Small Business Marketing on a Budget – 4 Tips to Consider
Marketing your business is key to success, but with a number of digital marketing options and channels available, you can be spoilt for choice in ways to advertise your small business.
Both paid and free advertising channels offer businesses the opportunity to reach new and more targeted audiences. Remember, whichever channel you choose, even free promotion costs your business time and resources – so proper planning and targeting is critical.
Here are four tips to get you started on tapping into some of the best SME promotional channels in 2019, with a focus on paid promotions, with options for free activity as well.
1. Customer targeting – fish where the fish are
Do you have a clear understanding of your customer profiles – and how customers behave online?
To ensure your hard-earned marketing dollars have maximum impact, you will need to answer some questions like:
- Which marketing channels do your customers spend the most time on?
- Which media outlets are the best at communicating and reaching those audiences?
If you have particular channels in mind, you can usually find a detailed breakdown of the audience for each media channel either online or via request from the relevant sales team. This info package should include locational data, age brackets, industry or sector, income level and interests – along with the size of their audience or readership. You may also be able to ask some of your customers directly, either in person or in an email or online survey, which social channels they use and what publications they like to read. Adding the question “how did you hear about us?” into your online or in-person conversations can be quite revealing. You may be surprised by the results, and can adjust your marketing plan accordingly. Your staff may also provide insights into customer habits, based on their observations, conversations and experiences.
2. Set a budget
It sounds obvious, but setting an annual advertising budget is an important discipline. A set budget allows you to clearly evaluate your Return on Investment (ROI). Your marketing efforts may increase your sales and grow your customer base – but at what cost? Research is critical to ensure your budget is informed by the most up-to-date information on advertising costs. If you don’t have a media buying agency, who can provide you with cost estimates, you can request this information directly from the sales department of the media channel itself. Sometimes the advertising rate cards are available online. Consider this pricing the starting point for negotiation – you can often secure a better price by asking for a discount rate based on an introductory price or your ongoing, repeat business. Remember to allow for a degree of experimentation to truly understand the acquisition cost of a customer using each particular marketing channel.
3. Consider engaging outside expertise
Whilst many marketing and business development activities can be managed in-house, sometimes it pays to bring in third-party expertise. This is particularly valuable for expensive media campaigns, because media buying agencies and digital specialists can negotiate better deals than a single business. Agencies and specialists are in the business of understanding all the new channels and can save you time and money on experimentation. Take care to select an agency that specialises in the channels you are looking to activate, understands your business sector and has a positive track record working with SMEs.
Word-of-mouth referrals are a good starting point when selecting an agency – ask your contacts who have businesses of a similar size or interest to you who they would recommend. You can also conduct an online search under agencies within your local area, which focus on SMEs by adding ‘SME’ into the search term, along with the words media buying or advertising. Agencies who are happy and practiced in focusing on SMEs will usually state so on their website and in their online search criteria.
Initially, you can ask each agency for their credentials then create a short-list of those that have the greatest appeal for your business and a strong track-record in your space. You will then need to create a clear brief of what you are looking for and what your ultimate KPIs or success measures might look for the agency to respond to. This can be an iterative process – agencies may add a lot of value to your brief by raising questions or suggestions that you haven’t thought of. This is sometimes called a ‘reverse brief’ – where they make modifications to the brief to add greater value to the proposal.
4. Understand the advertising options
It can be tempting to choose the cheapest marketing channels or those we are most familiar with. But to deliver effective returns in the longer term, you may need to think outside the box. Here are a range of different options you could consider in your advertising and marketing plan:
Social media marketing is an obvious choice for most businesses, but which social channels should you invest in? One of the best ways to understand a social channel is to use it yourself – or to ask your staff to familiarise themselves with that particular channel.
Facebook and Instagram: Main outlet for most consumer-facing businesses
LinkedIn: Strongest for B2B conversations
Twitter: Great for thought leadership content but has a narrower appeal to customers and is a limited sales platform
YouTube: A powerful search platform for millennials
Every social platform has its own style of communication, meaning a bespoke approach is important to the content and creative used for each channel. However, rather than using fresh content for each try to use a ‘create once, publish often’ approach. This means creating core content such as customer case studies or testimonials, social videos or company news – then tailoring the message to the different channels and audiences.
Testing out social content before putting significant advertising spend behind it is also important to minimise wasted spend. Finding the right marketing channel fit for your business is a dynamic process – set a small, monthly budget aside purely for exploring new opportunities. As you test out different creative approaches, make sure you change direction a step at a time (for example changing one headline or testing one new image on an advertisement). Even a slight alteration can make a big difference in an outcome. If you have the right analytics tools in place you should be able to identify which initiatives led to the greatest increase in customers or business. Then you can invest more in that particular channel or creative content.
An area growing in popularity, owned media is a form of media that you have full control of, such as your company’s blog and website. These assets allow your company to present a controlled, and not overly promotional, message about its offerings to potential customers as they move down the sales funnel. Offering a variety of valuable and educational resources can be a huge factor when customers are considering whether or not to choose your business over a competitor’s.
Organic and paid SEO
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), involves optimising your online content so you can elevate your online rankings, and achieve a top result for searches against your company name and other keywords that are relevant to your business offerings and industry.
Organic search means relying on the natural rankings determined by search engine algorithms whenever your company name or other keywords are entered. This outcome can be improved with various SEO practices – including the quality of the content you have on your website, the number of times you reference key search words within that content, and also the quality and popularity of the weblinks on both your site and other sites which link to yours.
Paid search means paying to have your website displayed on the search engine results page when someone types in specific keywords or phrases. This payment is often determined via a bidding process, where competitors who want the same, high listing against those words can pay more to outbid you, driving up the cost. This is where third-party expertise can be important to help prevent advertising wastage.
Both methods can be used strategically to increase your businesses ranking in Google. Don’t be afraid to start small – achieving search results takes time and Google usually takes a few days to catch up with your changes, but these steps all make a huge difference in the end.
Print media advertising can include booking and creating ads for physically-printed media, such as magazines and newspapers. Rather than a traditional graphic advertisement, many publications allow ‘advertorial’ options, where content appears like an editorial within the publication. This option can be expensive and don’t typically allow for a lengthy, promotional campaign. It pays to invest time generating the right creative and understanding the readership of the target publications before committing to an ongoing campaign.
Above-the line advertising
Above-the-line advertising typically requires a budget of at least several hundred thousand dollars – and involves the use of mass media broadcast channels like television, cinema and radio to target larger (often national) audiences. This can be a powerful means of generating broad awareness of your products, services or company brand, before leveraging below-the-line advertising (targeting individual customers) to convert into paying customers.
With this level of spend, outside expertise such as a media buying agency is usually required. Media buyers can recommend the most effective channels for your brand and have access to group-buying discounts which they can pass onto their customers to make the rates more favorable.
Outdoor advertising can include anything from overhead billboards (including digital signage), transport signage (transit locations such as buses, taxis, trains, elevators and airports) and street furniture posters. Digital options allow even greater localisation of messaging.
Good advertising creative is essential for impact – so make sure you factor in the cost of expert content design and production, which can sometimes be absorbed into the cost of the booking.
Next time you’re out and about, have a look around and see what stands out to you
Point of sale advertising
Point-of-sale (PoS) display is a visual merchandising tool that allows you to target your customers at the transactional point of purchase in your store and encourages them to make additional purchases, thus increasing your sales.
Most retailers are familiar with this channel, but digital and digital printing options are making this opportunity even more dynamic for any business.
Have you maximised all the locational signage opportunities within your venue? This can include door or window displays, and counter displays. Even bathroom signage, if tastefully done, can have impact.
PoS displays have the benefit of showcasing your available products because they sit at high-traffic areas and are especially valuable in converting impulse or small add-on purchases.
Direct mail and electronic marketing campaigns
Direct mail provides a valuable and relatively inexpensive way to connect with new and existing customers – particularly with digital printing bringing down the cost of small print runs. The benefits of direct mail, which can include brochures, catalogs, postcards, newsletters and sales letters, is that is tangible, can be personalised and can target niche audiences within your community.
Electronic marketing is typically based on email send-outs. Whether your campaign was successful or not, the analytics you gather afterwards can assist with future planning, revealing how many people opened your email, took action, what device they viewed it on, and what time they viewed it and where.
Both options require a solid database and distribution strategy – and often involve research and purchase of a new database as existing customer databases may limit your outreach and results.
Have you considered a marketing collaboration with another business which shares a similar target customer base? Acquiring new customers can be an expensive exercise. Joining forces in a marketing partnership can bring new value to your existing customers – while building brand awareness and increasing sales with a broader mix of customers – all within a trusted marketing environment. This can take the form of cross-promotional signage in-venue, on websites or other digital channels, or direct marketing via mail or email.
While celebrity endorsements have been around for years, brands now have a more accessible opportunity to work closely with influencers. Influencers fit into the ‘word-of-mouth’ advertising category and they are individuals with an engaged follower or fan base who are relevant to your business’ products or services and open to learning about and promoting them. Keep in mind that consumers increasingly know when an influencer or celebrity is getting paid to endorse a product, and this can undermine the campaign’s credibility.
The best kind of influencer can be someone who is an existing customer or customer advocate – who is naturally inclined to talk about or promote your business.
Effective influencer marketing harnesses building sincere, personal relationships by sharing useful and unique information with them so they feel valued and well informed. This can pay great dividends by helping boost brand awareness, increase site traffic and improve sales conversion rates. In some instances, influencers are paid advocates for your brand. In other instances, they are simply individuals who have a special and mutually-beneficial relationship with your business.
When you are first thinking about an influencer strategy, start by creating a list of individuals who are already using your products or services and have gone out of their way to refer business to you, or pay you a compliment, in person or via your online channels. Try to identify which of these individuals might have the greatest influence or ‘reach’ over potential customers and think about some ways to create a mutually beneficial promotional proposition. For example, a restaurant owner might offer a package of contra dining for 3-months in exchange for a series of promotional social media posts, recommendations or referrals to other high profile customers. Or you may simply thank them for their support and ask them to create some written, photographic or video based testimonials for you online or on your social pages
Special events and experiential marketing
There is nothing quite as powerful as a person-to-person exchange – something we can overlook in the age of digital communications. Put simply, experiential marketing means using real-world ‘experiences’ to engage customers and encourage them to build an emotional attachment to your products or services. For example – you could hold a special in-store or in-venue product launch event for invited customers or passersby. You could stage a ‘stunt’ activity in a high-traffic location and achieve strong word-of-mouth outcomes. Rather than looking at consumers as passive receivers of messages, this form of marketing can also involve highly-motivated customers in the co-creation of marketing programs or initiatives – creating a powerful sense of ownership and attachment to your brand.
Public relations, or publicity, involves engaging the media and journalists in your business activities to achieve media profiling in publications, TV or radio. This third-party endorsed content can have an enormous impact on your business and its reputation, however it is a tactic best reserved for businesses which have an established national brand presence and strong, newsworthy initiatives. Contacting media can be challenging territory for the uninitiated. It is best to leverage your network to see how other businesses in your industry have approached this, as well as gather any recommendations for a public relations professional or agency.