering with other businesses for initiatives that promote you both. For an example of this strategy’s effectiveness, think back to your childhood. When your parents took you to the fast-food drive-thru and you got a toy with your kids’ meal, that wasn’t just corporate generosity. It was a promotion for a new movie or season of TV. Surely, that movie or series was also advertising that its toys were available at fast-food chains.

You don’t have to be a food industry giant to cross-market. Arrange partnerships with small businesses in your industry or area to send dual-branded postcards to both your mailing lists. Start a loyalty program in which completed punch cards enable customer freebies at a business beyond your four walls or your e-commerce page. Set up a small station in another small business’s storefront or vice versa.

In all these examples, you’ll get unique access to your partner business’s customer base that you might otherwise not have access to. The other business will also get the same from you. Cross-marketing is a win-win.

2. Direct marketing

It’s now somewhat common to hear the term “ direct marketing” used in place of “mail marketing,” but the latter is a subtype of the former. Any type of marketing in which you reach out directly to potential or current customers is direct marketing. Channels through which you can directly market include:

  • Postal mail. Send postcards, flyers, or other promotional materials directly to potential or current customers’ home addresses. This way, you can easily personalize, test, and quantify your marketing efforts while reaching older audiences who generally spend less time on the internet.
  • Telemarketing. Admittedly, the mere mention of telemarketing is enough to rile some people up. However, it can be useful if you have a list of phone numbers from customers who have expressed potential interest in your products. Call these people with a persuasive, informative message, then record their feedback.
  • Direct response ads. That intense radio or TV ad encouraging you multiple times to call now is a classic example of a direct response ad. Your business can take this approach too, including via email or direct mail. As long as you make a bold call to action that encourages customer purchases and provides a clear path to doing so, you’re doing it right.
  • Direct selling. Middlemen can make the sales process expensive. That changes when you go door-to-door or give presentations to potential buyers. Both these approaches, known as direct selling, put you right in front of customers. Plus, with no middlemen in the picture, you can charge lower prices that might appeal more to customers.
  • Email. Pretty much any email that says your customer’s name can be direct mail. That means email newsletters promoting sales, encouraging customers to return to abandoned online shopping carts, and more. This method goes hand in hand with digital marketing.

3. Digital marketing

Digital marketing is an extremely broad umbrella term. It encompasses any marketing efforts made via the internet or text messages. Email, social media, your website, your blog, your online reviews, and your business listing pages are all part of your digital marketing approach.

There are numerous tips you should follow for successful digital marketing. These tips include focusing on inclusivity and developing highly targeted audiences both locally and across the internet. Content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising are also important. No matter which digital marketing approach you take, you should prioritize the use of Google ® My Business, chatbots, and omnichannel communications.

4. In-store marketing

In-store marketing engages customers who are actually inside your store. Perhaps these customers found you through your previous marketing efforts – now, it’s time to follow through on that all.

Effective in-store marketing strategies can be as simple as actually greeting your customers and offering your help when they walk through your doors. Other ideas, such as offering certain discounts exclusively in-store, may take more planning. Hosting in-store events is an option too, and its complexity can be worth it to incentivize visits from customers who might not otherwise be aware of your business.

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5. Local marketing

Where global marketing methods such as digital marketing are often broad, local marketing is targeted solely at the customers who are most likely to respond. It can involve one-time actions such as creating a Google My Business ® listing and social media pages. It can also be a tad more complex, with a focus on local SEO, customer loyalty programs, and cross-promotion.

Unique to local marketing is that it also gives you the chance to position yourself as a community leader. Through charitable efforts and local media appearances, you can show that you truly care about your neighbors. Often, this community care also makes the people around you more likely to buy from you, which is a bonus.

6. New product marketing

When you’re introducing a new product, marketing can look a bit different. New product marketing might involve additional competitor research, audience identification and development, and the refinement of your unique value proposition. It also requires attention to traits specific to your product, such as its potential lifecycle and the story of why you created it.

7. Market expansion

Though not necessarily an explicit form of marketing, market expansion does build your customer base and tell your story to new consumers. It involves you selling your current products in new markets, be that geographical areas or consumer populations you haven’t previously reached. You’re best off saving market expansion as a strategy until you’ve reached peak performance in your current market.

8. Niche marketing

Across all types of marketing, your goal is to show consumers why you, not one of your competitors, is best suited to meet their needs. Niche marketing takes this logic a step further and narrows your target audience to solely the consumers most likely to buy what you sell.

In niche marketing, you’ll find the overlap between your unique strengths and your customers’ emerging needs. You’ll also need to maintain a level of expertise and customer communication rare among your competitors. This way, you offer both a product or service and an experience unavailable elsewhere.

9. B2B marketing

Many guides to small business marketing focus on targeting individuals rather than businesses. Although you can indeed apply individual marketing tactics to businesses, that’s only true to an extent. Business-to-business (B2B) marketing principles are a better source of guidance here, and they sometimes look quite different from business-to-consumer (B2C) tactics.

B2B marketing campaigns fare better if they’re built from easily navigable small business websites across many integratable channels. Finding your niche, setting up a referral program, automating your lead generation process, and incorporating influencers can help. So too can word-of-mouth marketing, as business owners with similar needs often look to one another for advice. If working with you is among that advice, you can expect more sales.

Business marketing apps that can help

No matter which of the above marketing strategies or types you pursue, you’ll likely need business marketing apps to make your processes efficient. The types of apps you should use include team communication tools, project management software, email marketing platforms, and social media management systems. You can probably get a sense of what these apps do based on their names.

Customer relationship management (CRM) and visual apps are also necessary and demand a bit more explanation. CRM apps enable you to store and access customer data during sales and customer service interactions for more meaningful conversations. In some cases, this data will come from your customers’ responses to your marketing initiatives.

Visual apps allow you to create, edit, and share photos, videos, flyers, ads, and other graphics key to marketing campaigns. They help you do more than just design something that is unengaging in your slideshow platform or the photo editors that come with your computer. That’s important, as you’ll need high-quality, eye-catching images to succeed in any marketing approach.

No matter which apps you use for your small business marketing, one thing is clear: If you couple your apps with the marketing tips above, you’ll likely have a much easier time spreading awareness and making sales.

Now get yourself out there

Marketing doesn’t just mean planning and executing – it also means learning and fine-tuning as you go. If you’re ready to start connecting with more customers, consider which of the above strategies, methodologies, and apps can help you meet your new goals as you grow. As questions arise during this exciting time for your company, turn to the SmartBiz® Learning Center to explore more marketing and small business resources to help support your growth.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The SmartBiz® Small Business Blog and other related communications from SmartBiz Loans® are intended to provide general information on relevant topics for managing small businesses. Be aware that this is not a comprehensive analysis of the subject matter covered and is not intended to provide specific recommendations to you or your business with respect to the matters addressed. Please consult legal and financial processionals for further information.

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