Henry Ford and Bill Gates have more in common than being two of the most successful and wealthy entrepreneurs of all time. Though they launched their businesses 70 years apart, both expressed a firm belief in the power of marketing. Ford famously said that those who stop marketing to save money were like those who stopped a clock to save time. Gates meanwhile has vowed that if he only had one dollar left he would spend it on marketing. And the marketing maxims of these big business beasts extend to the smallest of firms, too.
During tougher financial times, many business owners make the mistake of thinking that their marketing budget is an expendable cost. But experts claim marketing is even more essential during a slump when consumers are seeking value for money. Those who continue to promote their business can outstrip competitors and win over customers with their apparent confidence.
Last year, 43 per cent of SMEs in the UK said they planned to invest in marketing to aid their business growth, according to banking giant Barclays. But smaller companies have scarce resources, and money for marketing can be hard to come by. The majority of SMEs don’t have a firmly set marketing budget, according to research from business directory Touch Local, and two-thirds of those that do put money aside for marketing spend less than £5,000 a year on it.
The truth is that much can be done cheaply or for free. Dee Blick, author of Powerful Marketing on a Shoestring Budget for Small Businesses, has a few tips for companies looking to make an impact at minimal expense.
- Commit at least one day a month to marketing and get what you can for free. A number of small business websites offer marketing advice, such as www.marketingdonut.co.uk, and many libraries have free market research resources.
- Exploit the internet’s full potential. This might involve writing a business-related blog, emailing customer newsletters, or researching search engine optimisation (SEO) to put your business top of the list on a Google or Yahoo search.
- Attend networking events and always carry business cards. New technology is wonderful, but it should compliment more traditional approaches. Nothing beats meeting people face-to-face and handing over your business card is an immediate and memorable way to cement a relationship. It serves as a visual reminder of you and your company and gives people all the contact details that they need in one go.
- Use targeted direct mail to reach potential customers. No one welcomes junk mail, but if you’ve done your research and are sending promotional material to the right audience, it can still prove very effective at creating business leads and new customers.
The Chartered Institute of Marketing recommends that companies should constantly revise and update their marketing plans to reflect the current environment. This can be done by conducting simple market research to determine what customers really want. Small firms also have the advantage of knowing their customers directly. Talk to them, get their feedback on your goods and services, then adapt your offering and message accordingly. And, in this brave new world of social media, technology has made communication cheap and easy, be it through online surveys, virtual networks such as Facebook, and the ubiquitous Twitter.
Twitter offers great opportunities for free marketing to potentially huge numbers of people. Many companies have realised that the medium can be used as a promotional tool, launching new products and events, or driving activity for their business. The owners of small enterprises lack big advertising budgets and teams dedicated to promoting their brand, so making the most of readily available and free-to-use social media is an obvious alternative approach.
There are several ways to exploit Twitter to its maximum.
- If you are launching a new product or event, create a simple, memorable hashtag around which you can organise Twitter conversations.
- Grow your follower base and the reach of every tweet because the more followers you have, the wider your message will be disseminated. Find and follow people who are relevant to your business using a Twitter directory such as Tweepi, ManageFlitter, or WeFollow. If you can manage to attract a key influencer, a figure who has a big following on Twitter and whose messages are often retweeted, all the better. One tweet about your business from an influential blogger or industry expert could create a far-reaching and invaluable endorsement.
- Promoted tweets target your messages to the top of relevant users’ timelines on Twitter or against real-time search results. By promoting tweets in Twitter’s ‘Search’ facility you can target users who are proactively searching for your product or even those looking at your competitors. Specify @usernames, interests, and profiles that are relevant to your business using promoted tweets to target people even more precisely.
- Drive traffic to your website by displaying links to it in your tweets. And in the content of your messages explicitly call on users to make a purchase or at the very least retweet or @reply to spread the message about what your business has to offer. Offering discounts, deals and coupons can also generate great interest.
Just trying the hard sell of your goods and services on Twitter is likely to turn off any followers you have, but if you offer useful information or advice, engage with your followers by retweeting their messages, as well as promoting your business you should create a strong and effective marketing blend.
Whatever your chosen approach, always do your research into your target audience, plan ahead and set yourself objectives. What is your measure of success? It may be generating more traffic to your website or seeing sales increase, but know at the outset what you’re trying to achieve and monitor the progress of your efforts. Marketing is a powerful tool, but one that needs to be targeted and measured to be of genuine benefit.
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