Marketing might be one of the last things on your mind when budgets are tight. But, even if it seems like a minefield, there are a whole host of cost-effective marketing tactics that you can use to tell you brand story and engage with potential customers.
The key is to walk before you can run and track all activity along the way. Learn what works and what doesn’t and keep persevering; appreciate from the outset that it won’t happen overnight.
As we lead up to the launch of our pop-up shop, Kinetic Café, we are very conscious of how we spread the word of our arrival in an inexpensive way. Truth be told, we were worried that a lack of budget may hinder our efforts, but after talking to a handful of retail businesses, we formed a marketing plan and set to work telling people what we’re up to.
So, if you’re a small business or just about to start out, read on for some practical tips and advice.
1. Leverage your community
If you’re a local business, think about who you’re trying to reach and focus your efforts on engaging with the right people. Get to know your ideal customers and think about where they might be spending their time. Then research what’s going on in your community and how you might be able to get involved.
You don’t always need to think big; not in the early days anyway. Perhaps you could sponsor a small event, hire a stand at the next local market or even leave some brand collateral (business cards, flyers and so on) at a nearby coffee shop.
2. Be social
Social media is a cost-effective and targeted way of engaging with potential customers. Again, think about where your audience might be; you don’t necessarily need a presence on all platforms. Set a bit of budget aside for boosting your social posts and for social advertising, and keep track of the results.
Make sure you’re posting interesting, creative and visually-appealing content that your audience will want to engage with. Tailor this content for each platform you’re posting on, as you can’t expect the same post to work across all channels. Monitor how many people are interacting with your posts too, and if something has worked particularly well, do it again. Building following and engagement on social media is fun and challenging. But remember: it will take a long time for your social accounts to act as a sales channel.
Finally, if you’re a retailer, think about what in-store activities you can do to drive people onto your social channels.
We mainly use Instagram as it fits really well with our kind of business. I started with my phone and worked out how to take good pictures. I often research new hashtags as that’s how new people will discover us. I now have an assistant just for Instagram – it’s actually a really big job to do it consistently well.
Martina Vitali, owner of 1n1 fashion n pizza
3. PR yourself
Think about your local publications and start by reaching out to journalists. Try to build a relationship; find out what they like to write about and what interests them. Pick up the phone and introduce yourself, send them a free sample or invite them down to see what you’re all about. Knowing how to write a press release could also be useful string in your bow. Remember that in today’s world PR doesn’t just mean traditional media. Find bloggers and influencers in your local area and engage with them, too.
Send them pictures of any events you may have recently held, or send them some content they could easily publish online. For example, as a juice bar, we could offer tips on how to create the perfect ‘Orange Energiser’ smoothie for a morning wake-up or an Apple and Pear Refresher juice for a mid-afternoon boost. Journalists are crying out for ready-made, unique content, so give them what they want as well as what will work for your audience.
4. Email marketing
Email marketing is another cost-effective way to build a relationship with your audience.
Ask customers for their email addresses in return for something. You can do this when people visit your website or when in-store. Ensure your communications are useful and engaging – globally, a staggering 269 billion emails are sent each day – so yours must really stand out. Try not to bombard your audience and don’t worry if you receive a few unsubscribes along the way, it just means you have a more engaged audience. And don’t forget about GDPR!
Email is still useful for engaging customers but requires thought and creativity to ensure your mail stands out in their inbox. All activity needs investment of time and expertise and so that’s why we work with experts to supplement our capability.
Benedict Johnson, owner of OurGlass
5. Offers and competitions
Could you offer discount vouchers to attract new customers or refer-a-friend incentives to encourage repeat visits? Don’t be afraid to give someone a free trial or a sample if you can and encourage these customers to share their experience on social media. After all, who doesn’t love a freebie?
Competitions are also a great way to engage with your audience in a fun way. These can be promoted on your social channels, through email and if you’re a retailer, in-store. Why not run a competition with a local blogger or publication?
Of course, tracking return on investment is key. But it could be as simple as looking at how many people have viewed your email, how many people have liked or shared your social post or even how many vouchers have been redeemed. As long as, over time, you can identify what works to help drive footfall or sales, then you know exactly where to spend your annual marketing budget. Remember, be creative and keep trying new things.