Marketing strategy

15 Creative (& Classic) Marketing Ideas for Your Small Business

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February 22, 2024

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Marketing on a budget? We got you. Dive into a hand-picked selection of marketing ideas designed for small businesses, blending creativity with cost-effective, proven strategies.

Why do most small businesses fail?

Is it because they provide a bad product or service? Don’t the hire the right people? Lack a solid financial plan? Or don’t invest enough in marketing? 

Well, the answer is all of the above and more. Operating a small business or a start-up is pretty tough. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 20% of small businesses fail by the end of the first year. Part of this is because small business owners have to wear multiple hats; they need to be accountants, managers, and marketers all at the same time. On top of this, they’re dealing with a low cash flow and a necessity to do as much as possible with those limited resources they have access to. 

A great marketing strategy will help you:

  • Understand who your customers are
  • Generate more leads
  • Retain customers for longer periods
  • Increase brand awareness

In this post we’ll be exploring marketing ideas that are modern, cost-effective, and/or proven to work. These ideas will focus on attracting new customers as well as retaining those that you already have. 

1. Referral programs

The idea behind a referral program is that you reward your existing customers for directing business to your brand. This reward might be a discount or a free/exclusive product. But why are referrals so effective? Why can’t you just advertise your brand more? 

According to the Nielsen advertising study, 88% of respondents trust recommendations from people they know over other channels. Word-of-mouth referrals are incredibly effective and your business should be looking for ways to tap into this.

Providing a great good or service just isn’t enough. Word will spread, but not fast enough. Providing incentives for your current customers to spread the word will accelerate this process and can be an incredibly effective way to build a network of dedicated customers. If you’re worried about creating rewards that ultimately cost your business too much, consider the power of non-financial rewards. Rather than pure financial incentives – which are always nice but mostly transactional – your referral program could unlock an exclusive event, a personalized offer, VIP treatment, and more. 

2. Web3-powered membership or loyalty program

If you’re a B2C brand, loyalty or membership programs are probably on your radar. They’ve become incredibly popular and effective in the past few years (especially with younger generations). The elevator pitch is to set up a program that gives your customers a little something extra in return for their loyalty to your business. They’ve proven to be incredibly effective in retaining more customers. 

Sounds great! So why doesn’t everyone have one of these? 

The truth is that loyalty and membership programs can be pretty difficult to set up. They have a lot of upfront costs and, if not properly planned, can result in a business losing more money than the program generates. Small businesses generally perceive loyalty or membership programs as too expensive and difficult to operate.

A Web3 loyalty program offloads a lot of the costs of operation to the Blockchain, a public ledger that handles things like membership credentials and verifying ownership. Web3 loyalty programs distribute NFTs to customer’s digital wallets. Customers can then use their NFTs like an access pass to claim rewards as they continue to do business with you. 

3. Cross-promotions, joint events, and co-branded products

Sometimes, your brand may share a significant audience with another business. This is often seen with complementary businesses, like a local café and a bookstore, or a fitness studio and a health food store, which naturally attract each other's customers. Collaboration between such businesses can be a powerful strategy to boost revenue for both brands with minimal effort and cost.

Collaboration can take a lot of different forms, ranging from cross-promotions of products or services and co-branded products that feature the identity of both businesses, to joint events that highlight both brands, or even a shared loyalty program. It’s an exciting space that even big brands regularly take advantage of. 

As discussed in our recent podcast episode, Web3 can make these brand collaborations more seamless. For example, Web3 brands that use NFTs can examine their customers’ digital wallets to see if a large percentage of them hold NFTs from another Web3 brand. This indicates that a brand collaboration can share audiences and grow both brands’ presences. 

Think about your business and what's around it. Is there a potential partner you share a target audience with, but you're not stepping on each other's toes? What's one small step you could take today towards kicking off such an awesome collaboration?

4. Brand community

A Motista study on leveraging the value of emotional connections for retailers found that emotionally connected customers spend at least twice as much with their preferred retailers and have 306% higher lifetime value. 

Creating a brand community where your customers can share and discuss their interests not only associates your brand with a social space, but also makes them feel more involved and invested in your brand. This space can be physical or virtual depending on what best suits your business and customer base. 

For instance, if you run an online store, creating a dedicated forum or social media group where customers can exchange ideas, give feedback, and connect over shared interests can turn your brand into a living, breathing community. Or if your business has a physical presence, hosting regular events, workshops, or meet-ups can foster a sense of belonging and community among your customers.

5. Social media presence and stories

It’s no secret that social media is an incredibly effective medium to advertise your brand. Social media may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s hard to deny the power that it can have. Your social media channels are considered “owned media”. In other words, there’s no cost for you to post on social media channels regularly. Media that’s posted there can, if properly planned, reach a wide audience through the medium’s algorithm. 

And so the challenge becomes planning out the right posts to host on your social channels. A potential solution is posting stories about a product or campaign to spread awareness while making the initiative feel more personal. An example would be KatKin's YouTube campaigns or Instagram that highlight product unboxings, individual cats, and other cat-related media. Gymshark’s unconventional social media strategy that’s designed to target younger audiences may have more thought than you initially think. For example, their Instagram focuses on highlighting individual gyms or athletes that use their products. 

Think of your service or products, how could you incentivize your customers to create stories for you? 

6. Strategic content collaborations

Piggybacking off our previous example, your brand’s owned media doesn’t just have to be hosted on traditional social media sites. Some brands have found success with grassroot content collaborations like podcasts, Reddit AMAs, and strategic interviews. This spreads awareness about your brand in a method that doesn’t feel like advertising to general audiences. 

7. Small-scale paid advertising

Sometimes local marketing takes priority over large marketing campaigns. Google Ads can let you target keywords for products and services that people are searching for in your area. Setting up a Google Ad campaign is relatively easy, as you can customize your campaign goal and create advertisements directly through the Google portal. 

Remember, though, that this is paid. Google Ad costs can quickly get out of control if limits aren’t set and you don’t have realistic goals for your advertising campaign. Consider other types of small-scale paid advertising campaigns that may be less costly than Google AdsBut, these types of campaigns can generate a lot of local traffic if you’ve set up your location correctly!

8. List your business

Almost every city and county has some sort of local business directory where people can search for companies by name or location. You’d be surprised by how many services still utilize these lists for populating their websites or catalogs with information about local businesses. Consider finding some non-local directories that list various industry-specific businesses within a state or county.

This may seem like a simple step, but this casts a wide net and will ultimately lead to how people find your business on services like Yelp, Facebook, or Google Maps. Also consider tracking it a step further by listing yourself on industry-specific directories. 

9. Sponsor a cause

Spreading the word via fundraiser isn’t always financially viable, but it’s always possible to volunteer and get your business involved in a charity or industry event in your local area. These types of potential future events may not be easy to find, so pay close attention to local organizations and community groups to get in early on in the event planning process. 

10. Local farmers’ markets and events

These sorts of events are prime opportunities for small businesses to grow their customer base. These usually involve paying some fee in order to set up stands to conduct regular business at. These are especially useful in solitary or more rural communities where it’s difficult to connect with a wider audience. But, this also means that it will be the first impression of your brand for many people, so be friendly!

11. Local business advertising

Not everyone is online! Plenty of people still get their information through local newspapers and journals. Whether it's recommendations, notifications about new businesses, or just community insider scoops, there’s a large customer base that is still exposed to local business advertising. Besides buying ads out, there can also be mutually beneficial relationships where your business gives industry-specific advice in return for free advertising. 

12. Tangential marketing

Sit down and do some hard thinking about your customers and audience. Who are they? Why do they shop with your brand? What pain points do you solve for them? Finally, what other products or services are they generally interested in? For example, if you’re a food delivery service, it may not be so far of a stretch to say your customers are also interested in liquor delivery services. 

Tangential marketing involves marketing through things that your business doesn’t sell. Businesses that are tangentially related to yours aren’t direct competitors and may be open to advertising your brand with their products. In return, you can let them do the same with your product. This will boost both brands' awareness while also widening their customer reach.

13. Unique merch opportunities

Great logos, uniform colors, and brand merchandise. All of these are part of a business’s strong brand identity. A strong brand identity is instantly recognizable and immediately makes an audience start thinking about your brand. 

Additionally, for dedicated customers, wearing clothing with logos and branding is associated with self-expression. These customers are demonstrating that they associate your brand with their image or identity. This is pretty flattering! But it also is an opportunity to reach more potential customers through more unique merch. A T-shirt is an obvious choice but what other merchandise do your customers like? If you’re a sports club, a branded golf or gym bag may fit right into your customer’s image or identity. Unique merchandise can be both a new revenue stream and a marketing solution. 

14. Membership events and networking opportunities 

Local brand events are a way to engage your most loyal customers while also generating awareness around your business. These local events can be showcases of a new product or simply just a social hour where customers can discuss shared interests. Access to a brand event can even be a part of your loyalty program’s non-financial rewards. Experiential rewards tailored to individual customer interests are a loyalty trend that more businesses are following. 

15. Weekly newsletter

A business newsletter outlines new offerings, upcoming events, and other special opportunities that customers may be interested in. Newsletters are most commonly sent out through email and are, therefore, a form of email marketing. However, a newsletter is almost universally applicable to every industry, as it helps retain customers over long periods. 

However, we recommend populating your newsletter with supplementary content that contains industry-specific information. If your newsletter is just an advertisement for your brand, it’s unlikely that people will be very interested to read it. However, if it contains useful information that’s tangential or directly related to your industry, readers will be more open to advertisements that it contains. 

Web3 is here – is your brand ready? Subscribe to get the latest insights on leveraging Web3 for business growth and customer loyalty.  
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