Small Business Online Marketing Ideas

For the small business looking for marketing ideas, migrating from direct mail to online, the choices can be overwhelming.

Small businesses that use direct mail often don't have a large staff to identify digital alternatives. These three ideas (below) are for the organization trying to decide what to do online when direct mail response is declining, costs are increasing, and inevitably, profits are shrinking. 

Several days ago, I spoke with the new owner of a small business we worked with a few years ago.

His challenge was typical of a lot of small business owners using direct mail: declining response rates, with lower profit, exacerbated by the fact that postage, once again, has recently gone up.

When we worked with the previous owner of this company a few years ago, we identified a more responsive direct mail package and mailing list, built a new website, and got him started with a modest pay-per-click campaign. We wanted to test email, but the owner didn't want to use email. The outcome from these efforts was a combination of identifying a better mailing list; the capability for responders to complete a lead form on a new, search-engine-optimized website; and a Google Adwords campaign that put them back in the black.

Fast forward five years to now, and direct mail response has declined yet again, while costs are up. The new owner wanted to rebrand his company with a different website. But in his attempt to save money, and having no clue what he was doing, the "new" website became a brand liability and all optimization was lost. And the Google Adwords campaign faltered because of the website switch.

So we were back to rescuing his company and the livelihood of the owner and two employees. 

In the interest of keeping a plan of action simple and as cost-effective as possible for any small business seeking marketing ideas, here are three online marketing initiatives that should be explored.

1. Website Review
Most small businesses have a website. But what is its purpose, and is it effective at achieving that? Ask someone to evaluate it who will understand what websites should do for a company. Get an audit. Invest the money to make it a stronger representation of your brand; create great content, videos, and don't forget your all-important opt-in form to capture email addresses. Make sure it's optimized for the search engines. And make sure you claim your local listing on the search engines if you're a local company.

2. Manage Expectations if You Test Email to Prospects
Because email marketing costs less than direct mail, it's natural to think you can divert all your efforts to email and achieve the same results. But that's often not the case, especially when you're prospecting and not emailing a customer list. Making email prospecting more challenging is that there is no established relationship between the marketer and recipient. This isn't to say that email prospecting shouldn't be used, but rather, run the numbers first to manage expectations (see our past column in Target Marketing titled Crack the Email Prospecting Code). If you're going to use email, make sure you have a compelling, relevant landing page and opt-in form to begin nurture marketing with regular email or direct mail follow-up (more about nurture marketing in a future blog post).

3. Give Google Adwords and PPC a Shot
Google Adwords or other sources offering pay-per-click enables you to set a daily budget comfortable for you. It can be ramped up, or shut down, without a lot of cost exposure. But you need strong text copy, understand your keywords, and have a powerful landing page. There, someone who clicks will opt-in by asking for more information. You can add those individuals to your nurture marketing campaign.

Bottom line: If you're a small business looking for marketing ideas that are quick and affordable,  these three initiatives are a good place to start.


Gary Hennerberg

After a lot of years in marketing and sales, this is what I know works:

Stories sell. Think unique. Stimulate emotion. Close deals. And here are a few other gems from my new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code.” Know the persona, interpret your offer and let your prospect give themselves permission to buy. That’s how the brain is wired. It’s how people think.

What else? When I’m not breaking down complex topics (or ones marketers over-complicate) into easy-to-grasp stories that sell, I crunch numbers. Manage projects. Write. Teach. Lead.