Anybody whose job responsibilities includes promoting a business has asked themselves at one time or another “How do I promote my business?” As a small business owner, I certainly have grappled with this question many times over the years. The ground rules have changed over the last decades when it comes to the promotion of a business. With over 30 years of experience and perspective in the design and advertising business, I offer the following insights for what it’s worth:
– Budgets determine your options – duh! Television, radio, outdoor advertising, and big event sponsorships, can be great mediums for promotion, but since few businesses have the budgets for these options, so I am not going to focus on these. It is the smaller businesses that face real challenges.
– Is print dead? Once, print advertising, direct mail promotions, trade show literature, and printed product/service brochures and selling sheets, made up the lions’ share of design work that was being done by professional advertising agencies and design studios. Selling sheets, company brochures and tri-fold mailers were the staples of nearly every business spending any money at all on promotion. Those days are gone. Newspapers and magazines struggle to survive with the decline in advertising. Commercial offset printers have gone out of business in droves due to the lack of printing being done. So, why did this monumental shift in advertising spending occur?
– The recession brings change. During the recession…which some feel is still with us, businesses saw a decrease in sales revenue and advertising budgets — historically the first to be cut in slow times. Maintaining an Internet-presence and some form of online promotion was still relatively cheap or could even be free. However, the changes in spending patterns were already in motion, even before the recession hit.
– The rise of the Internet. Younger, tech-savvy, consumers, who are known to spend more on discretionary purchases, were becoming a larger percentage of the market. This group of consumers had grown up with a cell phone in hand, and were computer savvy. They frequented social networking web sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc., and relied on the internet for information. In addition, the rise of the internet and the proliferation of personal computers, spawned a myriad of consumer-information web sites like Yelp, and successful online discounters like Ebay and Amazon.
– Can you hear me now? Advertisers, recognizing the trend, followed the younger crowd to the internet. But, how to get their attention? Having a company website that could become a landing page for online promotions was the first order of business. Next up, was search engine ad placements, and banner display ads to drive traffic to their web sites. Then, utilize social networking sites to get the word out and hype upcoming product releases. Yes, videos on YouTube too. Big advertisers had now shifted to internet-based platforms to deliver their message. And they are constantly looking for new trends.
– So, how can a small business with a limited budget promote? The best bang-for-the-buck for small business today is to create a website for your business. It is an advertisement to the world and can turn up in relevant searches. Make sure it contains complete details about your business and product/service offerings, and that people can easily contact you through your site. Google your business yourself and see how you rank in the results. Do the same in Yahoo and Bing. Get listed in directories of local businesses and services. Consider spending on Google AdWords or Yahoo Small Business Listings. Establish a Yelp page for your business and ask customers to leave you feedback. Do the same with Facebook. Printed mailers and hand-outs can still be useful tools for your business and are relatively cheap to produce. Take a critical look at your signage if you are a retailer. That is really a billboard! Establishing a presence using multiple avenues is still good solid advice in this new age. Experiment using different approaches and messaging. Good luck!