It’s no secret that marketing can be expensive.
Sometimes very, very expensive. It’s like $186,666 a second for an ad during the Superbowl high.
As a small business, these big prime-time ad campaigns are unlikely to fit the budget. Instead, you are faced with the challenge of finding an effective marketing strategy that delivers a solid return on investment.
The good news is that there is a lot you can do to market your small business on a budget.
In this article, we’ll cover different cost-effective marketing strategies that are readily available and can be implemented by your team in-house.
Since most social media platforms are launched for free, this is clearly a cost-effective channel. It can help increase your business presence and credibility, as well as provide a foundation for content and customer engagement.
But that doesn’t mean you just have to create a Facebook page. Without a solid social media plan, it’s all too easy for accounts to become inactive and abandoned quickly.
Focus for small businesses, 1 or 2 really cool social media pages, instead of trying to be on every platform. This will ensure a better customer experience and you won’t waste time and energy on viewers aimlessly going past.
Start with Facebook.
Generally speaking, Facebook is useful for any business as it becomes a vital point of contact for customers and can appear less trustworthy without your business. Think of your Facebook page as an extension of your website, providing your audience with all the important information about your business and offering the same customer service experience.
Other than Facebook, the social media platforms you use really depend on your business. Consider the following:
- Who will you sell to?
- Which demographic are you targeting?
- What kind of ads will you use?
These three questions will help you narrow down the social media channels that work with your sales funnel, your target audience, and which match your ads.
For example, a SaaS probably doesn’t need an Instagram account. Why? Why? Because it doesn’t offer visually appealing content, and customers are unlikely to convert while browsing an app. Instead, consider a YouTube channel for posting software-related educational content.
By contrast, Instagram is a golden opportunity for retail, which uses images to create a brand aesthetic, collaborate with influencers, and run contests.
To understand which platforms are best for engaging your audience, use custom short URLs (tools like Rebrandly URL Shortener) to see where your marketing efforts are performing best and adjust accordingly.
Social media also plays an important role for customer service, with 67% of consumers saying they use a brand’s social media for customer service.
Again, find the right channel. Twitter is great for responding to mentions and providing updates, while Facebook is better equipped to answer more complex customer questions.
With large audiences and free accounts, mainstream social media platforms can be quite crowded.
Platforms like Reddit and Quora can be an effective way to start conversations with potential customers.
Plus, you won’t have to worry about hiring someone to create content like fancy graphics or images. All you have to do is write and reply.
Additionally, consider industry- or private-sector specific forums. This will give you more insight into what your customer base is talking about, interested in and searching for.
3. Highlight user-generated content
UGC is any content created by users rather than brands. Users create content (images, videos, posts, blogs, reviews, etc.) organically as a way to share their customer experience.
UGC is great for small businesses for a few reasons.
To begin with, this is a very powerful form of social proof. Social proof is the concept of following what the crowd is doing. If everyone is doing it, it must be great.
It also gives your brand a customer’s stamp of approval. Because it’s not a paid promotion, viewers are more likely to trust what’s shared. In fact, 86% of millennials say that UGC is a positive indicator of brand quality.
And finally, it gives you high quality — and most importantly free – contents. This is especially important for building a social media presence and SEO.
There are several ways small businesses can promote UGC. Some strategies include:
- Report mentions and repost
- Brand Hashtags
- Viral Challenges
- Contests and giveaways
- Feature sections and customer spots
A recent example of a small business using user-generated content comes from Bolt Amsterdam, a local tulip farm in the Netherlands.
In the midst of COVID-19, the business faced major economic difficulties as they were unable to export and sell their tulips as they normally do during the spring season. As a result, they supported a tulip deal that offered a very attractive price for a large quantity of flowers.
Alongside the agreement, they encouraged users to share their photos and stories on social media, use the hashtag #lieverdanlief, and send them via email to be featured on their website. UGC for this promotion has gone viral – and in just a few days, the small business has been tagged in over 120 photos on Instagram alone.
Bolt Amsterdam announced that over 2 million tulips were saved with the success of this promotion. They had to temporarily halt the deal to keep up with current orders, noting that it “has had a huge impact on our family business”.
4. Look for positive customer reviews
Everyone knows what to expect from Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target. But that’s not the case for most small businesses – and a big challenge when competing with big brands is reliability.
Online reviews provide small businesses with this necessary validity and reliability. 88% of consumers trust online reviews written by other consumers as much as they trust recommendations from personal connections.
Popular review sites include Google, Facebook, TrustPilot, Yelp, Capterra.
The more reviews the better, even if a few aren’t even 5 stars. Some tips for requesting and receiving reviews include:
- Actively look for reviews, you won’t get many reviews if you don’t ask
- Get reviews ready by having them on the homepage or in email signatures.
- Work closely with customer support to identify customers to ask
- Include review options in customer service interactions such as chat box messages
- Request a review after a completed purchase or email confirmations
Additionally, you can use free email marketing software to send out review and referral-driven drip campaigns.
5. Encourage customer referrals with an affiliate marketing program
With an affiliate marketing program, you can get your business promoted almost anywhere.
And the best part is that it’s really budget friendly.
Affiliate marketing uses a pay-per-performance model, so you only pay for ads that actually result in paying customers. With Affiliate tracking software, it’s a low-risk investment with a clear return on investment, rather than paying for ad space without knowing for sure whether it converts new customers.
Affiliates may include:
- Social media influencers
- Niche and industry experts
- Other related businesses
To have more control over what is promoted, you can choose to host your program by invitation only. Or make it public so you can reach large audiences and build brand awareness.
Besides being a cost-effective marketing channel, it’s a great way to build your SEO, build UGC and reward your loyal customers for their referrals.
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6. Refresh your existing content marketing
Great content can help you bypass the high costs of Google and Facebook ads.
Having valuable and relevant content for customers can get you high in search engines and lots of social media shares. But publishing a lot of content, especially quality content, can take time and resources that may not be readily available.
Instead, turn your existing content into new marketing materials.
- Create infographics to view existing data in a new way.
- Update old blogs with new images and statistics.
- Turn common customer service questions into a new FAQ.
- Assign staff to host webinars on their areas of expertise.
Having a large knowledge base is an easy way to keep your site active and up-to-date, bring fresh content to customers, and help with your overall SEO efforts.
7. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
Look for collaboration opportunities to help create content as well as update your existing content.
By combining your resources, you can create more content, have a stronger online presence through link building and SEO, and reach new audiences. A few ways to collaborate with other businesses include:
- Writing guest blogs
- Change backlinks and mentions in blog content
- Being a guest host on a podcast or webinar
- Highlighting any special projects or new product launches
- Meeting with team members
- Co-sponsorship studies or whitepapers
- Repost and retweet on social media
Ideal collaborations are those that are not a direct competitor but still have a relevant industry. For example, a sports store with an online fitness site.