There’s nothing small about a small business. If you run one, you know this. “Small” businesses - companies with 500 employees or less – employ nearly half the U.S. workforce. They create a third of U.S. exports. They’re responsible for the lion’s share of net new jobs.
And yet, small businesses often neglect the very thing that would make them even bigger: marketing. In the WASP 2017 State of Small Business Report, we found that the smaller the company, the less budget they’ve probably allocated to promote themselves.
Part of this may be simple budget constraints; part of it may be a lack of time -- but the result is the same: businesses suffer if they neglect their marketing.
Fortunately, there may be a solution. Like most things in life, it helps to step back and get a larger perspective. Because marketing isn’t just marketing. Marketing – as in promoting your company – happens beyond ads, websites, social media or events. It happens via customer service, in how you run your workplace and in what your customers say about your business. And that’s just a partial list.
If you’re running a small business, consider these three big ideas for your marketing in the upcoming year. They’ll make you see how your company promotes itself in an entirely new way. They might change how you see a few other departments, too.
1. Customer service is marketing
Is your business on social media? If you said “yes,” you’re probably there in part to offer customer service support via this channel. It’s something most customers expect now, and it’s become one of the primary activities of companies on social media.
That’s one way marketing and customer service have blended, but it isn’t the only one. Remember online reviews? They’re critical to business success and can serve both as a way to attract people to your company or to repel people if your services are bad. When reviews are positive, they’re some of the best advertising you can get.
Don’t forget word of mouth marketing, either. This works basically like online reviews, but it’s done offline, typically between people who know each other. Those word-of-mouth referrals are the most effective type of marketing, and they’re usually based on customer service experiences.
I think many small companies already get that customer service is a type of marketing – and a very effective type of marketing, at that. It might be why “improve existing customer experience & retention” is the favorite tactic for raising revenue among small businesses.
2. Recruiting is marketing
What’s the #1 challenge for small businesses? Hiring new employees.
Given how big a deal this is, maybe it’s time for human resources to get some help, perhaps from the marketing department.
Marketing, as you know, is about attraction -- attracting people to your products and services. Good marketing combined with a good work environment can be extremely effective at attracting prospective employees, especially if you create and share content about what it’s like to work at your business.
It also helps if you showcase your employees in your marketing materials and make them visible to your customers.
These tactics don’t just attract more employees; they attract better employees, too. If prospective employees can learn about your company and what it’s like to work there, they’ll be more likely to “self-select.” In other words, your marketing/ recruitment can help screen out people who wouldn’t fit in, long before they ever submit an application. This can have a powerful effect. It can deliver employees who are attuned to your company’s mindset from the beginning, making them more likely to stay with your firm and rise up through the ranks.
As your employees are more successful and happy, they’re more likely to spread word that your company is a great place to work, thus attracting even more like-minded people.
3. Every one of your employees is in marketing
“The customer experience” is getting a lot of attention these days. We’re talking about the customer experience when we talk about marketing, customer service, even billing and fulfillment and everything else. Every customer-facing action is one piece of the customer experience.
Your employees are the ambassadors of your company’s customer experience. Every phone call they answer, every appointment they make is a branding event for the customer. Every action should meet the customer’s expectations and hopefully exceed them.
And all of this – every interaction – is a type of marketing. If an employee is talking to an existing customer, it’s retention marketing. If they’re talking to a prospect, it’s customer acquisition.
Most small businesses already get this. In addition to all the “customer experience” management, small businesses are already recruiting every employee into some marketing work. Sometimes it’s writing a blog post or sharing on social media; or maybe it’s sharing their expertise for marketing materials.
We know that small businesses (especially very small businesses) tend to underinvest in marketing. Interestingly, it’s also one of the things they’re least likely to outsource. This puts marketing in a squeeze. There’s not much budget and no time available for it, either.
Perhaps, if we connected marketing more closely to the goal of improving existing customer experience and retention, then maybe it could get more budget; or maybe we just need to stretch the definition of what marketing is. Then small business owners might be more willing to invest in customer-service-as-marketing, recruitment-as-marketingn and employees-as-marketing-staff.
If we can understand how marketing affects other departments, it might look like a better investment.
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