Spending some of your hard-won seed funding on marketing and advertising may be inevitable. And many startups are more blessed than others when it comes to capital at the onset. This post is for owners and managers of fledgling small businesses who have little in the way of the power to buy media or to invest in marketing campaigns.
You can call it a strain of “work smarter, not harder” thinking, but the main theme of this post is that the quality of your marketing campaign is infinitely more important than the amount of money you spend, and that marketing is, thus, inherently something that isn’t as dependent on a big budget as you might think. The fight doesn’t always go to whomever throws the most money into it.
Tell Your Audience Why You Started the Company
When I refer to quality of your marketing, one of the first things I’ll discuss is passion. You’d be right to say that people are turned off by sales copy, pop-ups, mailed circulars, and marketing e-mails. But who do you know who legitimately doesn’t like passion? This applies to marketing because I’d assert that the main thing you are trying to do when marketing your business is to convey your passion for the product.
One of the things this involves is telling your audience why you started the company. Did you find something lacking in remote controls? Tea? Lawncare services? Many businesses are started this way, and convincing an audience to use your product or service can start with showing them the problem you set out to solve. Media for this include blog posts, white papers, and youtube videos, with the idea being to gravitate first to modes that you or your staff members can execute with the most skill to avoid outsourcing, if you can.
In addition to conveying the market need you’re trying to fill, you’re also trying to build enthusiasm. If your company is green, if it brings the community together, if it involves socially-redeeming traits and features of any kind, bring these across. Doing so really doesn’t require the services of a professional marketer, it just requires some common sense and a sensitivity to what your audience will react to.
Tell a Story, Don’t Press “Submit”
I mentioned social media above, and I want to get back to it to look at a mistake some businesses make. You’ve all seen twitter accounts and facebook pages by businesses that lie dormant but suddenly spring to life when the company is making a public appearance or running a sale. Tweeting “We’re @ Pleasantview Product Showcase this Fri @ 6” doesn’t begin to convince anyone to go there to see your products.
Another way of putting this is that social networking and any sort of free or nearly-free marketing will always be a means, not and end. A good way to use your facebook account is to post a video of your product in action, or of anything that tells the story of your product, its purpose, and its value. Just telling us that we’re lucky enough to be able to buy your craft beer at Racing Pig Bar and Grill will get returns only from your most loyal customers. You do need to invest time, yes. But investing time on highly-focused, passion-driven, content-rich material is better than posting endless quick notices that read like traditional marketing.
How to Really Tell a Story
I’m a big believer that marketing has to be alive. It has to—again—tell the story of your product. One of the best things you can do is put your product in places where it will be organically used, as in the food truck that arranges to park outside Racing Pig at midnight Friday—that’s not just business operation, it’s marketing. Providing your medical supplies to the local college basketball team, putting together a nice slide show of the sharpest websites your web-development company has put together (and perhaps exhibiting at a business school or incubator program if possible), hosting cooking exhibitions with free samples at your kitchen supply store are all examples of this.
Some of these come dangerously close to guerrilla marketing. It’s a loosely-defined term, but it generally means circumventing conventional forms of media and getting attention for your product in an unusual way. In terms of quality of marketing, your business smarts should be an asset here. My favorite guerrilla marketing campaign of all time comes from the international corporation Ikea, but could be done by small companies, no problem. Ikea came out with a new line of bookcases, and told their story this way: they took a bookcase to Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia and assembled it. They then filled it with books, creating an outdoor, beach library. Beachgoers were free to pick up books and read them on their towels, illustrating the wonder and joy that can come from books you can see because you keep them on a shelf and not in a closet to be forgotten.
The passion and genuine generosity behind this idea can’t be bought at any price. And that’s what stretching your marketing budget is all about.