James Lee is a promotions and marketing analyst for small businesses. James has been researching and writing for Amsterdam Printing’s Small Business Promotions for the past several years. He has owned small businesses and his work with Amsterdam Printing is focused on assisting small businesses use personalized promotional materials such as apparel, pens, calendars and mugs for marketing purposes.
Marketing. The word can rightly strike fear into even a seasoned salesperson. A guy who used to be in inside sales moves into an independent sales position selling insurance. He knows he’s supposed to be marketing himself and the business but what does that really mean? Buying print ads that appear in a paper only to be recycled the next day? An expensive direct mail campaign? Covering every free bulletin board in town with flyers? Hiring a fancy marketing firm? And what exactly is a blog anyway?
The endless options can paralyze you into taking no action or spur you into spending money in haphazard avenues that aren’t targeted enough to show significant returns.
Effective marketing, though, can start small with an investment of time, effort, and intention rather than dollars. And that time spent will not only give your business exposure, but also deepen your commitment to and understanding of your business and customers.
You’ll also be able to develop authentic marketing material that can be used to create a lasting impression and serve as a resource for your customer-base. Do a good job and clients will even pass along your message for you.
Think about the following low-cost/high-intention ways to spread your marketing message:
Use Social Media…Thoughtfully
The secret to all good marketing is figuring out what your particular customers want and providing information, products, and service accordingly. Everyone seems to feel the pressure to jump into social media because it’s free and everybody’s doing it. If your clients are likely to use social media, then by all means start thinking of a relevant social media plan, but be aware not all businesses need to go that route.
For example, a social media consultant uses almost identical social media strategies for two different fishing shops in two different states. One shop’s Facebook/Twitter campaign takes off and the other one flops. The difference? The typical clients at one shop are in their twenties to forties and enjoy sharing photos from fishing trips online and commenting on good fishing spots and gear. The other shop is located in a high-end vacation area populated mostly by well-to-do retirees who aren’t plugged into social media or all that interested in sharing their experiences except with their friends over cocktails. A social media campaign may not be offering those clients what they are looking for.
If social media does seem like a good fit for the demographics of your potential clients, then take the time to do it well with your clients in mind. Instead of simply posting specials or news related to your business or products, try to provide posts that will interest or help your customers. Post links to articles your clients might find helpful.
If you launch a new product, ask for feedback and then build a relationship with those who offer comments with a sincere response. Have interactive contests to name a new product line or for the best story involving your product. Share news or funny stories your customers might find entertaining. Make connections with your customers and develop those relationships.
Give Away Information Instead of Marketing Dollars
Following the theme of anticipating customer needs, think of what expertise you could give away for free. In this way, you become a resource for clients and not just a vendor.
If you’re in business development for an accounting firm, consider giving a presentation about new tax laws at a networking event. If you’re a dentist give a presentation at a school about healthy teeth and gums. A sales professional can even give talks to other salespeople on sales strategies that have proved successful for him or her.
With any free talk, include something the audience can take home whether it’s a toothbrush or an information sheet with helpful tips. Be sure these materials have your contact info and web address on them. A contact of mine handed out an info sheet on Conference Room Etiquette at a trade show and more than one person emailed him that they had made copies of it for everyone in their offices.
Blog with a Purpose
A blog is a great way to connect with clients and develop a portfolio of marketing materials for your website. You can even print out these articles to use in presentations or as part of a press kit. A blog is another opportunity to develop your business and your website as a resource instead of just a sales machine.
Include topics that will interest your clients. If you have a business that sets up conferences for companies and organizations, then your topics could be as wide-ranging as What Makes a Great Trade Show Booth and How to Network in a Bathing Suit. You can also invite other experts to write posts relevant to your audience. Encourage readers to post comments and then follow up with thoughtful responses to develop connections with potential clients.
Use case studies from your business to explain concepts and offer helpful examples for your readers. Share your blog entries via Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Do a good job and even your competitors will be visiting your site for advice.
Create Quality Newsletters
A great way to stay in touch with clients and contacts is through a quality newsletter. A local real estate agent sends out a monthly e-newsletter I look forward to reading every time.
In the newsletters she includes very little information about herself or what’s so great about her. Instead, each issue focuses on
a different neighborhood in town and lists all of the recent home sales and prices in that area. People love poring over these sales figures and learning more about events in the different neighborhoods such as farmer’s markets and amenities such as pools and green space. The home prices she lists sometimes include her listings but most times don’t.
She’s simply disseminating interesting information, and people see her as a go-to person who knows what’s happening in the market and the community.
Promote a Signature Product
Promotional products are a great way to keep your business fresh in clients’ minds. Too many people, however, spend money on products without a strategy. A mug with your logo on it might be great if you sell textbooks that you market to college professors. Professors tend to like coffee. If you sell tractors, a mug might not be the best choice. Keep in mind what your particular clients might need and appreciate.
Another tack to take is to tie your marketing message to the actual product. There’s a copywriter who passes out pens with her contact info and the message Let Me Write It For You printed on the pens. It works because a pen is directly related to what she offers and the pen directly states what she can do for clients. She doesn’t buy any tote bags, t-shirts, or key rings — just pens. She hands them out so often they’ve become her signature around town. In fact, she recently added an artistic rendering of a pen to her logo to reinforce the association.
Again, it all comes down to anticipating your client needs and how you can provide accordingly, ultimately adding a new dimension to your business as a resource that clients will enjoy, revisit, and pass along.