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Small business marketing essentials: Getting the basics right

By Craig Johnston
Web Design 05.10.2021

Every business needs a solid marketing strategy, especially when you don’t have access to the resources and budget that bigger organisations tend to have. Fortunately, there’s no reason why a smaller budget should hold your business back – these days, success is all about marketing strategically and intelligently rather than simply having the biggest billboard or the most expensive prime time ad slot. 

To make your marketing work for your business, it’s essential to get to grips with the fundamentals, which is why our marketing team in London has developed this practical guide to small business marketing.

What is the True Purpose of Marketing?

It’s easy to think of marketing as just another word for sales or advertising, but that’s not really what it’s all about. It’s the principle that guides these two other functions – more of a roadmap on how to make your sales and advertising deliver real value. Essentially, marketing is the process of creating value through a strategic approach to identifying and connecting with your audience, as well as creating a brand and voice that they will be the most responsive to. 

When done right, spend on marketing is minimal compared to what it brings in.

So, what is Inbound Marketing?

As with any other industry, there’s a lot of jargon around and it takes a while to understand what all the terms mean and how they apply to your business. We’ll go through the basics of these terms in this article, but one of the most important to address is ‘inbound marketing’. This means bringing customers to you rather than having to look for them. Constantly pursuing customers can be exhausting, and inbound marketing techniques can help turn the tables and make your efforts more rewarding.

  • It makes sure your brand is exposed to people most likely to want your products and services
  • It relies on triggering curiosity, delight, and engagement rather than a hard sell
  • It shows your brand as helpful, an authority, or a leader
  • It is authentic and sincere, building loyalty and a strong return customer base

In this guide, we’re primarily focussing on inbound marketing techniques because we feel that it adds the most value, both to your consumer and your business, and it presents the most powerful way to move forward in a more sophisticated and demanding consumer culture.

Developing the Foundation of Your Small Business Marketing Strategy

Every business’s marketing strategy is different, although there are certain common tools and concepts. To help formulate your strategy and give it a strong base from which campaigns can develop, start by asking the following questions.

What makes my business different? 

This tells the customer why they should buy from you or use your services rather than your competitor’s, and this differentiator must be a strong and appealing one to your customer base. For example, if you offer beauty services, maybe you have your own range of organic and natural home care products. Or if you offer home renovation services, you do a free home cleaning to make sure all work is spotless once completed.

Who is likely to use my services?

Marketing specialists love creating target personas for good reason – they work. These are general profiles of the segments of the market that are most likely to use your business, and by referring to these profiles you can make your marketing more appropriate and effective. Think about their age, location, income level, their lifestyle and background, and the challenges they face that you can solve. It’s a good idea to have around 3 well-developed profiles to help guide your strategy.

Where are my customers?

Because your resources may be more limited, you want to make sure that the marketing content you develop does actually reach your target market, so you need to know where they already are. This can mean physically advertising in your local area, but it also means targeting social media platforms and other online spaces where they are actively looking for businesses and products. Although digital marketing can be quite time-intensive, the platforms have a lot of functionality for advertising and are very affordable to use, putting your content in front of the right people at the right time.

Traditional vs. Digital Marketing

Although we are a digital marketing agency, we’re not out to bash traditional advertising – in fact, we believe that both have a vital role to play in helping businesses grow and compete. At the same time, it’s important to raise awareness of how digital marketing can really work for smaller businesses. Here are some key points to consider, helping you make an informed decision.

Affordability

Budgeting is a big deal for any business, especially considering the events of the last two years. Businesses understandably want real value for their spend and smaller businesses need to be especially strategic about how they plan their path forward. Digital marketing can be a great solution because it is much more affordable than traditional advertising. It’s more about understanding consumers and putting in the time and effort to build the right content than it is about spending large amounts of money. 

Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) is designed to be especially affordable if you follow a good strategy to control spend, and content like blogs and social media posts can be produced within a tight budget. Even building a custom website is much more affordable than many businesses realise, giving you a very powerful platform for your business with great exposure and functionality that really showcases your offering.

Likeability

Most traditional marketing mediums support a hard sell approach – flyers with discounts, brochures pushing a product, newspaper ads about sales. But digital marketing takes a different route. While you can still do some hard sell (think online discounts and competitions), it also allows you to really engage with the customer on a one-on-one, genuine level without pushing a product.

This allows you to build a relationship with your customer base, creating an online engine for valuable word-of-mouth referrals and return customers. This gentler and more genuine approach is very effective, as 70% of people would rather get information about a company or learn something from a blog or article than from a traditional advertising medium. It’s more effective for producing content that is personalised, helpful, and informative, creating genuine benefit for the customer and building loyalty through authenticity. Customers don’t feel like you’re just trying to make a sale, and this prevents cynicism and promotes a sense of true likability in your brand.

Flexibility

Traditional marketing takes a lot of preparation, scripting, and administration, while digital marketing allows you a lot more freedom and flexibility. While your campaign should guide your content and ads, you also have a level of agility that lets you take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves. 

Take the COVID-19 pandemic for example. In such a time of uncertainty, people needed to know what businesses were open, what businesses they could support, and where they could get what they needed to adjust to remote work and the new challenges they faced. It would be exceptionally difficult to put out new radio, TV and physical ads to meet this demand for information – but it takes just very little time and expense to update your followers on social media, send out email updates to subscribers, and add additional information to your website as the situation changed. For this reason, digital marketing surged globally and in the UK in the last two years.

5 Essential Digital Elements of Small Business Marketing

So, let’s look at the essential tools and features of a comprehensive digital marketing strategy for a small business.

Website

Your website forms the foundation of your online presence, like a main street store or office. Because it’s a space where clients interact with your brand, your website design should clearly showcase who you are, what you do, and what makes you different. It should be customised to your brand, easy to navigate, mobile-friendly, and quick to load. Your content should be high quality with captivating copy and high-resolution images. If you’d like to find out more about this, we’ve written a helpful guide to small business website design to help you out.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) 

Google is the powerhouse of digital marketing, and this algorithm must be able to scan your website and online content to help link you up with your target audience when they search for products and services that you offer. This is a battle to get to the first page of search engine search results, but it’s worth it because 95% of people only look at this page! This is achieved through SEO best practices including solid keyword research, high-quality copywriting, optimising the back end and content of your website, avoiding unethical practices, and linking your business with directories, affiliates, and related high-profile online platforms. Here’s a useful article on how SEO works to give you a little more insight into the importance of optimisation.

Content marketing

Both B2C businesses and B2B businesses benefit from a strong content marketing strategy that keeps your website ranking on Google and draws people through your sales funnel. Content should be diverse and high quality, and can include blogs, social media posts, video content, podcasts, webinars, third-party articles, and infographics. When people research products and services that you provide, this well-crafted content will attract their eye, engage, and inspire, build those all-important relationships and ultimately incentivise them to take action. Thankfully, automation tools make keeping your content engine running a lot easier, helping to nurture leads, personalise content and offers for subscribers, and manage customer data effectively.

Online advertising

Paid online advertising has shown steady and impressive growth since 2007, with the UK placing third in global spending. To be successful, it doesn’t really need a large budget – instead, your campaigns should complement your content marketing strategy and should be carefully created and managed to keep costs in line. Google, Facebook, Instagram, and others all offer paid advertising options where you can design diverse types of ads and push them directly into the search results and feeds of the people most likely to respond to them. They can be focussed on a local, national, or international level, income level, or any other of many demographical features, and this should be informed by those all-important customer profiles.

Social media marketing

Social media is ideal for sharing information, engaging one-on-one with consumers, improving customer service, and selling. In fact, Mastercard reported a massive 43% rise in social selling in the UK for last year alone, with around one-third of British people saying they shop online to support local businesses, and one-fifth saying that targeted ads and sponsored posts influence their shopping habits. This is especially important if you are targeting younger customers in the 18-35 category, although 54% of over 55s said they’d also bought products over social media in 2020 – so don’t write them off. To be successful, social media marketing means having a sense of where your customers are and what content they will respond to, developing content that is original, interesting, and authentic, as well as setting up the profiles and fast-pay functionality that online consumers demand.

Small business marketing ultimately takes a highly strategic approach where knowledge, time, and expertise have a far greater impact than budget alone. Having an experienced partner can help guide your marketing strategy and ensure a seamless positive consumer experience and engagement levels that actively drive your brand and deliver a solid ROI. If you’re interested in getting more insight into the digital marketing side of this equation, you’re welcome to get in touch with our team who can take you through our award-winning process and show you where we’ve helped small businesses successfully take on the challenges of a digital world.

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