#TBT: Old School Tools Still Work for Small Business Marketing

Business.com / Sales / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

If you think everything is digital, think again. A 2016 survey shines a light on how old school marketing still work for small businesses.

The good news about small business marketing is 87 percent of U.S. small businesses invest part of their revenue in marketing; the bad news is they’re not investing enough.

These figures come from the recently released 2016 State of Small Business Report. While a small marketing budget is better than none at all:

  • Nine percent invest nothing
  • 25 percent invest less than three percent
  • 29 percent invest only four to six percent

Despite the small investments, businesses are making the most of the marketing tools available to them:

  • 54 percent are using email to reach their customers
  • 51 percent use a company website
  • 48 percent use social media
  • 45 percent use old-school word-of-mouth

Related Article: Inspiration Station: 6 Killer Marketing Tips from Actual Business Owners

Don’t Be Too Quick to Knock the Old School Stuff

While much of marketing is conducted online, there’s always a place for traditional practices such as print and broadcast advertising, publications, direct mail, trade shows, media relations and telemarketing. Survey respondents indicated these old school staples make up 44 percent of their marketing tool box.

The survey shows that businesses understand that online tools should supplement, but never fully replace, the traditional methods. Why? For starters, some of your potential customer groups, especially older adults and those without Internet access, don’t go online.  For the groups that are connected, multiple touches increase the likelihood they’ll notice, retain and act on the information you provide.

For the groups that are connected, multiple touches increase the likelihood they’ll notice, retain and act on the information you provide.

Here’s how they all work together:

A potential customer sees your social media post on her news feed, but it doesn’t mean much to her.  She’s reminded about the post after seeing your business profiled on a daytime talk show. She then hears good things about your business from a friend and decides to check out your website. A few days later, she notices your sign as she drives home from work. She pulls into your parking lot, goes inside and buys the item she saw online.

Would she have responded the same way if you reached her solely with social media posts? It’s highly unlikely.

It's easy to work in some of the old school methods:

1. Work with local media - There are two ways to approach this. The first involves sharing newsworthy information about your business with your local news stations and print publications. Information about your products, services or prices is not going to cut it. News outlets will send you straight to their advertising department if you pitch a story like that.  In order to be newsworthy, your story needs to focus on at least one of the following elements:

  • Timeliness - News is new and happening now, not in the past. The business section of most local papers runs small stories or blurbs about new business openings, employee achievements, expansion plans and other current business happenings.

  • Human interest - Stories about real people elicit an emotional reaction. These stories can create a personal connection with your business. Does your business have an employee with an unusual or inspiriting life story? Does your business have a close relationship with a community non-profit organization?

  • Consequence, conflict and impact - Your story must impact the community. What are the hot topics in your community? Is there any way your business can share its expertise or provide solutions on some of those issues? For example, if crime is a big topic, a home security company can share tips on how to prevent residential burglaries.


If you don't have a strong news angle for local media, consider offering them sponsored content. Many daytime talk shows will promote businesses and their products in exchange for "promotional consideration." The fees vary from market to market, but a five-minute segment on a talk show can reach and impact more people than a 30-second commercial or full-page newspaper ad.

2. Encourage word-of-mouth: Happy customers are your best marketers; they'll share their positive feedback with their friends, which can lead to brand new customers coming through your door. Reward these customers, and their referrals, by offering a thank-you discount. Share their positive comments on your business website so others will be able to see them as well.

3. Signs, logos and visual design: Many small businesses don't invest much in their visual identity, which unfortunately means they don't stand out or get remembered in a sea of competitors. Work with a graphic designer to develop a logo and visual theme that defines your business and creates a strong first impression, then use that design and theme on everything potential customers might see, business cards, websites, letterhead, packaging, employee uniforms and signs. Make sure your external signs can be quickly read and easily seen from a distance.

Related Article: Post Like a Pro: Social Media Tips for Every Small Business

Keep Up With Marketing's New Best Practices

It's important for businesses to keep up with what's working in today's marketing world, both old school practices and current trends. Unfortunately, that's not happening in many small businesses.

The State of Small Business Report also revealed:

  • They’re neglecting a few tools: Businesses are under-utilizing promising marketing tools such as search engine optimization (SEO), blogging and video.

  • They’re missing a few important things on their websites: Only half provide company locations, phone numbers and email addresses, and 32 percent provide visitors with the opportunity to purchase their products/services. Check out the details below:

    Options provided on small business websites
    While most small businesses include information about their products or services on their websites, many are missing other key elements online visitors are looking for.


  • They’re not tapping their greatest marketing resource: Employees are underutilized in small business marketing. Twenty-six percent ask employees to help create marketing content, and only a third of them ask employees to share content on social media accounts.

  • Social media use is not universal. One in five small businesses does not use social media.

Related Article: Meet the New Rising Star: Video Marketing Has Taken Center Stage

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