Creating a small business marketing strategy is a crucial first step in starting a business. But for many business owners, this is also one of the more difficult, or at least intimidating, benchmarks to hit.
In truth, understanding all aspects of small business marketing is a tall order, and new marketing tactics emerge every day. It’s a highly subjective practice, too. Depending on your goals, customer base, market niche, branding, and preference, a marketing tactic that works for one small business may not work for yours.
That said, there are a few marketing tactics that are pretty universally effective. If you’re brand-new to the world of small business marketing, here’s everything you need to know to gain customers and drive sales.
While you can certainly implement any of the following marketing tactics on impulse, making informed decisions about which to use will always be more effective than throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks.
Yes, planning your small business marketing strategy requires a good amount of preliminary research. But that work will pay off when you start to see the dividends. Here’s where to start.
First, get clear on what you’re hoping to accomplish with your marketing campaign, and also how your marketing efforts will help you reach your overall business goals. Start by pinpointing your unique selling proposition (USP). You should be highlighting what makes you stand out from your competitors in all of your marketing materials.
And the more specific you are in defining your marketing goals, the better. Use numbers (like the number of visitors, leads, customers, or revenue generated you want to boost) whenever possible. Highly specific goals allow you to tailor your small business marketing strategy in service of those goals, which protects your time, effort, and resources from dead-end initiatives. It’s also much easier to track and measure your strategies, and ultimately evaluate their success, when you have hard numbers to compare your results against.
Of course, every business will define their marketing objectives differently, but here are a few numbers you may want to focus on bumping in your marketing campaign:
These are all worthy goals from a qualitative perspective, but remember that an ongoing marketing campaign should aim to achieve less measurable objectives, too. Effective marketing materials are crucial for establishing a cohesive and identifiable brand (and making people aware of your brand in the first place). And over time, your marketing initiatives contribute to establishing brand loyalty among customers and a positive reputation, which is truly how businesses survive and thrive over the long term.
After you define your marketing goals, define your target audience—because you can’t truly achieve those goals if your message isn’t resonating with the consumers whom your product or service caters to.
The best way to conduct this research is simply to reach out to your existing customers—call them, email them, ask them to fill out an online survey, or just talk to them when they come into your place of business—and get a pulse on why they like your company. Ask questions like: What are their pain points, and how do your offerings alleviate those issues? Why do they choose your business over your competitors? How would they describe your brand?
Importantly, gather data on your target audience’s demographics, like their average age, gender, spending capabilities and habits, professions, and geographical location. Bonus points if you can find out which platforms they use most to discover and engage with brands, whether that’s a certain social media channel, email, Google search, word of mouth, or something else.
Most of your marketing efforts should go toward your online marketing strategy, as your digital presence is a low-cost and highly effective method of drawing in customers. Think about your own buying habits: More likely than not, you do a Google search on a brand before purchasing their goods or services. But even before that, it’s likely that the company in question came to your attention through an internet search, or else your social media platforms.
There’s a lot to learn about online marketing, and the field is only growing as the power (and omnipresence) of the digital space continues to grow, too. But if you’re just launching your marketing plan, make sure to hit the following goalposts to get the online aspect up and running.
Content marketing is a powerful and low-cost way to increase brand awareness, drive traffic to your business, and convert high-intent leads into paying customers. Essentially, content marketing refers to creating and sharing material digitally, like YouTube videos, social media posts, whitepapers, podcasts, and eBooks.
But the heart of your content marketing strategy will be your business website and your blog, if you choose to create one (which you should).
Creating a website for your small business is non-negotiable, whether you’re an ecommerce business or not.
Not only does your business website act as the digital hub for your business, but it’s also one of the best ways for potential customers to find your business in the first place. After all, almost 93% of all web traffic comes through search engines. That’s a massive contingent of leads just waiting to be converted into paying customers—after they visit your website, of course. You can easily make a professional-looking, mobile-optimized site with any number of website builders.
And while launching a blog that lives on your website isn’t necessarily as crucial as the website proper, blog posts are an excellent way to communicate with your customers, announce developments (like sales, updated inventory, or price changes), and establish yourself as an authority in your field. Blogs are critical tools for boosting SEO, too, which drives traffic to your site and business.
So—how can you ensure that those potential customers actually find the link to your website, without having to wade through pages and pages of their Google search results? As we mentioned, that’s the job of SEO.
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” Put simply, SEO is a set of strategies that improve a website’s ranking on search engines. By nailing down your SEO strategy, you increase your website’s chances of reaching the coveted first page of a Google or other search engine search.
While you can pay for services that boost your SEO, there are plenty of free SEO strategies you can implement right off the bat:
SEO is a complicated and ever-changing landscape, but you can consult any number of resources for tips to get started. You always have the option of hiring an SEO expert, too, if your budget allows.
And keep in mind that it’ll take some time to see your traffic increase after optimizing your content for SEO. But if you stick with it, you won’t find a more effective strategy for attracting potential customers.
Launching your website and merely letting it live online isn’t quite enough to capture customers, even if it’s SEO-optimized. To get the most out of your website and other online content marketing materials—and to fully optimize your online marketing strategy—you’ll need to use some kind of web analytics tool.
These tools track your website’s overall performance. Depending on which tool you use, they can also measure a ton of your website visitors’ behaviors—like how they navigate your website, how quickly they leave, which devices they’re using to find your site, their geographical locations and demographics, and more. Considered holistically, these metrics provide valuable insight into how you can alter your website, and any other digital content you create, to better suit your customers’ preferences and browsing habits.
Google’s suite of analytic tools, including Google Search Console and Google Analytics, are by far the most widely used web analytics tool out there. Google Search Console tracks how your website is performing via search, so you can understand how to better optimize your content to drive more traffic. Google Analytics tracks your website’s performance, too, but it can also measure your advertising ROI if you’re using Google Ads for your paid advertising initiatives (which makes GA a single hub for measuring the bulk of your online marketing efforts).
Much like a website, having some kind of social media presence is crucial for your brand.
Notice that we said “some kind” of presence—you don’t necessarily need to sign up for an account on all the major social media platforms (by which we really mean Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok, and LinkedIn). Much like a stagnant business website or rarely updated blog, static social media accounts can get buried beneath its millions of competitors—and the more you engage on these platforms, the better you’ll perform. If you’re stretching yourself so thin across all these platforms that you can’t properly manage any of them, none will deliver a proper return on your investment.
Instead, choose a few social media platforms that you know you can manage—and, better yet, which you know your customer base actually uses. For guidance, social media statistics can help you match your customers’ demographics with platform demographics, and understand how to tailor your content to suit what users engage with on any particular platform (whether that’s videos, informational updates, or just beautiful product photography).
Social media is also a built-in way to interact with your customers via the comments section or direct messaging system. These platforms enable your customers to interact and connect with each other, too.
Need some tips on how to best plan and manage your social media strategy? Here are a few tips:
Even with the rise of social media, email has remained a mainstay of a well-rounded marketing technique. And the stats are there to back it up: 64% of businesses say that email marketing is their most effective marketing technique. A well-executed email campaign is incredibly cost-effective, too, as every $1 invested in email marketing generates an average return of $38.
However, you probably won’t get that stellar ROI by sending random, sporadic emails. To get the most out of this marketing channel, create and implement a comprehensive email marketing plan. Start by addressing the following details:
When writing your emails, be sure to craft a subject line that’s compelling enough for your recipient to open the message. Keep your email copy concise, relevant, easily parsed, and shoot for conversational language. Don’t miss out on email’s natural opportunity to include links to your social media profiles, and be sure to include a call to action (CTA) encouraging recipients to visit your website or store (with a relevant link).
You can find success with any of the above marketing techniques without spending a dime. But if you want to up your marketing game even more, consider paying for online ad space.
Paid online advertising can take many forms. You can buy ad space on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn; sponsor a podcast; partner with an influencer to share your products or services on their own platforms; or use pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, among other methods.
A good place to dip your toe into the paid advertising space is with Google Ads. With Google Ads, you’ll pay to bump your business website to the top of the Google search page so that potential customers can more easily find you, and also to advertise your business on YouTube and across other websites when people search for related keywords online. Choose a goal you’d like to accomplish with your ad, the type of campaign you want to launch (whether that’s text, image, or video), and set your monthly budget. With this PPC model, you’ll only pay when people engage with your ad.
Keep in mind, employing paid advertising strategies doesn’t have to mean blowing your business budget. In fact, you can implement effective marketing tactics for just $50 or less. If you’re on an especially tight budget, consider these free or low-cost advertising strategies.
Online marketing will likely make up the bulk of your small business marketing strategy, but analog marketing is still alive and well. Both digital and physical businesses can benefit from these forms of marketing, but especially if you own a brick-and-mortar location, on-the-ground marketing campaigns are crucial for drawing in your local community.
This small business marketing tactic requires a good amount of planning and resources to pull off, but when executed well, it’s one of the most effective and impressive strategies for attracting, engaging, and converting leads.
The goal of experiential marketing isn’t to sell a product per se, but to raise brand awareness and ultimately establish brand loyalty, by providing the consumer with an immersive experience that activates their emotional connection with your brand. If they truly enjoyed that experience, they’ll become “brand ambassadors” and tell their friends, family, coworkers, and social media followers about you, too.
Some of the world’s biggest brands have launched memorable (and expensive) experiential marketing campaigns, but your campaign certainly doesn’t need to match the scale and budget of these major players. One-time events that facilitate consumer interaction with your brand can all fall under the “experiential marketing” umbrella. Think workshops, tutorials, tours of your facilities, competitions, concerts, pop-up shops, and giveaways.
Don’t underestimate the power of networking to get your message out there. Join local business communities to connect with other entrepreneurs in your area, partner with a complementary business to host an event sharing your products or services, and sell your goods at local craft fairs or farmers markets.
Also, take every opportunity possible to connect with your target audience in real life. Frequent events and locations where you know they’ll be hanging out, get to know them, but don’t push your product on them too hard. If they like and trust you as a person, they’ll naturally like and trust you as a business owner, as well.
What better way to attract customers than to slash your prices (for a limited time)? Giveaways, referral codes, discounts for customers who provide testimonials or positive reviews, free trial periods, BOGO deals, and flash sales are all low-lift marketing tactics that can work wonders to convert visitors into paying customers.
Ultimately, the most effective and sustainable small business marketing tactics are those that develop and maintain relationships with their customers. To do that, appeal to your customers’ emotional connection with your business. In your messaging, keep the focus on the customer, not the product. Highlight how your products or services relieve their pain points, how you can provide unique value, and why they can trust your brand over your competitors.
All told, your marketing materials are a method of forging relationships with your customers, as the most successful businesses are those with the strongest customer loyalty. So, whether you’re responding to their comment on your Instagram page, sending them a personalized email, or offering them a free sample at a farmers market, make sure that every interaction with your customers (whether they fall under the “small business marketing” umbrella or not) is authentic, thoughtful, and aligned with your business’s mission—which, safe to say, is to help your customers in the way only you know how.
Caroline Goldstein is a contributing writer for Fundera.
Caroline is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in small business and finance. She has covered topics such as lending, credit cards, marketing, and starting a business for Fundera. Her work has appeared in JPMorgan Chase, Prevention, Refinery29, Bustle, Men’s Health, and more.