Small business marketing is more than advertising. It’s more than brochures, banners and business cards. Marketing is the way you “package and present” your business to the world.
The foundation of your marketing is often boiled down to the 4 P’s:
- and promotion.
Product is the first pillar of your marketing foundation. What products and/or services you offer. A company that offers MRI equipment as a product has an entirely different marketing strategy than a company that sell paper clips and copy paper.
The second pillar of your marketing foundation is price. How much you charge for your products and services is a key element of your marketing. Do you charge more than your competitors? If so, why? Sometimes, charging more can be seen as a benefit. For more information, check out Advertising and Major Sale.
The third pillar of advertising is place or where your business is located. How important is place in your marketing mix? It depends. Location is critical for businesses such as coffee shops, gas stations, grocery stores, gyms, doctors offices, dentists offices, etc. For some goods, ecommerce has shifted the “place” where many businesses do business.
The fourth and final pillar is promotion. Promotion is what many business owners think of when they think of marketing. It might surprise you that promotion is dependent upon the first three P’s. Promotion includes business cards, brochures, websites, and of course buying advertising. Remember, that advertising is simply the act of buying an audience with your potential customers to communicate the other three P’s of your business.
Small business marketing is more than advertising.
The goal of promoting your business is ultimately to earn a treasured spot in your target audience’s mind.
Often, the best way to earn a spot in your audience’s mind is by doing the right thing. Smart business owners know that doing the right thing can earn the loyalty of an entire community. As an added bonus, social media can become a powerful agent, spreading your marketing messages throughout the community.
Small business marketing is more than deliberate advertising.
Sometimes marketing is taking a stand for what you personally believe is right. Debary Diner in central Florida diner is owned by Angie Ugarte. In August of 2021, she posted a sign on the front door in response to the death of 13 U.S. service members in a suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan. The sign slammed President Joe Biden’s chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal and simply stated that Biden supporters weren’t welcome in the diner. The story was picked up nationwide and within hours of the story going viral, the diner forced to temporarily close after not having enough food to meet the surge in demand. People drove for hours to visit the now famous diner. Ugarte told reporters she has received some “death threats and bomb threats,” but the reactions have mostly been favorable — and patrons are matching their words with food orders and cash.
Ugarte’s simple sign of black print of a white piece of paper has thrust her business into the national spotlight. She didn’t do it in the name of “marketing and promotion.” However, that’s how it’s worked out for her.
The weather may be unpredictable – but your marketing doesn’t have to be.
In Houston, Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale opened up two of his furniture store showrooms in August of 2017 to shelter tens of thousands of people who were driven from their homes due to Hurricane Harvey. Allowing homeless people and their pets to take up residence in your furniture showrooms may not seem like marketing in the traditional sense, but it was. Social media came alive with people heralding this act of kindness. News stations from across the country carried the story while local residents vowed via social media that their next furniture purchase would be from “Mattress Mack.”
It’s easy to draw a straight line between Jim McIngvale’s actions and future profit. After all, many of those refugees were going to be needing furniture when the flood waters receded. It was the right thing to do – with a clear path to the bottom line.
Small business marketing is more than paid advertising.
Sometimes an act of kindness can be more powerful than any amount of paid advertising. This is the case in the actions of the cruise line industry in reaction to Hurricane Irma and Maria.
After Hurricane Maria destroyed what Hurricane Irma left intact in Puerto Rico, news reports told of cruise ships providing supplies to the islands devastated by these two killer storms. They did this despite the fact that residents of these islands are probably not potential cruise customers. However, it truly qualified as an act of marketing or promoting because their actions have certainly changed the minds of prospective customers.
Marketing that makes a difference
Let me share a story to illustrate how POWERFUL the acts of kindness exhibited by cruise companies were. Earlier that year, I had gone on a Caribbean cruise. As our ship made its way to Cozumel, it lost power. I happened at night which made it more terrifying. While power was restored within an hour, conditions on the ship had already begun to deteriorate. The halls had begun to smell like sewage because a sewage pipe inside a wall had burst on the floor above us. The smell triggered my memory of the well publicized “poop cruise” stories. I hadn’t given those stories a second thought when I had booked this or any other cruises. After this cruise ended, as I watched passengers board the same ship that had limped into port, I vowed that was my final cruise.
When I learned of the hurricane relief efforts of that cruise line along with others, my thinking changed. I was suddenly happy that I had been a customer. As a matter of fact, I began thinking that I should book another cruise. That is a truly powerful act of marketing and promotion.
Small Business Marketing is More than Advertising
People are not creatures of logic but rather are creatures of emotion. An act of caring and compassion can soften even the hardest hearts. On the other hand, people tend to recoil when a business treats people badly. Sometimes, advertising can’t overcome the acts of bullies and jerks. These stories tend to go viral as well as was the case of a car dealer in Florida.
A local auto repair business owner had serviced the cars of an elderly couple for the better part of three decades. A year after her husband passed, the widow brought the car in. The woman told the mechanic she couldn’t bear to drive it. The emotional pain was too great. The business owner recommended she visit a local car dealer with a brand known for its reliability. She left his shop and went to the dealership on a Thursday. The following Monday morning, she returned to the shop in tears. The salesman at the dealership had locked her in a room. After hours of emotional abuse, he ended up selling her the most expensive car on the lot. He then added every expense possible to the car. He even added light up tire caps to the eighty year old woman’s car.
Word-of-mouth marketing gone awry
The mechanic called the dealership. He asked them to rescind the deal even though the time for that had passed. The dealer and salesman said the woman was an adult and made an adult decision. They probably thought that was the end of that, but it wasn’t. It was just the beginning. The auto repair shop owner made it his mission to make this story known. He contacted every local group and media outlet who would listen. Upon learning of this injustice, other agencies and companies publicized this story.
I moved to the area about a decade after this happened and noticed the sign in his shop and asked about it. Even though I was new to the area, I was well aware of this car dealer. He absolutely saturates the market with his advertising. Now I know why. Ten years later, he’s still fighting to keep ahead of the negative publicity generated from him being a jerk.
In the long run, they could have saved a lot of money by doing what’s right. Instead they have to saturate the market in radio, television, billboards, online advertising to stay in business. It’s what you have to do when this kind of negative publicity hits the fan.
There’s more to small business marketing than just advertising. Advertising is purchasing the ability to communicate with your target audience. You control the message and delivery in advertising.
Word-of-mouth advertising is the holy grail of business building because it’s free. However, as you can see from the examples above, it’s not free. You’re just not paying to deliver the message. You’re also not able to control the message.
The moral to these stories: You can do what’s right and reap the rewards or you can act like a jerk and pay the consequences. By doing the “right thing” for people who will never be a customer, a cruise line has retained at least one customer who had previously sworn off cruising. Texans who have pledged their loyalty to “Mattress Mack” fill the internet. A small diner in central Florida is so busy they ran out of food and are fielding international orders because of a sign they posted.
By the way, these “good deeds” are known in the business as “earned media.” In many ways it’s better than going viral. Local and even national media have picked up these stories, extended the good will these acts of kindness have generated for months and even years.
Edited for content September 9, 2021