10 ways SMEs can really make their marketing work

SMEs - ways to make your marketing work

Do you ever wonder how smaller businesses can possibly compete against global behemoths? 

As you’ll know, if you have been reading my articles, I use the 10 pillars of marketing framework as my bedrock, as I passionately believe it can be applied to any business.

However, there are some marketing options – both strategic and tactical, that are simply not possible for smaller businesses or early stage projects.

There’s worse news: extensive research has proved (perhaps unsurprisingly) that big brands, who command your industry’s space with great sales and advertising, don’t have to work as hard at maintaining their market share or the available share of voice (their salience, or how present they are in people’s minds) – because… well, they are big and successful, often with years of business and marketing behind them.

However, all is very, very far from lost. There are a range of smart moves that SMEs can make that will help them to do better marketing and simultaneously scale. Here are 10 of them.

1) Constant market orientation

As a smaller business, you have the benefit of being closer to your customers. So make sure that you involve your customers in your marketing process. Talk to them, get their feedback, use their input to help shape your positioning and future communications. Remember to always be orientated towards your customers – and not towards sales, products or advertising. 

2) Hacking the marketing process 

The ten pillar process is very clear. But with small businesses the research phase that one might apply to a bigger business can be compressed (more of that later), and crucially with a smaller business, you can get market orientated, then segment your market, set your targets based on your own ethnographic interviews (aka conversations with customers), then set your positioning, create your objectives, and then move to dispensing your most appropriate marketing tactics.  

3) Focus on qualitative insights

The option of extensive quantitative research may not be possible for your business. But do put in the time to collect data on your existing customers. Talk to them. Get to know them. Use their feedback. Do in depth interviews. Don’t worry at this stage about quantitative data – you can do that later – but mine your existing customers for as much information as they are happy to give you. Go deep, watch, interact and spend time with them and feed everything you learn back into the marketing mix.

4) Position against the big players

Once you have chosen your targets and how you will position your business and products to them, don’t forget that being small gives you a great opportunity to position against the market leaders in your industry or sector.

What do they do that is worse than you? What do you always do better? Here is a great advantage of being small: shadow salience. By placing yourself on the same stage you can bask in a little of their glory/hype/awareness. Once you have found a fault in their product or service, you can position against them. The good news is that doesn’t make sense for big brands to respond. So its ‘win/win’.

5) Understand the real power of pricing

If you don’t already, you need to totally understand the power of choosing the right price. Don’t rush to discount – and never succumb to the lure of the sale. If you get your pricing right, and keep your price and service premium, you will make more money from less customers. 

If you build your brand properly you’ll be making far more profit, from far less production and far less customers. Let that sink in. Remember: a 30% discount is not the same as 30% off your profit. The impact is far wider across your whole business – including customers’ perception of your brand and your ability to measure the effectiveness of your strategy and marketing.

6) Prioritise Strategy

Too often in business it is all about trouble-shooting the day-to-day. Avoid endless fire-fighting and reactive communications. Instead, adopt a clear strategy for your business and for your marketing: research, plan, choose tactics. Don’t just rush out communications. If you don’t give yourself time for strategy – you’ll only ever be fire-fighting and more often chasing your tail. You’ll never have the opportunity to plan and have real impact in a specific area.

Good strategy presents you with choice: what you will and what you won’t do. If you don’t get strategic you can’t focus your resources. Above all, you will need to say ‘no’ to some things, as it is simply impossible to do everything for everyone all the time.

Research, segmenting, targeting, positioning, objectives – then tactics. Repeat the mantra. 

7) Split your marketing budget into 2 – Long term brand building and short term activation marketing. 

Without quantitative research, it is more tricky to establish and monitor brand behaviour, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. 

By activation marketing I mean specific, highly targeted communications where the ‘Call To Action’ is clear. By brand awareness marketing I mean communications where there is no specific ask with the message, and the focus is on raising awareness and positioning your brand in the mind of your customers.

As a new or young business, research suggests a 65/35 % split (activation/brand awareness) is good for the first couple for years, but after that, pay close attention to the split, and move more towards a 50/50 activation/brand awareness split. You are aiming for a 35/65 as your brand develops.

8) Keep your brand portfolio small

As a small business (and especially when in startup mode), there’s a temptation to increase the number of products, and give them all different names – effectively creating a ‘house of brands’. When you are a small business this approach is proven to dilute your brand offering. As much as you can, when you add new products, keep them all branded the same. Have as few brands as possible. One ideally.

9) Allow your brand to evolve

Beware that over time the brand or product you first brought to market may need to evolve, and it may grow into areas or find customers that you had not predicted. Be prepared for this, if you listen to your market you may associate different qualities with your product, and your marketing will be more customer orientated.

10) Remember: this should be fun

If all of this seems daunting, above all remember running your business, and doing the marketing should genuinely be fun. If it isn’t, then it is probably time to stop doing it. As a small business, it is a slog, but you have an opportunity to move more deftly than big organisations, and to make a real, lasting impact. 

Go for it!

Are you the ‘David’ to an industry ‘Goliath’? Are you challenged by how you are going to further grow or scale your business? Research, strategy and tactics could be the answer to generating your business the sales you deserve.

Will 2023 be the year that you make your marketing more strategic, and deliver the results that your business needs? 

Book a 15-minute chat to see how I can help you get a better return on your marketing investment.