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When advising small businesses on the best marketing tactics, there is no cookie-cutter response that works for everyone. That’s because every small business serves a different market with different customers, and customers are the ones who determine which marketing tactics produce results. Marketing is not just about the tactic or the medium you use to reach your customers, it’s also about the message and the story that you tell.

Successfully marketing a small business requires a deep understanding of the customers you’re hoping to attract, and this is where many small businesses commonly misstep. New small business owners are sometimes so excited about their products or services that they focus all of their attention on telling potential new customers what they want them to know instead of listening first and understanding what they need to hear.

Choosing the best tactics to market your small business should be informed by the behaviors of your potential customers. What tools are they using to find businesses like yours? How do they decide which businesses to try? Do they look to social media for reviews and recommendations? The answers to these types of questions are what will help you choose the right tactics.

A Quick Review of Common Tactics Used by Small Business

Part of being a small business and building a brand is working with a small marketing budget, and every small business owner wants to get the most out of every dollar spent. Stretching your marketing dollar often means taking advantage of digital tools and tactics that allow you to reach the most prospects for the lowest cost per touch. Here’s a quick review of some of the most common and cost-effective tactics used by small business.

Email Marketing

Email is a low-cost tool that can allow you to both templatize designs and personalize content for your prospects, and it can be set up to track individual responses.
Templatizing cuts costs.
Tracking responses allows you to adjust messaging for better results.
Email requires you to build or purchase a database for distribution.
Customers may not actively use email, especially if they skew younger.

Social Media

Social media outlets, such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, are essentially free tools that you can use to build your brand, generate interest in your business, and create a loyal following.
Social media provides a direct connection to your customers that can help you build brand awareness, start relationships, and inspire loyalty.
You can instantly communicate with your customers and prospects using pictures, videos, and more.
Maintaining a social media presence requires an investment of time to keep content fresh and customers engaged. You also need to be responsive when customers reach out to you.
Customers may not actively use social media, especially if they skew older.

Social Media Advertising

Advertising on social media can allow you to tightly control your marketing budget and spend very little to potentially get a big return.
Social media advertising provides tools that allow you to focus your ads as broadly or as narrowly as you wish on a customer profile.
You set the spending budget and control when the ads appear and to whom.
You pay for clicks even if the prospect doesn’t convert to a sale.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC)

PPC ads are triggered to appear in a web browser based on the search terms your customers use or the sites they visit. Like social media advertising, you can control your PPC ad spend and select the search terms and other criteria that trigger the ads to appear for your prospects.
Allows you to capture the attention of prospects who may be looking at your competitors or who are unfamiliar with your business.
You set the spending budget and control when the ads appear and to whom.
You pay for clicks even if the prospect doesn’t convert to a sale.
PPC ads need to be highly engaging to avoid prospects viewing them as noise on the page.

SEO & Content-Building

SEO (search engine optimization) is a method of identifying key words that customers use to search for businesses like yours and then incorporating those keywords into the content of your website. When your website is optimized, it improves your search ranking, placing you higher on the page of search results.
SEO improves your search ranking, making it easier for prospects to find your business.
Optimized websites that appear at or near the top of Google page-one search results get a click-through rate of roughly 10 to 20 percent, depending on position.
Search behaviors and key words may change over time and should be reassessed routinely for best results.
Content that supports SEO must be of value to your customers, not just filler to improve your ranking.

Direct Mail

Direct mail may seem like an outdated tactic, but new technology is allowing this old-timer to produce some solid results. Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) is a relatively new tool that allows you to more narrowly target households right down to the neighborhood and street. So, instead of blanketing an entire zip code, you can be much more selective and save on printing and postage, too.
Direct mail is a tangible object that creates an interaction that is completely different than digital communication.
Direct mail can be trackable by using content to that drives traffic to a specific web page or landing page or by including a personalized URL.
In addition to design costs, direct mail also comes with printing and postage expenses.
Designs and messaging need to be unique enough to grab attention and engage customers right out of the mailbox.

Knowing your customers is the key to spending your marketing dollars wisely, but even the deepest understanding of customer behavior doesn’t protect you from a tactical backfire. Once you’ve chosen your tactics, you need to assess and reassess their return along the way. Plan to make adjustments to your messaging and tactics when things aren’t producing the results you expected, and be prepared to drop certain tactics altogether if they aren’t offering a reasonable ROI.

Before You Choose Your Tactics, You’ve Got to Build Your Brand

Building a brand around your small business must always start with who you are, and who you are must be carefully interwoven with who your customers are. Determining where these two ideas intersect will help you craft an engaging brand story while also identifying where and how to tell that story to your customers and prospects. You can start building a brand by following these five steps.

  1. Define your business. Your core values, that is to say who you are, what you do, and why you do it, should always be the guiding principles that drive all of your decision-making. This is why you do what you do, and it will rarely ever change.
  2. Define your market. You have something to offer. Where does that offer fit into the marketplace? Identify your competitors and evaluate what they’re doing well and where they’re missing the mark. This will help you differentiate your brand and identify opportunities to win new customers by meeting a need that’s not being met elsewhere.
  3. Create customer profiles. Understanding who you’re marketing to will help you make more effective decisions about brand messaging and communication channels. You have a brand story to tell. Your customer profiles will help guide you to the best way to tell it.
  4. Create your brand. A brand is represented by a wide variety of elements, both tangible and intangible. It’s not just your logo or your tagline. It’s your logo, your tagline, your color choices, your images, your web experience, the way you answer the phone, the way you great your customers, the way you handle a customer complaint…it’s everything. It all tells your story. The goal is for that story to be consistent and dependable. That’s what builds trust and loyalty.
  5. Choose your communication channels. How you market your business and your brand should be a natural extension of your understanding of your customers. They will show you which tools to use, but its up to you manage the experience of your brand and keep your brand story consistent no matter where it’s being told.

Growing a small business is a big job, but if you let your passion and enthusiasm be your guide, you can create an engaging and authentic brand story that will naturally attract others who share your passion. Allow that story to direct your marketing strategy and tactics, but don’t forget your customers have needs, too, so be sure to make those decisions less about you and more about them.

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