Creative Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses

Even without the marketing budgets of big businesses, SMEs continue to find ingenious ways to appeal to new customers. Click to read five examples of strategies any small business can use to stay relevant and win new leads.

1. Use Content Marketing

Pokemon bar sign marketing tip_

In 2012, less than a year after launching, The Dollar Shave Club released a short video that went viral in a big way. Produced on a budget of only $4,500 (approximately £3,500), this video earned the small start-up 9.5 million views, 23,000 Twitter followers, 76,000 Facebook fans and 12,000 new customers in only two days. As of July 2016, Unilever purchased the business for $1 billion.

Creative content marketing rocketed Dollar Shave Club to success. Their video was quirky in a way that appealed perfectly to their audience (millennial Americans looking for cheap razor blades) and it was built on a solid product.

Of course, you don’t need to make a viral video to participate in some creative advertising. Something as simple as a playful sign set in front of your storefront has the potential to pique the interest of passers-by.

2. Target Customers Where They Live

One enterprising photographer found unconventional success by advertising in the bathroom of a local bar. Upon realising that many of her clients frequented one local establishment, she hung inexpensive ads on the bathroom doors and watched new customers flood in.

When you participate in mainstream advertising, your ads are up against all of your competitors’. Instead, try to find innovative ways to meet new customers—you might be able to sidestep the competition.

3. Give Back to Your Customers

Amélies, a seafood restaurant in Porthleven, Cornwall, keeps customers coming back for more during the winter months with a weekly 20% discount for locals. "We pride ourselves on the personal touch. Keeping someone’s favourite table free for their weekly visit or ordering a special bottle of wine for a wedding anniversary sets us apart from the ten other restaurants in town," owner Sam Sheffield-Dunstan told The Guardian.

Personalised "thank yous", free giveaways, promotional discounts, and a healthy amount of social media interaction with your customers are all great ways to give back to the people supporting your business.

4. Set Up a Referral Program

Speaking of giving back to your customers, referral programs are a great way to give back and garner some positive word-of-mouth for your business. Referral programs are simple bonuses that you award existing customers whenever they recommend your business to a friend. For example, when you refer someone to La Belle Assiette, both you and the person you referred get £30 towards the next event you book.

5. Tap into Current Trends

There’s no better way to draw a crowd than to tap into whatever hype is currently gripping the nation.

For example, Pokémon Go is a mobile game with an estimated 9.5 million players, which allows you to find digital creatures in the real world. Players find items in this game by visiting Pokéstops, which are always situated in real-life locations. Many small businesses, such as Mad Fox Brewing, have found tremendous success by advertising their shops as Pokéstops or by tapping into the craze with discounts and promotional offers.

harry potter menu marketing tip

Businesses worldwide borrowed the success of Harry Potter in a similar fashion. One neighbourhood in Calgary, Alberta actually transformed into "Diagon Alley" for a day—pubs re-branded themselves as "The Three Broomsticks" or "The Hog’s Head," while the local bookstore changed its name to "Flourish & Blotts" for 24 hours to promote the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Thousands of locals came from across the city to attend this event and shops enjoyed lineups that stretched down the street.

The lesson to take away is that it pays to keep your ear to the ground and find creative ways to use current trends to attract customers, you don't always need to pay a professional marketing consultant, sometimes the simple ideas are the best!

About the author

Mike Stephens FCII is a respected senior industry professional and Fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) with well over 40 years’ varied experience in the commercial insurance sector as a director, underwriter, and operational improvement manager.