What is marketing and how can small businesses use it?

Whether you own a small business, run a restaurant chain, work at a non-profit or are starting up a software company, marketing is probably part of your job (even if you don’t think it is).  

What is marketing? 

Any activity that helps move a product or service to the consumer is marketing. It can come in virtually any form, including search, social media, content, print, television and more. We’ll go over eight types of marketing strategies below.   

How the internet has changed marketing 

Until the internet boom, most marketing efforts focused on print, radio and television. And businesses used data from in-person surveys, interviews and in-store evidence to inform their tactics. Today, marketing can reach people through a broad variety of digital channels like blogs, apps, websites, social media, podcasts, email and online and in-person events.  

With data available almost instantly, and the power of artificial intelligence (AI), modern marketers are more connected and more informed than ever. Using advanced tools, this means they can respond to customers’ needs faster, delivering the right message at the perfect moment.  

That’s not to say that pre-internet marketing practices are dead. But they’re now a cog in the wheel, rather than the wheel itself. By taking a holistic approach, integrated marketing allows organizations to create cohesive messages and experiences for consumers through a mix of owned, paid and earned marketing channels. 

Who is responsible for marketing at a small business? 

Marketing is generally defined as any activity that helps move a product or service to the consumer. Basically, the job of marketing lands squarely on the shoulders of anyone who creates a product or service, identifies the target audience, promotes the product or sells it. In most scenarios, this includes almost everyone. 

What are owned, paid and earned channels, exactly?  

  • Owned marketing is any channel that you create and control. It could be your company’s blog, an email marketing effort, your YouTube channel, Facebook or Instagram page, and your website. And even though you can’t truly “own” your social media pages, you do control the content on them. Also, you don’t have to pay to use them, which is why they’re considered “owned” channels.  
  • Paid channels come into play any time you leverage a third-party channel, or you pay to put your content in front of an audience. Print and TV advertising fall into this category, as do sponsorships, placed media and advertorials, search engine marketing (SEM), paid influencer posts and promoted posts on social media platforms.  
  • Earned channels encompass any exposure that’s given to you by others without a fee. They can include search engine optimization (because you cannot buy your organic search ranking), news coverage, editorial articles, word-of-mouth advertising, unpaid reviews, social media shares and mentions from influencers, celebrities and others that you did not pay for. 

Eight marketing strategies for your business  

As you work to find the right mix of owned, paid and earned marketing for your organization, eight tactics exist that can help you find the “sweet spot” for your customers and your company.  

1. Content marketing 

Content marketing helps your organization tell a story and make the personal connection of your products and services to your target audiences. Content marketing is an excellent way to usher your audience through the marketing funnel, from awareness to deeper consideration and purchase. Content can take the form of videos, blog posts, e-books, articles, webinars, interactive landing pages and customer stories. All types of content should align with messaging that is meant to emotionally resonate with your audience, which makes it an effective inbound marketing and lead generation tactic. 

2. Social media marketing 

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter deliver “snackable,” sharable content that has the potential to go viral. Through social media marketing, you can connect with your customers (past, current and potential) where they’re at, solve their problems in real-time, share product updates, news stories and show some brand personality.  

Just be sure to tailor your content for each platform so you can connect with your audience in the best way. For instance, Instagram is all about telling stories through pictures and videos, whereas Facebook is terrific for longer written posts and targeting specific groups. 

YouTube is perfect for long- and short-form videos, how-to’s and funny and aspirational videos. And Twitter is where you can focus shorter content that’s meaningful or pithy. Don’t forget. You can “go live” or “live-tweet” on any of these channels to allow your follower’s deeper and faster access to your brand and products.  

Social media marketing can act as an organic, paid and even an earned channel. For example, while you post your own content, you can also reach new audiences by paying for social media influencers or geo-target sponsored posts. For earned, people may (and probably will) share your content or even generate their own content (like a review) about your brand. 

3. Email marketing 

By using email marketing, you can utilize content marketing to nurture customers further. You can also use email to offer incentives, like coupons, free trials or access to exclusive content and share your story. Think of email marketing like you do direct mail, but with the opportunity for immediate, measurable action. 

4. Search marketing 

When you work to gain traffic and visibility from search engines through paid and unpaid efforts, that’s search marketing. It encompasses content for both SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing). The first will give you earned listings in the search engine results pages, and the latter provides you paid search listings. By using both, you can help searchers find you when they’re looking for your product or service, or even your competitors. 

5. Event marketing 

When you give people an experience, they’ll remember your brand, and maybe even love your brand. Which is why event marketing matters, even in the digital age. By hosting online or in-person events for your current clients, you can share exclusive details or discounts, introduce them to new products, learn about their pain points, find new ways to solve them and ultimately enrich their lives.  

Additionally, with events designed specifically for prospective customers, you can focus on introducing your products, share stories from current customers and show how what you do can improve what they do. And you can offer special introductory packages, products or rates designed specifically for new customers. 

6. Guerilla marketing 

By delivering surprise-and-delight moments, guerilla marketing allows you to engage customers in a memorable (and usually low-cost) way. Whether you do that by adding an eye-catching piece of interactive art to an ordinarily mundane street or giving away coffee at a busy train stop, guerilla marketing is a great way to pique people’s interest. With guerilla marketing, you get to flex your creative marketing muscles, but make sure what you do is legal or that you have the correct permits.  

7. Direct mail marketing 

Rooted in traditional marketing, direct mail marketing uses standard mail to ship out catalogs, coupons, flyers and even swag to new or potential customers. It can be a great way to reach people in a specific zip code or delivery area, reach out to populations that don’t use digital media as much as others or help you stay connected to your audience outside the digital realm. It can also be a great way to reach a lot of important people at large companies in account-based marketing.  

8. Advertising (distribution) 

Meet your audience where they are. Use insights to find out what channels they love and spend your advertising dollars there. Knowing your customers and using the right mix of advertising distribution methods is critical. 

Experiment with digital advertising options, like paid social, display advertising, banners, paid search, advertorials and paid media, and if you have the budget mix in traditional TV, print and radio. As you spend, make sure you’re tracking performance metrics and KPIs so that you can optimize your spend on all channels.  

As your audience grows and your products evolve, so too will your marketing messaging and channel mix. Thus, rather than discounting the marketing tactics that may not work for your organization today, keep tabs on performance metrics as a benchmark for the future. In today’s marketplace, one can only imagine what new and exciting channels we’ll need to market with next. 

For more small business solutions, check out The Growth Center, Grow my business

Microsoft 365 Team

Microsoft 365 Team

The Microsoft 365 team is focused on sharing resources to help you start, run, and grow your business.
Microsoft 365 Team