Following on from Tom's posts last week on Digital Marketing for SME's: Developing Interesting Content for a Perceived Un-interesting Industry, I'm taking a look at how SME's can create effective marketing campaigns on little to no budget.
The general theme from this series of blogs looks to tackle the marketing hurdles that you may come across while working for a small business. In this blog I'm looking at how you can cope with having little or no marketing budget.
Competing with the big boys
I'm no snake oil salesman, I'm not proclaiming to have the secrets behind great ROI marketing activities and I can't make a small budget compete with behemoth companies such as Pepsi/Coke (If you happen to work within the soft drinks business!).
What this article aims to highlight is that with a bit of creative thinking and elbow grease you're able to make your money, or lack of, stretch far and wide. Although it's important you keep realistic aims in mind when reviewing strategies - Not everything goes viral!
Top 5 low budget marketing tactics for small businesses
1. Strategic Partnerships
Striking a partnership between two companies in different, but relating, verticals may sometimes be targeting the same customer.
Think of a company that carries out motorbike lessons and tests and a separate company that sells bike safety clothing and equipment. They are both targeting the same customers who are new to learning a to ride a bike and will also most likely need to buy all the safety gear to go with it.
Strategic partnerships allow two different companies to work together to achieve the common goal of more business for both of them. For this reason they can provide a low budget marketing alternative as they are free to get into and all future marketing costs are split.
There are a number of ways partnerships can work:
A formal partnership can be formed where an ongoing agreement is formed between the two companies, spreading across a number of different channels. Think of joint marketing campaigns, micro sites or training courses.
Partnerships don't have to be carried out in such formality, they can work on an adhoc basis too. Such as promotions offering money off of a partners products on sales made between certain dates or sharing a stand at an exhibition, even down to exchanging a couple of social media mentions.
A great example of a partnership, and one close to my heart as I did an internship at one of the companies, is Original Travel and Sharky and George's partnership. The former sells adventurous, experience based holidays while the latter organises fun-filled activity days for children. Working together they have created a range of family holidays to keep all ages of the family happy.
2. Becoming an Expert
Ok, the title for this strategy is a bit misleading. Typically, SME's are the best companies to go to for information within their niche as they have often been created out of the owners love of the product or industry, meaning small business owners are already experts in what they do.
Although their expertise should shine through when a customer is enquiring about your product or service, how will they see just how much you know about your subject area BEFORE they become a lead? You need to open up a publishing medium in order to educate the masses and prove yourself as an expert within your field.
This is often done by undertaking in some content marketing and launching a blog. It is typically best practice to host the blog on your own website rather than on a blogspot or wordpress.com style CMS.
Here you will be able to create knowledgeable and informative articles, aimed at answering any questions about your industry, service or product that your customers may be looking for the answers to. Ultimately your aim is to add value for your readers. Here are some guidelines for how best to run your blog.
Although you can pick up cheap templates and blogging modules, you may not want to use a widely available template and might not have the budget to have a branded blog created. Add lack of time to manage a blog and get your expertise down on paper into the mix and blogging might not be the route for you.
In that case, writing a one off guest blog on a relevant industry blog can get your business name out there in front of target customers, as can writing a press release of editorial for a magazine or publication within your field. They often include a back link to your website so there is some added SEO benefit thrown in to boot.
3. Go Local
It's well documented that the more long-tail and specific keywords you target the easier it is to rank well in the SERPs. This proves to be a good strategy for smaller businesses who will benefit from local listings.
You don't need to hire out an expensive SEO consultant or agency to accomplish these wins, simply reading some beginners guides to SEO such as WordTrackers 'SEO made simple. A bit of time set aside for some self teaching should give you the optimisation basics to allow you to make an impact on local and long tail keywords.
Targeting relevant keywords and setting up a Google+ local page may not crash your website under heavy visitors loads but the visitors it does attract should be qualified leads. Tom's article on local SEO expands on this point a little more in-depth.
4. Repeat Custom and Brand Loyalty
One of the biggest advantages that small companies have over larger ones is they are able to relate and communicate with their clients on a much more personal level.
Large companies may have the economies of scale and infrastructure but smaller businesses have personalities and are able mobilise quicker to keep their customers happy. Therefore one of their biggest strengths is with repeat custom. Obviously the key factor in getting someone to return is by providing good value for money and exceeding the customers expectations in terms of quality and service.
In today's ultra competitive world sometimes providing a great service might not be enough, you need to work your hardest and do everything in your power to convince the customer to return to your website. It is therefore vitally important that you have protocols in place to maximise the impact you have on clients post-purchase.
Google have a form of advertising called 'ReMarketing', this is when a brand or a product might 'follow' you around the web. Companies such as as amazon are great at this, view a product on their site, don't purchase it but continue browsing the web, you'll start noticing the product you almost bought and related items start appearing on completely independent websites.
Remarketing is a great way to get your brand, and more specifically, your products in front of a customer once they have left your site. As this is a Pay-Per-Click style marketing strategy, it allows smaller companies to get involved with the 'big boys' such as Amazon as you only pay when you get a visitor. It is very similar to PPC advertising which we will cover at the end of the article.
Maybe Google Remarketing isn't for you? If you don't have the time or the expertise to set up these adverts then remarketing may not be suitable for your business. One technique I think ALL businesses, large or small, should be doing is follow-up or post-sale emails.
A carefully constructed follow-up email allows you to keep the relationship with your customers going and getting them coming back for more. Email campaigns and templates can be set up at minimal cost using email marketing software such as MailChimp.
What other marketing technique gets a message directly to a customer who has already established a level of trust with your business as they are already a customer? I can't think of one. Post-sales emails can be used to nurture future leads, gather feedback or simply thank the customer for their purchase. Whatever you choose to use follow-up emails for make sure you follow these tips on how to write follow up emails to win sales.
5. Targeted PPC Campaigns
Similar to remarketing, Pay-Per-Click offers a great way for businesses to get their name (and more importantly a link to their website) at the top of the search results for their desired keywords. Rather then investing time and money in a 'long-game' SEO strategy, which ultimately will provided long term success, sometimes quick wins and instant enquires or sales are needed.
But don't go steaming into Adwords to get yourself ranked for a broad search term such as 'Cheap Term Life Insurance Rate' as this will cost you £54.64 per click! Yes, that right almost £55 PER CLICK. I've ran successful PPC campaigns spanning 3 months for that price.
Although insurance is probably one of the most expensive PPC industries you get the idea. You won't have the luxury of larger companies to be able to spend £50+ on a lead, especially when a number of the clicks through will not be looking for your specific product, due to the broad capture net of the search term.
SMEs need to make sure that they make every click count, targeting their PPC campaigns to long tail keywords. You may be put off by the fact the Google Keywords tool shows less <10 visits per month, but if each of those 10 visits costs you less than 20p and are searching for such a specific product or service (which your company sells) then you've spent 0.20p on a very qualified lead.
A further point on from targeting long tail keywords is making sure your ads are set up to target the exact match or phrase match. This limits your ad to appear only on searches matching exactly the phrase you are targeting and the phrase match means the search query has to include your keyword string at some point within the search - allowing prefixes and suffixes either side.
Although it may take a while to set up the PPC campaign, especially when taking care to limit the number of negative keywords and unqualified leads, PPC campaigns are an on going and evolving process, constantly testing and evolving to make the most of your money. It may be new and you might find it hard but where else can you attract customers for a couple of pence each?!