Imagine two online retailers. One makes custom greeting cards by hand using a mixture of woodcuts, watercolor, and calligraphy. Their prices are remarkably fair for what they offer, and their customers adore their work.
However, this retailer has no marketing plan and relies on word of mouth to let people know about their cards. The second seller, however, buys premade cards in bulk and sells them at a 50% markup on eBay.
There is no personalization, and the price is relatively high compared to similar generic cards on the market. However, this second seller has gone all in on its marketing efforts, using digital marketing tools, social media posts, and an email list to reach potential customers for its cards. Which business do you imagine makes more sales?
Many small businesses either thrive or perish based on their ability to attract attention. A business with an excellent product but no marketing plan could flop, while a rival with a mediocre product could hang on due to exemplary marketing efforts.
What is small business marketing?
Small-business marketing is defined as using all the marketing channels and disciplines available in order to get exposure for your services or products.
No matter how big or small your business, the core principles of marketing are the same. Of course, a small business tends to have fewer resources and smaller budgets than a corporate behemoth.
How to develop a small-business marketing plan
When you’re ready to launch a marketing campaign for your small business, it will help to orient your efforts around eight main tasks:
1. Set measurable goals
Before you run a marketing campaign, it’s important to get clear on what you hope to achieve. Do you want to raise brand awareness, acquire new customers, or increase sales? Your marketing objectives will help determine which marketing strategies and tactics are right for your business.
2. Get to know your target market
Who are your customers, and what do they want? Consider their age, gender, location, and interests. The more you know about your target customer’s demographics, the easier it will be to craft a marketing message that resonates.
One of the best ways to get to know your target market is by conducting market research. This can be done through surveys, focus groups, or by analyzing your competition.
3. Describe your goods and services in your own terms
Begin your marketing efforts by writing up descriptions of the products or services that you offer. Think about what value they bring to your target audience or what problems they solve. Brainstorm what makes your offerings so great, and write about them earnestly. This will provide a framework for how you will market your product to the public.
4. Assess the competition
Unless you have invented a product from scratch, there’s a good chance you’ll have competitors. Take note of how they market their goods.
- Are they mostly using digital marketing tools?
- Have they dug into social media marketing?
- Do they engage in influencer marketing, where a famous online celebrity endorses their products?
- What language do they use to describe their products?
Pay equal attention to what they’re selling and how they’re selling it.
5. Determine your unique sales proposition
A unique sales proposition, or USP, is the trait your business has that makes it stand out from the pack. Now that you know your competition, decide how you will differentiate yourself in the eyes of your target audience. Perhaps you will beat your competitors on price or on product quality.
6. Set your marketing budget
Lay out all of the expenses associated with your marketing plan, and consider how to best allocate your dollars across them. You’ll likely need people and tools, plus an advertising budget. You might also want to allocate free products for influencers, or budget to have a presence at a live event.
7. Plan and begin your marketing campaigns
Having established a budget and marketing plan, it’s time for you to plan and launch your campaigns.
Depending on your budget, you can make these campaigns diverse, with a mix of paid digital advertising (web-based ads, paid social media posts, influencer marketing), traditional advertising (radio, TV, print ads, billboards), social selling (person-to-person engagement on social media platforms), and content marketing (blog posts, podcasts, explainer videos).
A lean, startup marketing plan can include any and all of the following components:
- Brand strategy. This answers the questions: What is your company’s identity, who does it exist for, and what makes it different from competitors? This is the foundation of all marketing plans, as it defines your company relative to the market.
- Content. This is what your company wants to say about itself, its products, and perhaps the world. Content can take many forms: from an Instagram post to a blog post to a billboard.
- Advertising. This is one of the ways you get your brand and your content out into the world. It could include bidding on strategic keywords in a search engine marketing strategy, promoting social media posts to reach new audiences, or paying for a pre-roll ad slot on a podcast.
8. Track results and make adjustments.
Not every marketing effort succeeds. Stand at the ready as you see which marketing messages land—and which don’t—and which channels work best.
Marketing is not a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. It requires continual monitoring of key metrics and making adjustments as you learn more about your target audience, its media consumption, and its spending habits.
11 strategies for small businesses
Small and local business marketers face challenges that do not apply to big businesses. Use these marketing tactics to navigate the unique waters of your next campaign.
1. Use content marketing to build organic website traffic
Content marketing requires a lot of work upfront, but once you invest in creating a great piece of content, it can live on forever. You can build up a following on YouTube by creating genuinely useful videos about your product or industry that would interest your target audience.
Blog posts that answer questions people are searching on Google can bring organic inbound traffic to your website.
2. Word of mouth is your friend
When you’re starting out and don’t have a lot of customers, call on your loved ones to get the word out about what you do.
Word-of-mouth marketing relies on organic conversations and engagement with or about your company, such as those that happen on social media (likely your main driver of word of mouth) or those that happen in real-life interactions.
According to Nielson,92% of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family, so you can take advantage of this by building your social media presence, starting a hashtag campaign around your brand, or having friends act as ambassadors for your company.
3. Create a unified image for your brand
Even if you don’t have the budget to hire a professional brand consultant, you can still use your internal resources to create a unified look for your company. This includes a logo, a color scheme, a font set, a slogan, and a fixed description for your offerings.
In addition to creating an aura of professionalism, this process will help you with integrated marketing efforts, where the goal is to have a consistent look and message across all of your marketing and distribution channels.
4. Build an email marketing list
Email marketing is a low-cost way to reach a large number of people who have already shown an interest in what you do. You can start building your list by adding a sign-up form to your website or blog to get subscribers.
You can also encourage people to sign up for your email list by offering a freebie, such as a discount code. Once you have a few hundred people on your email list, you can start sending out monthly newsletters or promotional emails.
5. Invest in search engine optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization is the process of making your website more visible in search engine results pages (SERPs). This is important because it can help you get more organic traffic to your website.
To optimize your website for search engines, you need to do keyword research to find out what people are searching for. You also need to make sure your website is well-organized and easy to navigate. In addition, you need to create quality content that is relevant to your target audience.
6. Run pay per click (PPC) ads
PPC ads are a form of online advertising where you pay a fee each time someone clicks on your ad. This can be an effective way to get more traffic to your website, especially if you are targeting a specific keyword. PPC ads can be run on Google, Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms.
7. Social selling
Small business owners can build a network and a trusting relationship among an existing or prospective customer base by using social selling techniques.
Rather than pushing products to customers, you focus on building a trusting relationship with your customers, which may eventually lead to sales. You do this primarily by facilitating discussions and interactions with you (and by extension, your brand) over social media or through casual social gatherings.
8. Public relations campaigns
This is an effort to get your company or product mentioned in the media. You might send a press release to inspire a news outlet to cover your business and perhaps conduct an interview with you or your team members.
News interest in your brand can come from a variety of sources beyond a press release, however, such as a campaign going viral, for example.
9. Customer acquisition
Customer acquisition is the bottom of the marketing funnel. You know who your customers are and they’re interested in you—you just have to get them over the finish line to make a purchase.
For an ecommerce business, you can optimize your product page for sales, making sure the important purchasing information is clearly visible with clear images and a prominent purchasing button.
You could use A/B testing, where you give two sets of customers two different page designs or messages to see which performs better. You can make sure your checkout flow is easy, seamless, and safe—customers have multiple options for payment, including things like Shop Pay or Apple Pay, so customers don’t have to input their credit card information.
10. Customer retention
Once you have your customer, retention is the act of keeping them as customers—ideally by having them buy your product or service again and again.
Marketers use reengagement efforts, like an email newsletter or push notifications. These act as reminders to customers that your company exists and often include a call to action, such as acting on a current sale.
You can also improve the interactions your customers have with your company by improving your customer service—reducing response times to queries or ensuring that customers get to speak with a human and not a robot. The ultimate goal of a small business’s marketing efforts is gaining new customers—ideally customers who will remain loyal for many years.
11. Referrals and loyalty programs
You can encourage customers to refer others to your company or product by offering them an incentive to do so—think of it as if you were rewarding a friend for introducing you to someone new. Loyalty programs do the same thing for existing customers: you offer them a reward for remaining loyal customers.
Both of these programs can be run digitally with a loyalty program app or through physical cards or points—think of how many points you get at a coffee shop for each visit. Points can be redeemed for treats or even cash back. By monitoring behavior, hard data can tell you when someone is at risk of churning—that is, when they’re likely to leave your company for another.
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Small business marketing FAQ
How do I create a marketing action plan for my small business?
What are the 7 steps of a marketing plan?
- Research your target market
- Set marketing goals
- Develop your brand
- Create marketing materials
- Plan your marketing budget
- Create a marketing calendar
- Measure and track results
What 5 main things are needed in a small business marketing strategy?
- Company or brand