As a business owner, you want your company to succeed. Investing in marketing is vital to that success, but many small businesses can't splurge on — or spare the time for — high-priced advertising campaigns.
A report by Brandmuscle, local marketing software company, found that nearly half of the 860 small businesses surveyed spend $5,000 or less on marketing each year, and one-third spend less than 10 percent of their time on marketing activities.
To make the most of your time and money, here are five effective local marketing tactics that are easy and affordable for your small business. [See Related Story: 6 Clever and Offbeat Marketing Tactics Your Business Can Afford]
Business owners know that customers are searching for companies online, and yet many local businesses are reluctant to adopt digital methods, like social media, SEO and even a basic business website. The Brandmuscle survey found that business owners still find digital media to be complicated: While Facebook may be a successful platform, with an increased usage by businesses of 21 percent over the past few years, LinkedIn is primarily employed for personal, not business accounts, and Twitter is too confusing for business owners, survey results showed.
"Many small businesses are so overwhelmed by the number of choices and the level of effort required to maintain [digital marketing] programs that they do nothing," said Clarke Smith, chief strategy officer of Brandmuscle. "We advise starting small. Talk to customers [and ask] how do they find you today? What types of information would be helpful to them? Are they price-driven? What social channels do they use?"
Aaron Boggs, president of RevLocal, a digital marketing agency, called for the use of search marketing, a type of online marketing that expands a company's digital presence in search engines.
"Local businesses need to do more with less, and search marketing is no exception," he said.
For businesses that are looking to generate new leads, offering potential customers a free product or service for their first visit is a surefire way to bring people into the store. Brian Mattingly, founder and CEO of marketing services and technology franchise Welcomemat Services, said that a no-strings-attached gift to kick off a customer relationship will create a sense of loyalty, but only when it's with the right audience.
"Loyalty starts with targeting a consumer group that is not just looking for a deal but has a need for your business or service, and of course, they must live near the business," Mattingly said. "The perfect example of the 'right' customer includes someone who recently moved into a new neighborhood or a couple that just became parents."
Brick-and-mortar businesses have a unique opportunity to host special promotional events for their local communities. Chris Elliott, CEO of Beef 'O' Brady's sports pub franchise, said that on the 20th of each month, his restaurants host a "customer appreciation day," when guests can come in and redeem a scratch-off card for a chance to win free food.
Elliot said foot traffic increases 11 percent during customer appreciation days. He said he believes customers keep coming back because the owner of each restaurant personally hands them their scratch-off cards and thanks them for their patronage, thereby establishing a personal connection.
"The emotional engagement is the key," Elliot said. "If you know the customers — if you know their families and their kids' names, and engage with them on a personal level — you're going to form a connection that is going to give you an edge and lead to a lifelong customer. That makes a huge difference. You have to have the same loyalty to your customers as you expect from them when you put a customer loyalty program in place. It has to work both ways, or else you're going to miss the mark and won't see the same level of return on the investment."
Sponsorships and local events
Like the promotions described above, local events and sponsorships allow companies to give back while building personal relationships with their communities and customers. Of the integrated marketing campaigns that Brandmuscle looked at, 46 percent included community sponsorship and 44 percent included a local event. According to the survey, these sponsorships and events were among the most frequently used marketing tactics, with three of four respondents using these methods for their businesses.
The survey suggested that companies invest more of their marketing dollars in sponsorships and events to build up their brand presence.
When most people think of rebranding, they think of a big, time-consuming overhaul that requires a huge investment. But rebranding can be as simple as modernizing your logo, switching your slogan or even just updating your company website. Doing something just slightly different from your status quo will pique customers' interest and make them want to learn more.
"The effects of a comprehensive, well-executed rebranding have shown tremendous benefit across the board," said Dan Antonelli, CEO and creative director of advertising agency Graphic D-Signs. "Whether it's creating a great experience with an intuitive and responsive website design or crafting a logo that makes customers crack a smile each time they see it, marketing needs to have emotion."
Regardless of the tactics you choose, you should schedule a set time devoted to marketing activities, even if it's only an hour a week, said Brandmuscle's Smith.
Additional reporting by Nicole Taylor. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.