Marketing strategies for small businesses requires experimentation. Here are some creative ideas to overcome the unique challenges small businesses owners face.
Recently, I asked the team at the digital marketing agency Search + Gather to tell me about the most creative marketing campaigns they’ve seen from brands in the last few months. I expected to hear about a big-budget project. Instead, they mentioned a series of creative (and relatively low-budget) billboards.
Earlier this year, the cereal brand Surreal launched a “fake celebrity campaign.” Their tongue-in-cheek billboards included “endorsements” from everyday people who happened to share their names with big-name celebrities—not the actual celebrities. The campaign was a hit, and it quickly went viral.
In the wake of the initial billboards, the cereal brand then pivoted and revised the campaign so as not to include any names. Better safe than sorry, from a legal perspective! The new ads used humorous (and legal-approved) tag lines such as “A human being has eaten this cereal.” Those were also shared widely, generating even more buzz for the company.
“Surreal did a fantastic job delivering high-impact ads,” Amanda Nguyen, the Managing Director at Search + Gather, tells us. “They did this using clever humor rather than a large budget. That’s something to keep in mind when marketing for small businesses.”
Nowadays, brands don’t necessarily need unlimited budgets to get creative in their marketing. Inspired by campaigns launched by companies of all sizes—from industry-leading brands to emerging startups—we put together this guide to marketing strategies for small businesses.
Want even more help with your small business? Download our Small Business Brand Kit to get your idea off the ground fast.
Launch a Contest
Contests are a popular way to get your customers involved in your brand. Earlier this year, Coca‑Cola unveiled a new AI platform and invited digital artists to experiment and submit their work for a chance to be featured on a billboard.
When brainstorming marketing strategies for a small business, consider various creative challenges you can pose to your audience. Maybe you invite them to create videos or photos using your products, or name a product or mascot.
Host a Seasonal Giveaway
LickiMat, a brand that makes innovative treat dispensers for dogs, recently hosted a giveaway for Mother’s Day on Instagram. To enter, customers were invited to follow the brand on their social channels, like the original post, share their own photos of themselves and their pets using the hashtag #LickiMatMothersDay, and tag three friends. Followers could also share photos of their pets’ favorite LickiMat products.
You can do something similar by encouraging your customers to share photos online using a special branded hashtag. Winners can be chosen at random to receive a free gift.
Team up with Another Brand
Last year, Chamberlain Coffee (Emma Chamberlain’s cold brew/matcha brand) collaborated with Swoon, a zero-sugar beverage company. They created a limited-edition Matcha Lemonade just in time for summer.
In your marketing for a small business, get creative by reaching out to a brand that shares your values and customer base. You don’t necessarily have to create a new product. Consider bundling your products and offering a package deal.
Promote on both of your social media channels, and tap into each other’s audiences.
Partner with an Influencer
When building an influencer marketing plan for a small business, consider nano-influencers with smaller but highly engaged audiences.
These content creators can have anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 followers, but they’re perfect for targeting a specific niche.
For example, brands like Lancôme and Aesop have partnered with prominent skincare influencers who fall into this category.
Think about your industry, niche, location, and ideal customer. Also, consider reaching out to an influencer marketing agency. They’ll connect you with the right influencer for your brand, goals, and budget.
Sponsor a Podcast
Research from Vox Media and Magna indicates that podcasters influence our purchasing decisions more than traditional influencers, such as social media influencers and movie/television celebrities. Among Millennials, 70% say they have been convinced to make a purchase by a podcast ad.
When considering a podcast for sponsorship, pay special attention to those in your niche. Do their listeners align with your target customer? Does their overall tone match yours? You don’t have to go with the big shows right away. Start small when marketing for small businesses.
Experiment with Video
The cruelty-free brand Down to Earth Beauty (dte beauty) has built a large and loyal following on TikTok by sharing some truly satisfying piping videos featuring their colorful body butters. In the process, they’ve put a creative spin on the ASMR TikTok trend.
Follow popular creators on TikTok (or Instagram) to see what kinds of videos are trending. Think about how you can make these trends your own. Remember to include hashtags associated with that trend—dte beauty, for instance, tags their videos with hashtags like #asmrtiktoks and #oddlysatisfying.
Share Reviews and Testimonials
Over on Instagram, dte beauty shares customer reviews as part of their Story Highlights. When a happy customer leaves a review, sends a DM, posts a video review, or tags you in a post, ask if you can share it on social media (or on your website).
Build an Email List
It’s never too early to start growing your subscriber list, and there are a few things you can do to encourage people to sign up. One of the easiest is by offering a discount code subscribers can use for a particular percentage off their first order. If you do this, give them a time limit or an expiration date on the discount code. This will encourage them to use it.
When marketing for a small business, you can also offer a freebie. The vegan skincare brand Ziggy’s Pudding, for instance, offers a free guide—sent to their inboxes when they sign up—to help customers manage baby eczema.
SMS or text marketing, like email marketing for small businesses, is a great way to stay top-of-mind among customers.
Host a Class
Create value for your customers by providing courses and how-tos using your products. It could be a live webinar, pre-recorded tutorial, or in-person event.
A few years ago, Sephora created a (very popular) 90-minute “no-makeup makeup” class and offered it for free in several locations.
Start a Referral Program
Word of mouth is powerful, so consider creating a referral program for your existing customers.
The vegan body care brand mio, for example, offers unique referral codes for customers to send to their friends. The friend gets a $15 discount on their first order over $40, and the referring customer earns a $15 credit for each successful referral.
Launch a Flash Sale
For a short period in June 2023, Amtrak hosted Summer Travel Flash Sale with free companion fares for kids. Limited-time offers and deals create a sense of urgency and help generate buzz.
You can make it a surprise to keep followers on their toes or hype it up ahead of time by sharing the details on social media.
Create an In-Person Experience
In May, the experiential agency Food Truck Promotions created an orange mobile pop-up for the skincare brand Malin+Goetz. Bringing a beachy vibe to the streets of NYC, the brand offered SPF samples, merch, and coupon codes to passersby.
Consider local events and festivals when planning an in-person experience. Think about the visuals, as well. If you can create an “Instagrammable” set piece, you’re more likely to get people sharing and talking.
Make a Marketing Plan for Your Small Business
When creating a marketing plan for a small business, remember to track what works and what doesn’t. Depending on your audience, some marketing strategies for small businesses might prove far more effective than others.
“My number one marketing tip for small business owners is to prioritize clean tracking in order to test aggressively,” Amanda Nguyen from the marketing agency Search + Gather suggests. “Setting up effective tracking infrastructure from the start allows you to evaluate the success of different marketing strategies, platforms, ad creatives, audiences, keywords, and more.
“Through this rigorous testing and tracking, you can refine your marketing approach, optimize your campaigns, and unlock the potential for greater success. The more you experiment, the more you’ll uncover what resonates most with your target audience and ultimately drive better business results.”
Make your small business a success with help from our Small Business Brand Kit. Build your brand, with Shutterstock’s guidance on design, creative content, and more.
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License this cover image via Bibadash.