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Why Marketing Matters

8 min read

Experts weigh in on why marketing is important and how you can use it to grow your business.


Natalie Ghidotti
President and CEO of Ghidotti Communications

Michael Kirkpatrick
Media Director at Kirkpatrick Creative

Nicolas Mayerhoeffer
Business Consultant with Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center

What’s a good nutshell strategy for a small business wanting to promote itself?

Mayerhoeffer: You cannot promote your business yourself if you don’t understand who your customers are and why people should buy from you. So the passion behind a business, it’s going to make it happen. If you don’t have the passion to get up in the morning, and want to promote yourself, it’s going to be difficult. Now, passion is everything but you have to know what you want to accomplish before you can do it. Take time to work on your business and not in it. Even if you have a brilliant idea, make sure that it sinks in with your core mission value. It needs to be relevant to your goals and then if not, you’re wasting your time. You need to think about those little things, but you need also to think about the branding and investing in your marketing strategy. And of course, social networking and connecting those people is everything.

Ghidotti: The great thing about the digital world we live in now is that there are some very effective marketing strategies that can be executed at far less costs than traditional marketing efforts. We talk a ton about content marketing with our small business clients because it’s a cost-effective strategy to reach your customers where they are with your thought leadership. Combine that content marketing with paid digital, earned and shared media strategies, and you have an integrated approach that will create results at minimum spend.

Michael Kirkpatrick: Every business is different, so different strategies are going to work to attract customers. Find where the bulk of your customers are, advertise to them consistently and, most importantly, track your results. Tracking your results is the key.

How much of a small business’ budget should be devoted to marketing?

Ghidotti: It’s hard to answer this question as so many things factor into this, but my rule of thumb for a budget is this: Understand (and put in writing) your goals and objectives. If you list out measurable objectives, and put strategies in place to reach these, you will come to an idea of how much you need to spend to move the needle. And, remember, it’s really true – you have to spend money to make money. But the good news for small business owners is that many of these strategies don’t cost a lot of money.

Mayerhoeffer: You don’t need a multi-million dollar budget to do good marketing. But again, it will depend on your product and services. Now based on my experience, it should be around 7%-9% of your gross revenue. But again, it depends on your target. If you have a lot of people that spend a lot of time reading papers, you’re going to have to use market research to help you determine how to reach them. How do you reach out to someone 65 years old? And how do you reach someone who’s 18 years old? You’re not going to do the same thing. But market research is going to help you a lot to determine who they are, where they are, what they are spending and what their consumption habits are.

Kirkpatrick: A company should take a look at their budget sheets and make a line item, based on a percentage, for marketing. For instance, if you are selling apples, take a percentage of the apple margin from last month and apply that to next month’s marketing budget. If you want to sell more apples, use a larger percentage. This is another reason why tracking is important: if you aren’t tracking the results of your advertising dollars, how do you know how many of them to allocate? When you know the amount that the advertising is bringing in, you know that when sales increase, so can the ad dollars — and by how much.

What types of marketing strategies are out there?

Ghidotti: There are so many marketing strategies to choose from. I like to refer to the PESO model for clients to better understand their options. PESO is Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned media all coming together to move a brand forward.

  • Paid media is paying to advertise your message through traditional (newspaper and broadcast) and digital (Google AdWords, social media, etc.) media.
  • Earned media is telling your story to media and influencers and positioning yourself as a trusted source for them.
  • Shared media is your social media footprint (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.).
  • Owned media is the portal you own to get the word out, such as your website, blog and e-marketing.

There are strong strategies in all of these buckets, but I see many small businesses benefiting most from a combination of earned media (telling their stories to media and influencers) and content marketing (writing and sharing their thoughts to position them as leaders in their industry and market).

Kirkpatrick: There are two basic strategies: Brand advertising, which is broad and reaches everyone, and lead-generation advertising, which is focused on the particular type of customer the business wants to attract. Kirkpatrick Creative focuses on a strong blend of brand and lead-generation advertising because there is no reason not to target your specific audience with all the tracking tools available today. Marketing strategies today are almost unlimited based on how deep or targeted the business wants to go to reach their consumer.

That being said, I would broadly divide marketing strategies into these main platforms: Traditional advertising, digital advertising, social media and public relations.

Why is marketing important for small businesses and why shouldn’t it be ignored?

Ghidotti: You can’t connect with your clients and customers without some level of marketing strategy. There are so many messages that customers are bombarded with every second of the day. If you aren’t marketing, you can’t possibly expect to compete in such a crowded messaging space. But don’t fret! Small business owners can still market and not break the bank. You just need to clearly know your goals and objectives and be smart about the strategies you use to reach them. Building relationships with your customers is the most important thing, and there are many ways to do that that don’t take an excess of time and resources. Customers who feel a real connection to you are your brand ambassadors and your best bet to attract more business. Take care of them, communicate with them and thank them for their business.

Kirkpatrick: In hard economic times, advertising is often one of the first things to be cut, but that is a mistake. Gaining new business and growing current business is the lifeblood of any company. There is no way to do this without a solid marketing plan.

What advice do you have for small businesses just starting their marketing strategies?

Kirkpatrick: With the marketing and advertising tools available today, there is no reason any business shouldn’t be marketing themselves. This can be on a larger or smaller level, but the keys should be the following: Target your customer, have a clear message, be consistent in your efforts with enough frequency to make a difference and track your results.

Using an agency might seem unaffordable, but it’s actually the opposite: a responsible agency will maximize marketing dollars, stay on budget, stay on target, and report results. DIY marketing often leads to wasted time and dollars in ineffective strategies while losing sight of your true marketing goals. Specifically, a digital advertising strategy can be a great starting point for any small business. Digital advertising can be used to target customers like no other medium, and the budgets can be as large or as small as required. We have also seen great results with small budgets using social media advertising. As new customers come from your advertising efforts, you can allocate more and more of your budget there until you are ready to move onto another medium.

What are some examples of small business marketing strategies that you’ve seen at work? What made them successful?

Mayerhoeffer: Marketing is not a seasonal function. And if you don’t know how to do it, think about the partners. Which partner do you need today? Or can you empower one of your employees?

Nexus Coffee & Creative in downtown Little Rock is a great example. Amy Counce is a client of the SBDC. Why is it so successful? Because she is really good at what she does, but she also empowers employees to do things.

When I was working in a corporation, I saw really bright people, but they were not empowered. So every time they came up with an idea, the senior management thought “They’re just employees, we don’t need to do that.” But marketing for companies starts from the inside. If you don’t know how to do it, and if you’re not good at communicating outside or being a public relations person or a social butterfly, then give that opportunity to someone else.

Ghidotti: During these recent weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have really seen some small businesses step up their marketing game in some very simple, yet effective ways. A great example is Mitchell Williams Selig Gates & Woodyard PLLC, a Little Rock-based law firm, and how they have used content marketing to position themselves as experts in COVID-19 legal issues. They have made a concerted effort to post multiple blogs daily on the firm’s website and via their social media platforms and e-marketing to share key thoughts and tips to navigate these challenging times. The content has been invaluable to their current and potential clients, and they are continuing to build relationships (and business) – positioning themselves well for the future.

Another example that I love from recent days: CustomXM, a North Little Rock printing company, has been working overtime to print free banners for local restaurants that tout their curbside pickup and delivery services. It’s an awesome (and needed) freebie for these restaurants right now. And the benefit to CustomXM is that the company will be the first printer those restaurants call when business is back to booming and they have printing needs.

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