Small Business Marketing

The Keys to Success for Small Business Marketing

Three colleagues in advertising company discussing the latest project and layouts lying on the table.
Small business marketing in action. Image (c) Tom Werner/ Getty Images

What Is Marketing?

Marketing is the process of interesting potential customers and clients in your products and/or services and persuading them to choose your products and/or services over those of your competitors.

The key word in this marketing definition is "process"; marketing involves researching, promoting, selling, and distributing your products or services (the four P’s of marketing — Product, Price, Promotion, and Place).

It's a huge topic, which is why there are tomes written on marketing, and why you can take a four-year marketing degree. But whether you’re running a large corporation or a small business, essentially marketing involves everything you do to get your potential customers and your product or service together.

The Purpose of Marketing

… is to drive sales. Good marketing can get potential customers through the door or onto the website and even put a product into a potential customer’s hands but it’s not successful marketing until the customer has bought it. “Marketing is everything that you do to reach and persuade prospects and the sales process is everything that you do to close the sale and get a signed agreement or contract” (Marketing vs. Sales: What Is the Difference?)

6 Keys to Success for Small Business Marketing

1. The first key to small business marketing success is knowing what you’re really selling.

People don’t buy products or services — they buy emotions and experiences. For instance, the Keg Steakhouse moves a lot of steaks but look at their ads. What they’re really selling is good times with family and friends. Why did Michelin use a baby in a tire with the tagline “Because so much is riding on your tires” for years?

Because Michelin is really selling safety, not just tires. And the baby in a tire campaign told people that one way they could feel like good parents was buying Michelin tires.

2. Once you figure out what you’re really selling, you’re ready to target your market. As a small business, you can’t afford blanket marketing; you need to get your marketing message directly to potential customers, not to everyone. Target marketing lets you zone in on those who have the highest likelihood of buying your product or service.

3. Know the difference between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan.

4. When you're putting together a marketing plan for your business, concentrate on the basics, the four key components of any marketing plan:

  • Products and services: What goes into this section will vary depending on whether your company is creating an original product and developing it from ideation to prototype stage and onto market or marketing a product that’s already fully developed. Remember too that marketing a service is different than marketing a product. But whatever you’re selling, this section will focus on what is unique about your product or service and contain your Unique Selling Proposition.
  • Pricing: The starting point for any pricing strategy is a breakeven analysis. After all, you want to make money, not lose it! But beyond that, the ideal price is a combination of how you want to position your product or service and what the market will bear. Learn more with this Guide to Pricing Strategy.
  • Place (Distribution): The details of how and where your products and/or services are sold. As you’ll see when you look at the Sales and Distribution plan section of the marketing plan, this section outlines the distribution methods going to be used, the transaction process between your business and your customers, and your sales strategy.
  • Promotion: The section of the marketing plan that describes how your company is going to present your products or services to the buying public. Your challenge here will be choosing the promotion activities best for reaching your target market but within your marketing budget. The marketing tools section below will help.

    5. Invest in market research. It’s market research that lets you learn which customers will be most interested in your products or services and gain specific information about them, learn about your competition and develop competitive strategies, keep abreast of economic trends and even find new markets. Learn how to do your own market research.

    6. Make sure your marketing campaigns are aligned with your marketing strategies and plans. For marketing success, you have to have consistent messaging. Integrated marketing will keep your marketing focused and increase your sales.

    14 Types of Marketing

    Anything that gets people’s attention and gets them to make buying decisions is marketing which means that as a marketer for your small business you have an almost infinite range of choices. A kid wearing a grass skirt holding up a pizza sign along the roadway is marketing. So is the movie trailer you watch on your smartphone or the loyalty card you use at your favorite clothing store. So this list is by no means exhaustive. It is, however, a list of types of marketing that many small businesses have used successfully.

    • Advertising: A paid persuasive message by an identified sponsor. Advertising can take many forms from interstitial ads on the internet through posters on walls. Here are 19 Advertising Ideas for Small Businesses.
    • Affiliate Marketing: Making a commission from selling other people’s products on your own blog or website. The great advantage of affiliate marketing is that it relieves you of the burden of creating, storing and shipping products. Your task is to increase traffic to your site as much as possible so you can earn increasing commission.
    • Branding/ Brand Marketing: Your company’s brand is the perception that a consumer has when they think or hear of your company, service or product. Brand marketing consists of developing a desired positive perception in your customers’ minds that will get them to choose your products or services over the competition’s consistently. Follow these steps to build a strong brand.
    • Business Networking: Establishing relationships with other people who may be of benefit to your business for your mutual benefit and support. Business networking is a great way to build a customer base for many small businesses.
    • Content Marketing: Creating engaging content that will attract prospective buyers to your products or services and then strategically distributing that content on the internet where prospective customers will see and interact with it and get led to your products or services. Blogging is often used as content marketing.
    • Customer Service: Interacting with customers in a way that not only meets their needs but exceeds their expectations. Good customer service not only brings customers back but attracts new ones.
    • Direct MarketingEmail marketing. Direct mail marketing. Telemarketing. They’re all forms of direct marketing, reaching out directly to potential, existing or past customers personally (such as in a phone call) or through mass-media (such as in an infomercial). Flyers, cold calling, door-to-door solicitations, sales letters, coupons sent through email — this is the category of marketing they all belong it. The standby for many small businesses. Because it works.
    • Export Marketing: Finding markets for your products or services outside of your own country and creating a plan to interest global consumers in your products or services and successfully distribute your products or services to them when they decide to buy. This is one type of marketing where the quality of your market research will really matter as you have to know about not only your potential customers but the customs of other countries — and sometimes alter your products accordingly.
    • MLM a.k.a. Multilevel Marketing a.k.a. Network Marketing: Independent representatives sell goods and services from a company to consumers and recruit and train other representatives to do the same. It’s called Multilevel Marketing because representatives earn commissions on their representatives’ sales as well as their own. If MLM interests you, be sure you know the difference between MLM and illegal pyramid schemes.
    • Online Marketing: Using digital networks (such as the internet and cell phone networks) to sell products and services. Like Direct Marketing, this type of marketing is a huge category, including: SEO Marketing, Social Media Marketing, SMS Marketing a.k.a. Text Marketing and Online Advertising. The most obvious form of online marketing? Having your own business website.
    • Public Relations (PR): Creating a strong public image of your company by getting the media to give your company, products or services positive press. This is the big difference between advertising and PR — you can’t pay for the coverage; you have to earn it. And your company doesn’t have the same control over the message that you do when you advertise either; you have to be prepared to deal with negative publicity when it occurs as well.
    • Referral Marketing: Building your business’s customer base by asking customers to refer other possible customers to you. Getting referrals from satisfied customers can greatly reduce your sales cycle, providing you with qualified leads.
    • Trade Show Marketing: Using an exhibit at a trade show or shows to promote your products and/or services.
    • Word of Mouth Marketing: Having people pass their positive opinions about your business to other people, thus nudging them to buy your products or services. Using celebrity endorsements and getting testimonials are two ways you can drive word of mouth.

    Marketing Strategies/Best Practices

    We’re bombarded with messages every day. Yankelovich, a market research firm, estimates that a person living in a city 30 years ago saw up to 2,000 ad messages a day, compared with up to 5,000 today. How do you get your marketing messages to cut through the clutter? These are just a few of the many resources we have to help you make your message be the message that gets seen and acted on:

    Making Marketing Your Career

    The field of marketing offers many different career opportunities and is a great choice for people who enjoy challenges and are good communicators. While being an ad executive may be the first position that springs to mind when you think of a career in marketing, it’s literally only one of hundreds of possible positions in the marketing field.

    And many marketing positions, such as careers in sales, offer outstanding income potential. A sales position can also offer you flexibility and the ability to set your own daily schedule. Here are  some of the most popular sales careers.

    Sales not for you? Opportunities abound in market research, advertising, promotions and public relations. While many jobs in marketing call for creative skills, such as being a copywriter or a brand manager, others require people with strong analytical skills, such as being a market analyst or an advertising account manager. Explore these 5 Marketing Careers for starters.

    Don’t overlook digital and ecommerce marketing: both are booming and creating new marketing positions that didn’t exist ten or fifteen years ago.

    Convinced that marketing is for you? Learn how to break into the career field of marketing.