Marketing is a three-syllable word that seems so simple, yet encompasses so much. Marketing is a multi-faceted approach to promoting a product or service. Both traditional and unconventional marketing methods have a place in the small business world. Marketing helps small businesses focus on building their brand and identity.
There are few limitations to marketing options, and the opportunities listed here are just a few that will generally result in a decent ROI (Return On Investment) for most small businesses. That said, do not be afraid to be creative -- no one knows or understands a small business like its owner, so think outside of the box and don't be afraid to experiment.
Create continuity between an online website, logos, letterheads, business cards, and packaging. Create an identity that will make your business stand out from the competition, and leave a good initial impression on potential customers. A professional image associated with your company or product will remind customers of their past brand experiences, and will reinforce your product line.
Niche publications are journals or magazines that focus on a specific market. If your product or service is appropriate for a specific market, then advertising in their trade publications will allow you to immediately drill down and target that very specific audience.
Branded giveaways have long been used by marketers to attract potential customers. Products that have a long shelf life will help keep your business in the forefront of a customer's mind. Weeks, months, and even years after a product is purchased or service is performed, promotional items will remind the customer of your brand.
Solicit product reviews from reputable industry sources, magazine reviewers, bloggers, or industry journalists. Product reviews lend credibility to a product or company.
In order to help your website's search engine ranking, use keyword advertising. Focused and targeted keyword advertising will drive web traffic that has a genuine interest in your product or service.
Use online niche directories to promote products or services. Visitors who frequent topical directories have a strong interest and are more likely to purchase.
Once known as "word of mouth" marketing, viral marketing has taken on a life of its own. Encourage product buzz, as well as customers referring customers.
Opt-In Email Marketing
Use email as a marketing tool to notify your existing customers about specials, new products or services, or product releases and updates. While some say email marketing is dead, others say that measured results of email marketing tell a very different story. Opt-in, targeted email marketing works, and produces results when done correctly.
Partnerships / Strategic Relationships
We see large companies leveraging their assets every day, and small online businesses should too! Whether it be as a partner, an affiliate, or a strategic relationship, all of these relationships can benefit small businesses. Businesses can use strategic relationships to penetrate niche markets. Affiliates can expand their reach and tap into the customer bases of similar products. Partners can provide additional value to existing products or services. Determine what types of relationships could be beneficial to your small business.
Craigslist is likely the best known online classified system. Classified systems increase visibility and are often overlooked by small businesses. Consider posting classifieds that relate to product or services, and monitor the results.
Sponsorship / Contests
Contests not only encourage customers to have fun, but also generate publicity and draw attention to your company and brand. Sponsor industry events, run contests, or donate prizes to industry contests in order to increase visibility and generate goodwill.
Communication is critical to all businesses, and small businesses are no exception. Be sure to establish a communication channel with customers and potential customers. Newsletters are a very popular communication channel for software developers.
RSS is growing in popularity. It is an alternative communication channel that has the benefit of reaching a larger audience through syndication. Supplement and enhance email and newsletter campaigns by providing an RSS channel for their content.
Forums / Newsgroups
Participation in newsgroups and forums will result in building credibility. Business relationships will often result from online dialogue in industry forums and newsgroups. Actively participate and always behave in a professional manner.
Forum / Email Signatures
All forum posts and emails you send should contain a "signature" that advertises your business name, tag line, and URL.
Blogging and posting comments on blogs can result in an increase in web links and traffic. Socialization and engaging others with well thought out comments can establish a business reputation and generate product interest.
YouTube is a boon to business. If you are creative, consider compiling an educational or humorous video. YouTube is a huge distribution channel and can generate product or industry interest.
The avenue to inexpensive press! Write a press release to promote new products or services and reap the benefits with media attention.
Writing articles can help lend credibility to your product line and improve your business reputation.
Contact local newspapers and pitch a unique story to them. Publicity is free and can generate discussions and interest.
Consider exploring alternative channels for advertising and marketing. Keep in mind that advertising need not be costly; creative marketers can often find inexpensive avenues that will result in a great return.