As a small business owner, you’ll know the importance of a robust marketing strategy, but where do you start?
Do you stick with tried and tested methods you have used before, or do you build a strategy with new tactics? Do you need TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook to be effective, or will old-school marketing channels work for you?
In this guide, we’ll help give you an overview of what’s out there so you can create a killer marketing small business marketing strategy.
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For small businesses, it’s all about knowing your audience. Your marketing strategy should focus on the people you know will be interested in your product or service, but how are you supposed to know exactly who that is?
Let’s take a look at some tips to help you effectively target the right people:
Define your Niche
Start by looking at exactly what makes you unique. What makes you stand out, and why will your target customers decide to purchase? Here are some considerations to get you started:
- What is the problem your business solves? Most companies start with their product when they consider this. Still, by thinking holistically about your ideal customer’s needs, you can focus on solving their problems or meeting their needs creatively and in a different way.
- What sets you apart from the competition? This will help you define your unique selling point – what makes it stand out and appeal to your potential customers?
- What are your company values? You’ll never be everything to everyone, but attracting individuals who share your values will build brand loyalty.
- What do you love about your product or service? Your passions and interests are why your small business exists, so it could be what you love about your product or service that differentiates it from other businesses.
Now it’s time to look at what your competitors are doing in more depth.
It’s worth noting, at this point, that your marketing strategy won’t be a linear process; it will require refining and improving as you learn more about your business, your customers and the market. As you embark on your market research, you might find yourself returning to your niche to make changes – which is absolutely fine!
As a small business owner, a simple Google search is a great place to start your market research. Look for companies offering something comparable to your product or service. Remember, your competitors don’t have to be selling the same thing to compete with you, but they’ll generally solve a similar problem.
Your market research should include the following:
- Product or service: What is the offer, and what problem does it solve?
- Delivery: How do your competitors deliver their products or services? For example, one competitor might manage their whole business online, while another, selling the same product, might provide a more bespoke offering in person.
- Distribution: What suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, or retailers are they working with?
- Relationship: How do they interact with their customers? Looking at review sites like TrustPilot or Feefo is an excellent place to start.
- Brand: Who are they trying to appeal to? Assess whether there is a notable demographic your competitors are targeting. For example, you could have two almost identical jewellery brands, but one targets a younger age group with vintage jewellery, and the other markets the same products to an older demographic.
- Price: Assess the price your competitors offer their products and services at and understand what differentiates them. Does a more bespoke customer service offer charge more than a solely online one?
Buyer personas are a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on what you know about them and how they’ll use your product or service. They are as unique to you as your business.
When done well, they’ll help improve your whole marketing strategy, from targeting the right people to knowing exactly who might be a perfect prospect from your first interaction with them. There are lots of fantastic resources online that will help you create effective buyer personas, but generally, they will include the following information:
- Information about who your ideal customer is.
- Demographic – Age, gender, income, job title, and education level.
- Buying behaviour – How does your customer make decisions about their purchases?
- Psychographic – Lifestyle choices, values, personality traits.
- An assessment of their needs and goals – this should describe the problem your customer is looking to solve and how your product or service will help them achieve that.
- Key message and value propositions – by looking at the first two stages together, you can now start mapping out how you will communicate your product or service in a way that resonates with your target market.
Develop a Strong Brand Identity
Developing your brand identity is a crucial stage of your marketing strategy and will help you establish and maintain your presence in the market. Remember, this isn’t just a one-time exercise but will constantly evolve as your business grows. It requires commitment, time and resources but will help you differentiate your business and build a loyal customer base.
Define Your Brand’s Unique Value Proposition
Start by defining your brand’s value proposition. This involves amalgamating all the information you’ve collected and drawing on it to create a concise and compelling statement describing the value your business will bring to its customers. Think about:
- Your target audience.
- How you differentiate from your competitors.
- Your unique strengths and qualities.
- The benefits your business will bring to its customers.
Ensure Your Brand Identity Filters Through Into All Outputs
Every business’s brand identity will be different, but what’s important is keeping it consistent across all of your channels, marketing communications, and in every other way you’re customers learn about you. Try to:
- Create clear brand guidelines and make sure your whole team sticks to them.
- Make sure your visual identity is consistent across all your channels.
- Quality check all your content.
- Keep your brand voice and tone uniform.
- Plan your content ahead of time.
- Be authentic.
Search Engine Optimisation
Search Engine Optimization can do wonders for a business’s marketing strategies. When done well, it helps increase online visibility, drives targeted traffic, builds credibility, and enhances the user experience, and it can be an incredibly cost-effective way of doing it. The problem for small businesses is that there is a lot to get your head around!
Small businesses also often have limited budgets, time and resources to dedicate to SEO efforts which need constant attention – from content creation and link building to technical SEO.
Even though SEO can sometimes look like a mammoth task, it’s effectiveness means it isn’t something you should overlook as part of your marketing strategy. The good news is plenty of experts out there can take the responsibility out of your hands, and if you do decide to do it yourself, the internet is rife with resources that will help you develop a comprehensive SEO strategy.
We’ve compiled a checklist to keep you on track – whether or not you’ve sought outside help:
- Set up Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
- Create a Google My Business profile.
- Do keyword research.
- Analyse SERP competitors.
- Review your website’s structure.
- Add a schema markup.
- Ensure your on-page elements are optimised.
- Make sure your content resonates with your target audience.
- Audit your site for technical SEO errors.
- Create online listings for your business.
- Create backlinks, by getting your website linked from other sites.
- Encourage your customers to review your business and respond to them.
- Report on the success of your efforts and use the results to improve them.
Today, there are several ways to advertise online; they’re all relatively cost-effective and accessible when you compare them to the advertising techniques from the pre-digital age.
Once again, it all comes down to researching and testing different tactics. These are some of the different types of online advertising you’ll come across:
- Search Engine Advertising – The most popular is Google Ads which allows you to create text-based ads based on keyword searches.
- Social Media Advertising – Instagram and Facebook Ads Manager, LinkedIn, and YouTube offer advertising options to help you reach your target audience.
- Display Advertising – These are typically banners, images, or videos and can be targeted based on demographics, interests, and browsing behaviour.
- Video Advertising – Video ads can be displayed on various platforms, skippable or non-skippable, appearing before, during, or after video content.
- Native Advertising – These blend in with the surrounding content on a website, making them appear more organic and less like traditional ads.
Remember, online advertising is a constantly changing landscape. To succeed, you’ll need to stay agile, learning and adjusting your marketing plan as you go, and always have your business objectives in mind. This will help you quickly ascertain whether something is working for you and make the necessary changes if it’s not.
Case Study – Canva
Canva’s beautifully designed home page easily sells the software that made design accessible to everyone – this, alongside its clever ‘Freemium’ price structure, gives its users a lifetime free product and inexpensive options to upgrade. But how did Canva’s founder Melanie Perkins get the word out?
The Answer: Highly targeted, tailored paid advertising campaigns. Try typing ‘how to design my own social media posts’ into Google and see what appears.
Email marketing is a powerful tool in your arsenal. It allows you to engage with your customers and nurture relationships by delivering valuable content directly to your target audience.
Here’s your foolproof email marketing checklist:
- Build a quality email list.
- Segment your audience and personalise your emails.
- Create useful, informative emails – and make sure they look good.
- Personalise your emails.
- Make sure they’re mobile-friendly.
- Craft an attention-grabbing subject line – this is one of the most critical stages.
- Implement email automations – like welcome emails, abandoned cart emails, birthdays and anniversaries.
- Test and optimise.
- Measure and refine your process.
Remember, one of the most integral parts of email marketing is ensuring you’re GDPR compliant – you have explicit permission to email your customers and always include the option to unsubscribe.
Social Media Marketing
If there is one thing that has changed the face of modern marketing strategies more than anything, it’s social media marketing. It has levelled the playing field, allowing small businesses to compete with larger companies for their share of audience attention. That’s fantastic news for you and your business because social media truly sets businesses apart.
Getting started can seem daunting if you’re not already on social media platforms. But, with a strong strategy, you’ll get up to speed in no time.
- Start by setting some social media goals – There’s no right way to do this, but you might find it easier to start with the big picture stuff – like why you’re even thinking about creating a social media strategy!Once you’ve got your why, getting more granular will be easier. Ensure you always link back to your overall marketing strategy and objectives and keep your buyer personas in mind. Remember: Your goals should aim to solve your business challenges.
- Write down some key performance indicators – There is always room to go back and change these later on, but having them to refer to from the start will help you create a baseline for performance and benchmark going forward.
- Now you’re ready for the fun bit – to build out your content plan.
Every social media strategy will be different, but some elements are crucial, including the following:
- Think people first. Inject some life into your posts by letting your personality shine through; people don’t respond to robotic identikit posts. This goes for replying to your customers too!
- Focus on being genuinely helpful – Your audience can smell overly-salesy content from a mile off.
- Be consistent – The algorithms will reward it, and your audience will appreciate it too.
- Experiment – There are loads of options when it comes to content – short-form video, reels, stories, carousels… experiment to see what resonates with your audience. The best bit about this part is that you don’t have to guess. Social media platforms are a minefield of data for you to garner insights into your performance – use it!
- Your social media strategy is just one part of the whole – If you’re sending an email, there’s no reason it can’t be a social post, too; everything you do should work together. And this goes for all of your marketing strategies.
Case Study – Aviation Gin
The Ryan Reynolds’s owned gin brand had a leg up with his celebrity endorsement, but it’s not always as easy as you’d think. There have been plenty of times getting a celebrity behind a brand has damaged its reputation – like the recent Kanye West and Addidas breakup. So, how did Ryan Reynolds and Aviation get it so right?
The Answer: Viral social media content. The marketing team behind Aviation understood that Reynolds’s comedic appeal could be his biggest asset. They used it to create funny, easily shareable YouTube videos that went viral.
Content marketing’s popularity and efficacy flourished with the arrival of the internet. The term was used as early as 1996, but by the late 2000s, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube made content marketing accessible to everyone.
But what is it? It involves creating and distributing valuable content across various marketing channels, like blogs, videos, and social media posts. And generating great content can be one of your most effective marketing initiatives, touching on many of your other strategies in the process – it simultaneously lends itself well to improving your social media marketing, SEO, and email marketing.
But content marketing needs to be consistent for it to work, and for small businesses, that can represent a lot of effort. Here are some of the golden rules for content marketing:
- It can be easy to become self-serving when creating content, but it must be useful to your customers. Interrogate each piece beforehand.
- You can’t be on top of every platform all the time, so start with the ones that make sense for your business.
- Use data to drive your strategy. You no longer have to guess what your audience wants; your analytics can tell you.
- Content can be repurposed and – as a rule of thumb – should be repurposed ten times. This means all your high-effort pieces (videos, whitepapers, podcasts) should be repurposed into blog posts, social media posts, and infographics.
- Design your content around your customers – search engines are important, but don’t fall into the trap of only thinking about them.
Local Business Marketing
In a digital age, it’s easy to forget local marketing in your strategy. But small businesses tend to have stronger connections to their local community, and local marketing can support your other strategies helping you to reach new audiences and boosting your search rankings and online traffic.
Establishing yourself in your local community can also see you connect with other local businesses. Building this network opens the doors for sharing resources and customer bases and giving you an understanding support system in the area. Look out for networking events, online forums, and business collaboration groups.
Other Ideas to Consider
Public relations tactics can help businesses manage how others see and feel about your brand or business. It can help you build brand awareness, manage your reputation, and create meaningful relationships with your customers and current and potential employees.
PR could be an avenue to consider if you’re looking for investment, helping you to gain positive publicity and strengthen your communications narrative.
Partnership marketing is a collaboration between your business and usually another business or public figure. It should be mutually beneficial and involves joining forces to leverage each other’s resources, expertise, and customer base.
It can be handy if your established marketing efforts are becoming less effective and can help inject new life into your strategy.
Affiliate marketing is a performance-based marketing strategy that rewards your affiliates for promoting your products and services. Affiliates are typically bloggers, influencers, content creators, review websites or online marketers and tend to earn a commission on the sales made through their channels.
Affiliate marketing usually provides a strong return on investment and has other benefits like improving your SEO backlinks.
Referral or refer-a-friend programmes encourage existing customers to refer new customers to a business, usually through a give-and-receive incentive – for example, you give £20 to a friend to receive off their first order, and when they buy from the business, you’ll receive £20.
They work because people tend to trust the recommendations of friends or family members, and they can help you build better customer relationships and drive loyalty. Some great referral programme service providers are available, like MentionMe, Referral Rock, and Amplifinity, which can automate your campaigns.
Case Study – Tinder
You might wonder how Tinder became so big, and rightly so; it’s difficult to conceptualise how the business managed to get people to use the app before there was anyone else on there.
The Answer: A mix of referral and influencer marketing. VP of Marketing Whitney Wolfe had the idea to get sorority girls on the platform before she then went on and targeted the fraternity – who were much more likely to sign up.