Small businesses cannot succeed by relying on the quality of their products or services alone. All the work you put in to perfecting your business model and serving your customers means nothing if you don’t know how to market these products or services as well.
Marketing is one of the most challenging aspects of running a small business, if not the most challenging. There’s so many strategies and tools to choose from, and pouring too much time and money into the wrong choice could spell your business’s demise. While specific services can be outsourced, all business leaders must at least become experts in the fundamentals of marketing for their industries. After all, no one knows your business better than you.
If this sounds overwhelming, you’re right. But plenty of entrepreneurs with no marketing backgrounds were able to effectively show their target customers that they have exactly what they need, even if they didn’t know they needed it.
In this guide, we’ll go over the primary components of a successful marketing initiative, which includes the foundation of the content you’re presenting and the resources for presenting that content to the right people.
Specific topics we’ll cover and answer the following questions for include:
- What is the Purpose of Marketing?
- How Do You Identify Your Target Customer?
- What is Business Branding?
- How Do You Create Your Business’s Brand Identity?
- What are the Primary Digital Marketing Channels?
- What are the Most Common Marketing Mistakes?
- How Do Businesses Gain Media Attention?
- How Do Businesses Market to Large Corporations?
What is the Purpose of Marketing?
Before we name the first component, let’s make sure we understand our ultimate goal. What is the purpose of marketing, anyway?
To answer this complex question, think of the difference between marketing and selling. The act of selling just means convincing someone to buy your product or service. The act of marketing on the other hand, refers to making that product or service seem highly desirable for a certain type of person. When you market something, you portray it in a way that explains the problems it solves and how it solves them.
In summary, marketing requires you to know the type of person who will benefit from your product or service, how you can deliver these benefits, and what these benefits will do for them. Solidifying this information allows you to achieve the aforementioned purpose of marketing: convincing someone that buying from you is a logical and possibly necessary decision. Marketing presents the most important reasons to buy from you; not someone else.
Business Marketing: Choosing Your Target Customer
The first step to developing any marketing strategy is to consider your target customer, or target market. This is the type of person who will benefit most from your product or service, i.e. the type of person you had in mind when you initially determined what would make your business unique. Your target customer is the building block that all of your marketing materials will be based on. Successful businesses prove that they can serve their target customer’s needs better than anyone else.
Not sure who your target customer is? You might have a vague idea of your target customer, but such an integral element of your general strategy must be crystal clear.
Let’s start this process by figuring out how to identify your target market:
How Do You Identify Your Target Customer?
Ideally, your target market should be large enough to support your business, but small enough to stand out from the general public. This is called a niche market, and many entrepreneurs would likely say that you shouldn’t start a business without one.
But niche markets come in various sizes, and the more you learn about your target customer base, the more unique they will become. The key word in that sentence is “learn.” You must never assume that you already know your target market’s needs or preferences. There’s just too much information to base on assumptions. For example, while you might have a good idea of what your target market wants, do you also know how these needs or preferences developed?
To better understand your customer base, think about the type of person who will benefit most from your products or services. Don’t just focus on the characteristics that make this person unique. Instead, focus on which characteristics they absolutely must possess in order to reap the most benefits. Does your target customer have to live in a certain type of location, like a specific city, or somewhere that gets very cold during the winter? Does your target customer have to partake in a certain hobby like playing the guitar or jogging outdoors?
Answering these questions will eliminate specific sets of people who would have no reason to purchase your product or service. Odds are, you will come up with at least two characteristics. Possible examples include dog owners who like to dress them up, or musicians who live in New York City.
Business Marketing: Researching Your Target Customer
Before settling on your idea of your target market, it’s crucial to support your inferences with data. Thankfully, you can obtain this information from a number of free or fairly inexpensive resources. The Pew Research Center, for instance, conducts massive studies about the habits of the general public. You can use Pew to see how often your target market exercises or how much time they spend shopping on their smartphones each day.
For data on more specific demographics, look into the US Census Bureau’s American FactFinder. Compared to Pew, American FactFinder offers more data on people who work in certain industries, live in certain cities, and more. There’s even a Guided Search feature that explains how to access the data you have in mind.
Arguably the greatest source of free data, however, is the treasure trove of online publications centered around specific markets. There’s publications geared towards lovers of technology, the outdoors, film, and of course, marketing tips. Online articles can provide helpful data in two ways. First, they often cite recent studies or personal observations about different markets. Secondly, you can see which publications or articles related to your target market gained the most traction. Which articles have garnered lots of comments or shares on social media?
The sheer amount of articles out there makes it much easier to draw meaningful conclusions about their subjects. Forbes, Inc., and Entrepreneur are full of articles written by entrepreneurs who serve a variety of markets. Some of these entrepreneurs likely cater to the same age group as you, or work in the same industry. Their content often discusses what they’ve learned about their target market, based on the strategies that have succeeded or failed.
Business Marketing: Modify Your Product or Service
Now that you know your target market’s unique needs or preferences, you can implement this information into your products or services. How can you refine your offerings to better serve your target market and provide more significant benefits? How can you surpass your competitors’ capacity to change this particular aspect of your target market’s life?
As you ponder these questions, think about why you chose to develop this specific offering above anything else. Unique offerings are designed to solve unique problems. Well, what makes this problem unique, and how do your offerings present the perfect solution?
Data will play a major role in this stage of the process as well. If you’re not sure about the specific changes you should make to your offerings, get input from your target market. You’re going to be hearing a lot of opinions throughout this process, so it’s crucial to distinguish the opinions that matter from those that do not. And your target market’s opinion matters more than anyone else’s (even your own).
Several tools can solicit feedback from customers. With Lookback, you can video chat with customers as they browse products on your website. They can tell you what they like/dislike, and provide suggestions for making the product seem more appealing for their preferences. Tools like Lookback are highly recommended because they focus on the minute details of your products or website. It’s hard to gauge this level of detail from a study.
What is Business Branding?
At this point, we have established what makes your customers and offerings unique. The next step is to determine how to portray your offerings in a way that reflects your business’s goals, values, and personality. This is known as branding.
Are there any products that you have a special connection with? Products you continue to seek out for reasons other than quality or price? Those reasons are elements of that business’s brand identity. If you continue to seek these products out of habit, well, you developed that habit for a reason.
Branding requires you to go below what you see on the surface, like a business’s logo, color scheme, or textual voice. What thoughts or feelings do these things evoke? Your business’s brand identity is largely based on the thoughts and feelings that arise when your target market imagines your business.
Since branding involves a lot of thought, it’s best to start small. A brand positioning statement uses just a few sentences to communicate the value your business provides, how you provide this value, and the type of people who share your values. In other words, this is the central message you’re striving to convey through your brand identity.
Your statement should begin by stating your company’s name and the type of company it is. Then, simply state what you provide (your unique product or service), who you provide it to (your unique target market), and what makes your offerings a better choice than your competitors. Lastly, state how your offerings provide these benefits.
When your statement is complete, someone who reads it should be able to easily understand the core elements of your brand. Is your brand especially quirky, reliable, bold, etc.?
How Do You Create Your Business’s Brand Identity?
Since you haven’t put a lot of time and effort into establishing your brand identity, you might find that your current identity lacks brand value. Your surveys and search data might show that many customers don’t know which words to associate with your business. Just because someone knows your products or services doesn’t mean they know what kind of values you stand for.
A central purpose of branding is ensuring that your customers can answer this question immediately.
But like any crucial business initiative, branding cannot be rushed. Don’t just go with the first idea for a new logo or new website that comes to mind. Instead, you must consider your brand identity from a variety of perspectives. The following exercises involve the most important factors to consider when re-shaping your brand:
1. Dig Deep: What is Your Story?
The cornerstone of a successful brand identity is the business’s story. This doesn’t just refer to the business’s origins, or why the business was launched in the first place. Your story also refers to your mission, or the value you wish to provide for your customers.
Do you wish to make a certain everyday activity more enjoyable? This could include eating, shopping, or just relaxing on the couch. Do you wish to bring customers closer to their friends or family members?
In other words, you’re trying to figure out the role your product or service plays in your customer’s life. This requires you to go below your company’s surface. For example, a clothing company might seem to have one central purpose: making clothing. But maybe the clothing is very unique because it’s made for a specific type of person. Maybe the clothing is the maker’s way of inspiring customers to embrace their individuality. If this brand didn’t exist, their customers would likely have to wear the same clothing as everybody else. Thus, the brand’s existence shows their unique customers that they are not alone.
If you’re having trouble identifying the deeper values you provide, ask your customers why they are grateful for your business. You can ask this exact question in a survey and compare the answers to the content of your most successful social media posts.
2. Who is Your Target Customer?
The previous section mentioned gearing your products or services to a specific type of customer. Your brand identity will be heavily influenced by basic customer information, like age, gender, and median income, along with more personal information like their other purchase preferences. Virtually all of your marketing materials will be designed with this information in mind.
To learn more about your target customer, consider how they dress, the items they carry with them, and even how they speak. It might help to envision three people who exhibit these characteristics co-mingling at a party. The more information you have, the more you can use your brand to mirror your target customer’s lifestyle.
Many companies use customer information to create social media posts that don’t directly advertise their products or services. Instead, these posts emphasize integral elements of the target customer’s lifestyle, like activities or TV shows they enjoy.
3. What Unique Value Do You Provide?
Next, think of how your company stands out from the competition in terms of the value you provide. Every successful business provides value in at least one area that the majority of their competitors have either ignored or failed to prioritize. This gives your target customer an incentive to choose you over your competitors; based on that customer’s most important preferences.
If you’re not sure about the unique value you provide, repeat the previous exercise with your competitors in place of your target customer. In other words, consider how your competitors dress, speak, and the kind of products they are likely to own. Personify three of your competitors into individuals attending a party and describe how they conduct themselves. This will make it much easier to see how the type of customer they cater to differs your target customer. Maybe your competitors are less modern, less friendly, or more passive. Either way, you will eventually find that your competitors have somewhat polarizing personalities, and you should, too. It’s just not possible to please everyone.
Some people might be repelled by your message, but your target customers will love it. That’s the inevitable outcome of effective branding.
B2B companies tend to devote an especially large degree of focus to this area. They succeed by securing partnerships, and companies like to partner up with similar personalities. Their personality is their value. Thus, their branding must reflect the type of personality they are looking for in a partner.
4. What Has and Hasn’t Worked for You?
One of the most practical ways to shape your brand is figuring out what has and hasn’t worked for your business thus far. Consider your biggest accomplishments, and not just in terms of financial success. Every business faces adversity early on. The skills and resources you utilized to conquer these obstacles speak volumes about your strengths and values. It certainly makes sense to emphasize these things in your brand because without them, your business likely wouldn’t exist. Your brand identity is essentially a celebration of the hard work and sacrifice it took to build such a unique business.
Then, consider what your biggest failures have in common, and why your business found these initiatives so challenging. You’ll likely that certain mistakes could have been avoided while others just didn’t play to your business’s strengths.
New businesses often shape their brands by taking on a unique challenge that will almost certainly help them win over a massive audience. Think of how many food and drink companies revolve around the use of specific ingredients that their customers love. Acquiring these ingredients and forming a supply chain might be extremely difficult. At the end of the tunnel, however, is the reward of being the only company that can offer this type of product. All the work that went into forming the company allowed them to skip the work of developing a unique brand identity.
Branding is a lot easier when your values are directly related to what you do at work every day. You know what makes your company stand out and you don’t have to try too hard to show it to your customers.
5. The Analogy Game
The analogy exercise works best when multiple team members participate. Each person thinks of one business in another industry with similar qualities to yours, and then one business in another industry with similar qualities to one of your key competitors. These companies could mirror you and your competitor in several areas, like target customer, marketing voice, or customer service strategy.
Once everyone has their two companies, share your answers with each other. Of all the chosen companies, pick one from each category that you all agree on. The winners for each category should reveal which company is most similar to yours and which company is most similar to your key competitor.
These comparisons will clarify the specific qualities that help your business stand out. Think of it this way: Your company is different than your competitor because you are more like (insert industry outsider no.1), while your competitor is more like (insert industry outsider no.2). Why? Because your company conveys (insert qualities of industry outsider no.1) while your competitor conveys (insert qualities of industry outsider no.2).
These qualities should be reinforced in all marketing strategies and growth-related decisions moving forward. When your customers choose you over a competitor, it should be primarily because of these qualities.
6. What are Your Long-Term Goals?
This last exercise proves that the future can be just as inspiring for your brand identity as the past. Entrepreneurs often stress the importance of having a clear vision of your company’s future. You must imagine what you want your company to look like in the next five years or so, down to the very last detail. This could include the products you plan on selling, the companies you plan on partnering with, a sizable charitable donation, or anything associated with the goals you aspire to achieve.
As your list of details grows, you will likely detect overarching themes that reflect your company’s values. That’s what allowed you to create this list in the first place. Your company’s achievements are the result of staying true to the values that make up your brand identity. It’s not the goals you achieve but how you achieve them that sets you apart from the competition.
Develop Your Brand Positioning Statement
Speaking of long-term goals, many entrepreneurs have said that their initial vision didn’t seem feasible until they wrote it down. The same concept holds true for branding. You must write down the value your business provides, the type of people who share your values, and why this sets you apart from the competition.
These are the components of a brand positioning statement. In just a few sentences, you should be able to describe the central message you wish to convey through your brand identity.
Specifically, your brand positioning statement should name your product or service, your target customer, the benefits of choosing you over a competitor, and how you provide these benefits.
You could theoretically combine all of this information into a single sentence. Start by stating your company’s name and how you’d categorize your company. This should be followed by what you provide, who you provide it to, and how you do it. If someone read your statement, he or she should be able to easily discern the core elements of your brand.
But brand positioning statements are a resource for you, not your audience. Having this information written down will be very helpful when crafting the messaging for your website and other marketing materials. You’ll never lose sight of the values and goals that must be conveyed in every piece of content your audience sees.
For this reason, you should probably consult your brand positioning statement before letting any content go live. If it doesn’t align with your statement, it might need another look.
Choosing Your Strategy and Tools
The final stage of the marketing process is promotion, and it has two components. First, there’s the messaging of your promotional materials. Once you figure out how to get your message across, you can move on to choosing the right channels for your target market.
Business Marketing: Determine the Messaging of Your Ads
Regardless of your target market, one rule of messaging holds true for virtually all businesses. Your messaging strategy must be centered around the needs of your target market, or the problem your offerings solve. The biggest mistake you can make is centering your messaging around how great your business is.
So, when composing promotional materials, don’t start out by talking about yourself. Instead, imagine you are on a date with your target customer. Would this person want to hear you talk about yourself the whole time? This naturally drives people away, even if you’re the most interesting person on the planet.
What doesn’t drive people away, on the other hand, is asking about their lives. For this reason, your promotional materials should also start out by talking about the customer’s needs. Someone who has the problem your offerings solve will immediately be intrigued by your messaging. Effective promotional materials portray their offerings as a solution, or an answer. If you don’t highlight the customer’s needs from the get-go, your offerings’ benefits won’t seem important to them.
Also, remember to focus on the personal benefits of your offerings, as opposed to simply describing their features or how they work. Every feature must be connected with an outcome. How will your offerings improve your customers’ lives? These improvements could be emotional, financial, physical, etc.
Messaging requires you to re-visit the definition of marketing, or the difference between marketing and selling. The goal is to unearth and emphasize benefits that people won’t notice on the surface.
Business Marketing: Use the Right Language
Despite the plethora of customer data available online, many big companies still use focus groups when developing marketing strategies. Why are focus groups so helpful? Speaking to your target market in-person allows you to hear their reactions to your offerings. Focus group participants are often asked to say the first words that come to mind when the offering is presented, or how they would describe it to a friend.
During these exercises, the researcher listens carefully to the words the participants use. People trust referrals from friends or relatives over any other form of marketing. Thus, the information yielded in focus groups can show you how to address your target market as if you belonged to this very market. Wouldn’t you be more likely to trust a business that seems to be run by people just like you?
What are the Primary Digital Marketing Channels?
After solidifying the content of your messages, you must determine which marketing channel will most effectively capture the interest of your target market. Examples of marketing channels include email marketing, Google ads, media coverage, social media, and print advertisements.
As a new business, you must accept that people probably won’t purchase your offerings after discovering them for the first time. For this reason, you should concentrate on spreading brand awareness, as opposed to trying to generate leads or sales.
To determine which channels to use, think about how your target market learns about similar offerings. People who like trendy clothing and accessories, for example, typically comb social media for the latest releases. Businesses that offer services like copy writing, project management or web development, on the other hand, are more likely to be discovered through email campaigns.
As you can see, choosing the right channel requires even more research into your target market. But you should also use what you already know about their lifestyle and other interests. Does your target market spend more time on Facebook or Instagram? Do they prefer to read blog posts or watch YouTube videos about similar offerings?
Though your competitors’ strategies should certainly be taken into account, your research might point you in a slightly different direction. And that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to use a channel that your competitors have barely touched. That’s one of the most fascinating (and frustrating) aspects of marketing: What does nothing for one business could do wonders for a direct competitor.
23 Cheap Advertising Strategies for Your Small Business
Developing a marketing plan is an intimidating endeavor, to say the least. But marketing becomes much less daunting when you know where to start. For most businesses, it’s only logical to start with the least expensive methods.
Despite the low cost, you could argue that this is the hardest part of developing your general marketing plan. You’re going to spend a lot of time and energy experimenting with the following tactics. There’s way more cheap advertising methods than expensive ones. So, you might as well get this process over with as early as possible.
Read on to learn how to advertise your business with your brain, not your bank account:
1. Offer Rewards for Social Media Shares
When it comes to generating new customers, the value of referrals can’t be emphasized enough. People trust the opinions of their friends and relatives much more than other forms of advertising. Thanks to social media, existing customers can expose your business to a whole other world of potential customers with one click. One share from the right person could be your business’s big break, especially if you cater to a niche audience.
But even if you provide high quality offerings, most people need an incentive for sharing a brand on social media. It’s a simple concept: everyone who shares your business’s social media posts gets a discount. You’ll simultaneously increase brand awareness while giving your most loyal customers another reason to keep buying from you.
Remember: All the social media shares in the world will do nothing if the posts being shared lack the correct structure and messaging for your target audience.
2. Low-Level Influencers
This is basically an expanded version of the previous strategy. Instead of rewarding a share, you’re rewarding a more detailed post that has the genuine feel of a word-of-mouth referral.
You probably don’t have the money to afford your industry’s most prominent influencers (and neither does any business with a budget). But you don’t have to be a celebrity to have lots of friends or followers who share your interests. Brand ambassadors, or low-level influencers, are usually connected to higher level influencers, and they might post in the same social media circles.
Low-level influencers may also release more authentic posts that don’t obviously seem like advertisements. New businesses must stand out in their advertising and cannot structure their posts as if they’ve been around for years. It just doesn’t work.
3. Reward Referrals from Employees
No one knows your business better than your team. They know what sets you apart from your competitors, and what makes your mission, or story, special. But if this is the case, why don’t your employees already promote your business on their own?
Maybe it’s because you don’t offer a reward. And since we’re talking about employees, that reward doesn’t have to be a discount. For example, you could offer an extra vacation day if an employee brings in a certain number of referrals. You could even a generous bonus to the employee who brings in the most referrals by the end of the year.
4. Create an Online Quiz
A quick scroll through your Facebook news feed will remind you that people still love Internet quizzes. They just have to be original, highly targeted, and if possible, funny! All of these things make social media users more likely to share quiz results on their pages. Quizzes are ultimately a clever and completely free way to get existing customers to promote your business. Yes, it takes time to create a quiz but these are the sacrifices you have to make in order to build a real following on social media.
5. Behind the Scenes Video Content
Today’s consumers are biased towards increasingly transparent companies, especially those that sell high-priced or highly important products or services. Your videos should be centered your audience’s biggest curiosities about your industry, or a hot topic of debate. How is your product made? What does your company do all day? What is a popular misconception about companies like yours?
But your topic is just step one. Next, you have to figure out how to express this information. Should you interview members of your team, or just speak directly to your audience yourself? The former option allows you to prove the authenticity of your brand identity, or your business’s personality. This could be very helpful if your brand identity is particularly unique or more aligned with your target audience than your competitors.
Putting a face to your business’s name, however, might be the better move if your brand identity revolves around your personal story. Some of the most famous entrepreneurs have personalities that are contagious or almost identical to their target audience.
6. Partner Up with Complementary Businesses
Your top competitors are far from the only businesses that share your target audience. Think about their other interests or hobbies. You should be able to come up with a few types of businesses whose products or services go hand-in-hand with yours. One common example is a gym and a smoothie shop. Complementary businesses could partner up to offer cross-promotional deals, where purchasing from one business gets you a discount to the other.
7. Appear as a Podcast Guest
These days, there is literally a podcast for every interest or hobby you could think of. With that in mind, you can almost certainly find a podcast that shares your target audience.
Podcasts are great free advertising strategies because they are specifically chosen by their listeners. People don’t listen to podcasts that have nothing to do with their interests or hobbies. Appearing on a podcast allows you to advertise directly to your target audience. It’s up to you decide whether to reach out to the most popular podcast for your audience or the most niche. Actually, you might as well choose both since appearing on podcasts is completely free.
8. Swap Leads with a Partner
Podcasts are just one example of another business that shares your target audience. But they aren’t your competitor because they don’t sell a similar product or service. Odds are, plenty of other businesses fit this criterion: they share your target audience but aren’t your competitor.
You may already be friends with someone who owns a business of this nature. If you’ve known this person for some time, it’s not considered inappropriate to inquire about a lead swapping partnership. This only makes sense, however, if both businesses have leads that could be valuable to one another. If this is the case, you two could set up an arrangement where you swap leads every few months or so.
Of course, the leads your partner provides could turn out to be of the weaker variety. Lead-swapping partnerships don’t work if one party is receiving much stronger leads. To prevent this scenario, use a reputable small business CRM tool to track the outcome of the leads you’re receiving. You may find out that only a small number of your new leads are converting into paying customers. Rather than terminating the partnership, it may be better to ask about establishing narrower criteria for the type of leads you receive.
9. Make Your Website SEO-Proof
Earlier, we mentioned that some of the cheapest marketing tactics often turn out to be the most successful. You won’t find a better example of this phenomenon than Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. This refers to the act of modifying your website so that it shows up on the first page of results following relevant searches.
An SEO-proof website must fulfill at least two qualities. First, it must be littered with keywords or phrases you want your business to be associated with. Think about the words your target audience would use when searching for a business like yours.
Second, your website must be up-to-date, informative, and made up of clear, concise writing. Your target audience should be able to find answers to frequently asked questions about your business, your offerings, and your industry. Steady increases in traffic is what really helps websites move up in search positions.
Mastering SEO has no cost except for time. And that time frame would likely be a lot shorter if there wasn’t so much misinformation out there about the best practices for SEO. This is why some businesses enlist the help of SEO experts. The cost of a single consultation will easily be offset by the rewards of an SEO-proof website. Once you attain a high Google rank and continuously update your website, you’re not going to lose that position anytime soon.
10. Contact Journalists Through HARO
New businesses build followings by focusing on what makes them special. This could be your origin story, company culture, or simply how you serve your target audience’s needs better than anyone else. If you believe your business has something truly exciting or newsworthy, contact journalists through Help a Reporter Out (HARO).
Journalists use HARO for several purposes. In addition to reporting the growth of new businesses, they look for business owners to act as sources for larger stories about their industries. The journalists you contact should write for publications that share your target audience, or be working on stories your target audience would be interested in. If you do get mentioned in a larger story, that’s one more piece of content to post on your social media accounts.
It’s important to be realistic about your business’s value to publications. If you aren’t 100% sure you have a story worth covering, you should probably stay away from HARO. Continuing to contact reporters after being rejected will only annoy them and hurt your chances for media coverage in the future.
11. Launch an Email Newsletter
Many of us are bombarded with dozens of emails from businesses every day. Your inbox would likely be a lot smaller if email marketing wasn’t such a cost-effective and productive advertising method. MailChimp lets you send up to 12,000 emails to up to 2,000 people per month for no cost.
Though you may have never made a purchase after seeing an email, there are probably email newsletters you still subscribe to.
Now, think about what separates the newsletters you keep from those you elect to stop receiving. Odds are, emails from the former group come from businesses you’re very interested in and don’t just feature exclusive offers or promotions. They might contain excerpts from intriguing blog posts, industry-related jokes, or surprising industry-related facts. In other words, these emails offer a unique value and are highly targeted. Thus, your emails should share both qualities as well.
12. Answer Questions on Quora
Businesses often base the titles of blog posts on common industry-related questions. They figure out what their target audience is entering into Google and use that exact phrase to boost their website’s SEO.
But when they Google the question themselves, they realize that another website is already getting lots of traffic on this topic. That website is Quora, the question and answer forum that is widely used as a free marketing tool.
If a potential customer has an important question about your industry, they might seek answers on Quora. The most detailed, informative answers are often provided by businesses that belong to this industry. Longer answers to popular questions also make the page more likely to rank highly on Google.
If enough Quora users like your answer, it becomes the first answer someone sees at the top the page. But much like Facebook groups, this won’t happen if your answers are overly self-promotional.
It’s easy to make the mistake of answering every remotely relevant question. Instead, you should probably focus on the more specific questions asked by people who clearly belong to your target audience. These pages will likely be visited by other members of your target audience who Google the same question.
13. Target New Residents and Businesses
This free advertising strategy is geared towards brick and mortar shops, but it can technically be used by any business. Research has shown that when the time comes to purchase a new product or service, people are more likely to choose the first business they’ve encountered that sells this offering.
You can take advantage of this psychological principal by targeting new residents or new businesses in your community. When people move into your neighborhood, they use realtors and moving companies, right? If you partner up with these companies, they will personally recommend your business to their new clients.
14. Flyers and Business Cards
Speaking of local businesses, it never hurts to post flyers in places frequented by your target audience. This could include coffee shops, restaurants, or fitness centers. As you can see, a recurring message throughout this list is that if your target audience is there, you should be, too. Some businesses may even let you put stacks of business cards or brochures near their checkout counters.
15. Incentive-Based Referral Systems
We previously noted that people trust the opinions of their friends and relatives over any form of advertising. In this sense, your most loyal customers are actually your best salespeople. And you don’t even have to pay them.
The logical way to incentivize referrals is to create an amazing product or service. But let’s be honest. It’s extremely rare to come across something so mind-blowing that customers feel the natural urge to tell their friends about it. In most cases, customers need an extra push to refer their latest acquisitions, even if it’s the best purchase they’ve made in months.
It’s also very easy to measure the success of digital referral programs. You’ll be able to see what kind of customers are making the most referrals. As a result, you’ll be able to see what kind of people you should target in your other marketing efforts.
One popular referral strategy is giving discounts to both parties: the existing customer and the new customer. The existing customer gets a discount on their next purchase, and the new customer gets a discount on their first. Thanks to modern technology, starting a referral program isn’t complicated at all. You could copy countless retailers (particularly Ecommerce) and create customized referral codes for both parties. For example, the new customer could receive the discount after entering the email address of the existing customer, who then receives a discount of their own.
16. Stay Active on Review Sites
Earlier, we alluded to the value of customer referrals, or word-of-mouth marketing. The same concept applies to reviews, both on social media and review sites like Yelp. Customers put tremendous trust in reviews, which can suggest if the majority of your customers like or dislike your business.
Don’t get discouraged over negative reviews: even the most popular restaurants in the US have them. Besides, you can significantly mitigate the damage of such feedback by responding promptly and politely. This shows that you understand the importance of every individual customer experience. Some people just like seeing businesses apologize for their shortcomings and guarantee better service or quality the next time around. Thus, make sure to respond to all negative reviews, since they give you the opportunity to put your customer service on display (choose your words carefully).
Your Yelp business profile also contains pictures and general information (hours, location, menu, etc.). Customers tend to favor profiles that leave as little mystery as possible in these areas.
In summary, you should use Yelp to reveal everything you want your target audience to know about your business. If people want to let this single website determine if they belong to your target audience, give them all the information they need to make an educated choice.
17. Flash Sales/Sense of Urgency
You can thank social media for exposing the incredible potential of flash sales. Here’s how it works: Your company offers an extreme discount (i.e. 50-75% off) but for a very short amount of time (usually a few hours to a few days). People love saving big, especially on trendy items like clothing, technology or food. Between social media and word-of-mouth marketing, it’s not long before everyone and their mother knows about the sale.
Flash sales prove that creating a sense of urgency can make any product seem infinitely more appealing. It’s like Black Friday/Cyber Monday but only with one product. They also give you more data to use when promoting your business’s success in the future. You can now boast about how many products you sold in such a short period of time.
Businesses often promote flash sales a few weeks before they occur, which runs the risk of customers forgetting about their new coupon code. You can avoid this by announcing flash sales during your longer-term promotions, like holiday or back-to-school sales.
18. Create Your Own Infographics
Researching industry-related data could uncover myriad valuable statistics. You can put this plethora of information to use through infographics, which can do wonders for young businesses looking to grab attention. The design of infographics makes them very easy to understand, largely because they communicate key information so quickly. The less time it takes to illustrate your point, the higher the likelihood of social media likes and shares.
Infographics will also cost you very little time and money to create. You don’t need any experience in graphic design, and most infographics you’ve seen likely required just one free tool.
19. Improve Your Customer Experience
A “customer experience” is when a customer receives more than what was purchased when doing business with you. While some would simply refer to this as “good customer service,” it’s important to note that a “customer experience” goes way beyond freebies, rewards programs, promotions, and easygoing, friendly employee-to-customer interactions. You need to exceed your customers’ expectations from the moment they log on to your website, dial your phone number, and of course, make a purchase.
Think of it as going the extra mile, or turning something that is usually highly forgettable into something highly rewarding and impossible to forget. For example, if you stay in a hotel, you’ll be far more inclined to stay there again if you opened the door of your room to find a bottle of local wine on your bed or a note acknowledging your first stay.
20. Vehicular Branding
Dedicated entrepreneurs promote their businesses everywhere they go, even without speaking to anybody. You can accomplish this with one of the oldest tools for free advertising: your car.
How many license plates or bumper stickers have you seen that promote the driver’s business? They’re everywhere. The fact that you remember these cars so clearly shows the effectiveness of this tactic. As an entrepreneur, it’s your job to promote yourself as well as your business. Putting your company’s name on your car ultimately makes it easier for people to associate the two entities as one.
21. Guerilla Marketing
Guerilla marketing refers to the use of public space (i.e. the sidewalk, subway cars, benches) to market your business. You could put stickers on street signs at busy intersections, or leave flyers on peoples’ cars in your neighborhood. Those people who stand in crowded areas and ask anyone who passes by if they like certain food items or activities? Yup, that’s guerilla marketing at its finest.
22. Visual Tools You Can’t Miss
Many brick-and-mortar businesses have found success with visual marketing tools. Restaurants and bars often have chalkboards on the sidewalk advertising new discounts or specials accompanied with a witty remark that caters to their audience. This can be effective even if you don’t have a sale or new product to advertise, especially if the sign is clever enough to go viral.
If your business involves driving around on a regular basis (like a cleaning business or tutoring service), you might want to consider branding your company car with your logo, information and eye-catching decals. Some local delicatessens do this so pedestrians will know they deliver and get a sense of what kind of items they serve.
We’ve already established that an SEO-proof website is full of relevant information. Well, one logical way to gradually add more and more relevant information is blogging. There’s no cost to starting a blog, and if you know the rules of SEO, you know how to create high quality content.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of blogging is determining which elements to copy from your competitors and which elements should be completely unique. Business blogs often gain traction by addressing popular industry-related issues that have yet to be given this much attention. The topic and title must make the reader think, “This is going to be fresh and interesting.”
Blogging also presents another way to increase web traffic through social media. Metrics like shares and clicks can tell you what kind of topics your target audience prefers.
What are the Most Common Marketing Mistakes?
Small businesses that are naturally successful at marketing (or naturally marketable) like to preach their strategies as if they were the law. They make marketing look easy and relatively inexpensive. As long as you put enough effort into a select few strategies, their message seems to say, you’ll grow your business in no time. But blindly obeying what’s popular will eventually reveal one of the biggest frustrations about small business marketing: What works brilliantly for one business could very well fail miserably for another.
Here are some of the most common small business marketing mistakes:
1. Relying Solely on Organic Reach
Much of the hype surrounding social media stems from the fact that you don’t technically need to spend money to reach and/or build your target audience. Yes, some companies have managed to do both for little or no money but the likelihood of your company having the same luck is getting smaller and smaller. Various platforms are just growing too quickly for you to rely solely on organic reach, or even social media in general. Years ago, it might have been possible to reach a substantial amount of people by simply maintaining active accounts, i.e. regularly posting about new releases, promotions or changes in your industry and then tagging a lot of people in the posts. But in 2020, it’s much harder (if not impossible) to reach your marketing goals with just organic ads.
The new challenge with social media is finding the right mix of organic and paid advertising, which is no easy feat. You might not have to spend as much year after year but odds are, you’re going to have to spend a considerable amount just to find the mix that works for you.
2. Automatically Adding Customers to Your Communities
Whether it’s online or in-person, you’ve probably noticed that more and more small businesses are taking advantage of their customers’ personal information. Many small businesses obtain this information from the get-go while others might offer a discount or membership to a loyal program in exchange for their email address. The customer doesn’t always know he or she is being added to a community. Some people don’t mind being added against their will, possibly because they know that their local gym, auto dealer, or beauty spa already has this information. They won’t get annoyed by weekly emails or social media tags. But that doesn’t apply to everyone.
You only get one chance to make a first impression, and there’s a chance that your new customers will get annoyed by a barrage of emails they did not sign up for. It might be better for you to give them the option of joining your email and social media communities by explaining the benefits of doing so.
3. Getting Caught Up in New Trends
Small businesses that claim to have it all figured out when it comes to marketing are constantly reminding you what is “in” and “out.” This might make sense if the subjects didn’t appear to change every month. You’ve just learned how to correctly use Facebook, but according to your more “innovative” competitors, the real moneymaker is Snapchat. At least, until tomorrow, when live video tutorials take its place. One thing is for sure: You will never have to worry about a shortage of marketing tools. But the constant emergence of new ideas can be quite overwhelming and intimidating. Are you supposed to invest in a new marketing tool every three months?
Just like growth in general, your marketing strategy will not work without a clear, laid out plan. Forget what could come out in the future and build your plan around the shape your business is in right now.
4. Not Leveraging Your Team
Local marketing is about having as many boots on the ground as possible. Having a team of people that can pick up on community signals and take those signals to create an enticing message to generate traffic is essential to success.
A great way to carry this out is by hiring people who know and grew up in the local area. This can prove to be a huge advantage in building your local base because there is no one more knowledgeable about what the community looks for in a business than the people who live there. This is also a great way to spread the word about your small business on a micro level. Small businesses looking to expand their market on a macro level, however, may have to employ a specialized team to research potential market patterns and opportunities on a national/regional level.
5. Sending the Same Message to Different Clientele
Every community is unique. Thus, printing and posting 20 thousand flyers that read exactly the same isn’t your best move. Being specific helps direct action, which in turn, lowers cost effectively. Everyone processes things differently and this has a lot to do with knowing your target customer. You’re not going to market a T-Shirt that you’re selling in New York the same way you would in LA because they’re completely different communities! Set up a calendar to create multiple ad runs with a variation of messages based on the area in which you are advertising. In the digital world, you can customize a landing page for each advertising campaign. Remember to keep it simple on the design and focus on the intended market!
All in all, when it comes to strategizing your marketing for your business, you should think in a more micro perspective than a macro one. For example, you should create marketing campaigns targeting your local consumer before creating one for a regional/national level. This ensures that your ad is reaching your local customer first (you are a small business, after all). This way, you can measure conversion for your small business locally before jumping into marketing for a larger consumer base.
6. Not Being Realistic About Your Audience
In 2017, consulting firm IHL Group released a report that showed which major chains were in the process of opening new locations or closing existing ones. The data revealed that Dunkin Donuts belonged to the former group whereas Starbucks belonged to the latter. There are a few reasons for this, but they all revolve around Dunkin’s heightened understanding of their target audience. For example, Dunkin’ Donuts was smart enough to re-brand themselves to just “Dunkin” to avoid being associated with the ongoing donut trend fueled by over-paying hipsters. The re-branding was also a response to the increasing demand for newer brands and distaste for well-established staples of the industry.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, on the other hand, has repeatedly spoken out against corporate America. It seems that Schultz forgot that the only coffee drinkers who haven’t turned to small businesses are likely very corporate themselves. Despite his good intentions, Schultz essentially told his own customers not to give them their business.
7. Doing Your Own Marketing
A common mistake for businesses is wasting time trying to become experts at something they don’t have a knack for. This isn’t surprising considering business owners are problem solvers and have spent their whole careers adapting to new challenges and figuring out solutions on their own. But as your company grows, you have less time and energy to devote to initiatives outside of your usual day-to-day responsibilities.
Among these initiatives is marketing, which many small business owners have little experience with. But according to the InfusionSoft 2017 “Small Business Marketing Trends Report,” over 70% of small businesses do their marketing in-house, and it isn’t doing them much good. In fact, a similar report found that the business owners who do their marketing in-house are significantly less satisfied with their results than competitors who outsource their marketing to an external agency.
How Do Businesses Gain Media Attention?
For more traditional businesses (retail stores, car dealerships, restaurants), one of the most effective types of marketing has been media attention. Being mentioned by a popular media outlet for your target audience has the potential to spread brand awareness just as powerfully as a highly expensive or complex campaign. But establishing relationships with these outlets is not easy. Just like any other intimidating business endeavor, you can avoid getting overwhelmed by starting from the very bottom and taking the appropriate steps.
No, you don’t need to hire a renowned publicist or do something outrageous just to stand out. The real work is done during the planning process, which ensures that you pursue the right outlets with the right tactics.
1. Give Yourself a Reason to be Covered
As different as they are, all media outlets want the same thing: To tell compelling stories. This is why step one for attracting media attention is developing your small business’s story, one that is undeniably worth sharing. You might be planning to launch (or have recently launched) a new, interesting product that your customers love so much that they are telling everyone they know about it. Or, you might be involved in some sort of charity or fund raiser for the community.
At this point in history, a topic that is on the mind of myriad small business customers is competition from online giants like Amazon. So, you might want to publicize a unique strategy that has allowed your business to prove the value of an in-person experience. Around the holidays, media outlets like to report how small business owners are planning to thwart the dominance of Ecommerce as well as how they have performed once the holidays are over. This could be a great opportunity to gain even more customers from a strategy you were intending to implement anyway.
2. Make a Pitch List
You don’t want your pitch list to be too big, but it should certainly include media outlets from various channels. There’s podcasts, YouTube channels, or blogs that share your target audience. You should have a reason for pitching to them that goes well beyond “It’s popular” or “Lots of people have heard of it.” If you’re not sure where to start, think about media outlets that have covered your competitors. You can even ask other local business owners for suggestions, especially if they stand to capitalize on the influx of foot traffic. Sometimes, the best move is to talk to your friends and see which outlets they prefer. It is recommended to have at least 20 outlets on your final pitch list, though not too much more than that.
3. Compose Pitch Template
This part can get tricky. But before worrying about the message’s tone or diction, make sure you have fulfilled the basic ingredients of a pitch email. It should begin with a brief background about your business and its accomplishments. You can list some other outlets you’ve worked with or other forms of advertising that have been successful for you. Then, it’s time to pitch the story you’ve developed.
How convenient would it be if you could simply send the same email to everyone? Unfortunately, this is not the case, as it’s advised to personalize every pitch. Your inbox probably receives numerous pitch emails on a daily basis. Think about what gives these messages away as bulk pitches. Once you’ve composed a pitch template, the next step is to figure out what time to send them. It is generally recommended to send at least 2 pitches a day.
4. Follow Up
It is completely normal for a successful small business to pitch 30 media outlets and only hear back from one. But that doesn’t mean you should just give up on all the others. Media relationships are often not forged with a single email. The business leader has to follow up multiple times, which shows that you truly believe that the story you pitched is worthy of attention. You shouldn’t wait much longer than a week to follow up because by that point, the outlet will basically be hearing from you for the first time.
How Do Businesses Market to Large Corporations?
Does your small business marketing strategy get the attention of corporate clients? According to American Express’ recent 2019 Survey of Small & Midsize Business Suppliers, those businesses that have corporate contracts expect to grow by at least 50% in the next five years. And over 81% of those businesses that were surveyed expect to increase their sales to “big” businesses – those with over $1 billion in revenue – over the next five years.
Is it worth investing in marketing tools to attract big business?
Read on for answers and ideas on how to get attention from big businesses (for free) for your own small business.
Benefits of Selling to Corporate America
Working with corporate clients benefits small businesses in several ways. These include:
- Increased revenue (over 64% of respondents)
- Further diversified income streams (40% of respondents)
- Organic growth (40% of respondents)
- Expanded public profile
- Access to new markets
- Easier access to financing
As Donna Donato, Vice President of Strategic Sourcing and Business Enablement for American Express says in their press release, “Contracting With corporations offers tremendous growth opportunities for businesses across every industry and can help drive supply chain competitiveness, unlock innovation, provide access to new markets, and deliver positive socioeconomic impact in local markets.”
One often-overlooked fringe benefit of selling to corporate America is that it can open doors for small businesses struggling to get financing. According to the Amex report, 74% of business owners said that working on corporate contracts led to more flexibility in finding small business loans and funding.
Slightly more than half – 51% – of the Amex survey respondents said participating in online social networking through different groups was the most effective small business marketing activity they pursued. Online group activity on social media platforms exposes you to corporate contacts, such as company procurement professionals.
A great starting point is LinkedIn groups.
Use the search bar to find groups based on your best industry keywords. For example, say your business provides widgets for restaurants.
A search of the keyword “restaurants” yields nearly 2,000 LinkedIn groups. (Note: remember to click on the button for “Groups” otherwise you’ll see a bazillion posts and profiles of people who work in restaurants.) Results get arranged by membership in descending order.
Browse the groups, join a few that have active discussions and start commenting. Make a point of adding valuable insights and asking thought-provoking questions.
Pay close attention to the job titles of the members you interact with. Note who works for companies you want to do business with and find opportunities to interact with them within the group.
Once you position yourself as a knowledgeable and consistently valuable group member, you (and your business) are more likely to get the attention of the decision-makers in the corporations.
Local Business Networks
Your local network has connections with people in larger networks. And as access to technology shrinks the business world, corporations look farther afield for suppliers and contractors.
Look for the chance to make valuable real-world, offline business connections. Hop online to find your local chapter of a national business organization, like the Chamber of Commerce. Join them and attend their meetings. Focus on building relationships one at a time, the most valuable offline small business marketing technique according to 44% of the survey respondents.
Local COCs often include professionals like lawyers, engineers, and accountants. These individuals usually belong to state-wide or national associations. Their wider network could include useful contacts in corporate and enterprise business.
Trade Shows and Conferences
Consider trade shows and conferences another valuable method to connect with corporate clients. Yes, they attend these events as customers. Yet they’re also setting up booths and running workshops. Introduce yourself so you’re on their radar for future projects. The Amex survey reported 42% of respondents found the most value in networking at trade shows.
Business Marketing: Research is Key
Two common themes of this guide are research and seeking advice from your competitors and target market. No steps of the marketing process should be completed entirely on your own, even if you’re a solopreneur. At the end of each step, make sure your conclusion is supported by sufficient data.
Your research may point you towards an unfamiliar or complicated channel, like Google AdWords. In this case, give yourself a reality check in terms of what you can and cannot accomplish on your own. Choosing to outsource your most important marketing channel could be a critical decision in your business’s development. But no one knows your business better than you. Hence, you’ll have a direct role in every marketing strategy your business launches, regardless of the resources involved.