Eight Low-Cost Marketing Smarts for Small Retailers


by Joel Norton |

Marketing for a small retail business can be both challenging and rewarding, but unless you have the basics down, it will likely be unsuccessful. Joel Norton, Chief Strategy Officer of Boost Marketing shares his top tips for small e-commerce businesses.

Nothing is Free

The old saying ‘time equals money’ is true. If you’re looking for ways to promote your business and drive awareness, cheaply, you could be tempted to develop some wild and wacky PR stunts in the hope you’ll generate masses of publicity Richard Branson style. Whilst these types of events can be successful in generating awareness, they typically take a tremendous amount of effort to organise, and the results are often difficult to predict.
Even though ‘materials’ may not cost you much, the ‘time’ component can be astronomically high.

Tip #1: Develop a budget for any marketing activity upfront, and make sure your time is included in the equation.

Strategy Before Tactics

Most business owners suffer from ‘marketing idea of the week’, producing random marketing campaigns designed to drive short-term sales. Sometimes they work, but most of the time they don’t, which causes endless frustration and of course even more random ideas.

We always say to our clients “Strategy Before Tactics”. Firstly, stop trying to be all things to all people, narrow your focus and identify who is your Ideal Customer. Secondly establish a way to differentiate your business in a way that matters to your Ideal Customer, and thirdly, define your brand for your Ideal Customer to deliver the core difference.

I liken it to the phrase “Ready, Aim, Fire”. “Ready, Aim” relates to Strategy – Who you’re talking to; What you say; and How you’re going to deliver it. “Fire” relates to tactics – how you implement your strategy – the website, advertisement, mailing, etc. Unfortunately most businesses go “Ready, Fire, Aim”, which means they’re just shooting randomly and unlikely to hit much.

Tip #2: Be crystal clear on who is your Ideal Customer, and what your point of difference is.

Act Like a Successful Retailer

What do the following retailers have in common?  Woolworths, Myer, Vintage Cellars, Peter Alexander, Country Road, Bravissimo, Baby’s Got Style, MyCatwalk.com, Amazon, Fishpond.com.au.
Would you like a clue? They all have some connection with my home, either because we (my wife and I) have bought from them, or she visits their store regularly.

The correct answer is of course, they’re all direct marketing companies. And by that I mean they actively capture data on their customers and prospects, and communicate with them on a regular basis. And the reason they do this is because it works.

Tip #3: Don’t reinvent the wheel – mirror what the successful retailers do.

(Notice I didn’t say ‘big’ retailers. I know some business owners have an aversion to getting ‘big’ so I’m not suggesting that but I am suggesting you mirror what the successful retailers do, and in this case that means building a list, and maintaining regular contact.)

Build a Marketing List

Most businesses have some sort of customer list that’s generally held somewhere in a finance or sales system. However you need to build a marketing list that incorporates existing customers, but also prospects, people who have shown an interest in your product but who may not have purchased yet.

So, how do you build a list?

The short answer is you need to provide something of value. People are generally happy to provide their name and contact details as long as there is some perceived value.
You could offer advance notice of new products; access to special offers or promotions; entry into a ‘chance to win’ promotion; or offer a free report that’s relevant to your business. For example, Top 5 Things you should Know Before Buying a Digital Camera; 7 Steps to Buying the Right Surfboard; 3 Steps to Getting the Perfect Fit XYZ.
Make sure when they do ‘sign-up’ that you acknowledge their interest with an immediate ‘thank you’ communication.

Tip #4: Build a marketing list that incorporates customers and prospects.

(Note: If you are planning on sending emails, your prospects need to opt-in specifically to receiving email. Also, you need to provide an opportunity in every communication for recipients to opt-out of receiving future communications.)

Maintain regular contact

Now that you’ve started building a marketing list, you need to communicate with your customers and prospects.

Frequency of contact is difficult to advise without knowing your business, as it really depends on what is appropriate for your business category. For example, if you’re a retailer of high-frequency consumables then weekly or fortnightly is acceptable, however a retailer who sells digital cameras would probably only communicate monthly.

At the very least, you should be communicating at least every 90 days.

What do you say? Obviously you need to deliver on what they registered for originally – advance notice of new products, access to special offers or promotions. You can also include product reviews, customer reviews, invite them to VIP events where you run ‘how to’ demonstrations or advance showings of new products.

Tip #5: Maintain regular contact with your customers and prospects.

Tip #6 (Advanced): Segment your marketing list, and develop different content and offers that are relevant for each segment based on their profile, interests or previous purchases.

Develop Strategic Partnerships

Identify another business that serves the same target market as your business but doesn’t compete directly with you. They could share the same ideal customer, or maybe you’re in the same geographic area.

If approached correctly it should be a great opportunity for a Win Win, so that both businesses benefit. For example, you’re able to include an offer in their weekly email – they’re able to provide an exclusive offer to their customers, and you have the opportunity to increase sales and awareness with new prospects.

You could potentially introduce a 3rd business to result in a Win Win Win! For example, you could run an event together, where all 3 businesses invite their customers, and you’re able to cross-promote each other.

Tip #7: Identify other businesses that serve the same target market and develop Strategic Partnerships.

(Note on privacy. You can’t email someone else’s list directly – firstly, your partner is unlikely to release their list to you, and secondly, you don’t have the individual’s permission to communicate directly. Any communication needs to come from the partner, promoting your business)

Leverage your Existing Customers

Referral marketing is one of the most powerful marketing techniques available, yet many businesses do not have a defined referral marketing system in place.

First and foremost, you need to be referable. Your customers are not going to promote you if you offer a lousy product or service. Next, you need to target your existing customers – start with your best customers, as they’ll generally refer people who are most like themselves.

Then you need to educate them on your Ideal Customer so they’re not just promoting you to anybody and everybody. And make sure you provide an appropriate offer for both your customer, and the prospect. Lastly, make sure you follow-up your customers and remind them about the promotion on a regular basis. You could incorporate a leader board, or potentially change or refresh the incentive every few months to provide a reason to re-contact your customers about the program.

Tip #8: Introduce a referral marketing program and harness the power of referrals to ensure a steady flow of new customers.


  • Develop a marketing budget upfront, and ensure you incorporate your time
  • Strategy before tactics – be clear on your ideal customer and your point of difference
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel – mirror what the successful retailers do
  • Build a marketing list that incorporates customers and prospects
  • Maintain regular contact
  • Segment your marketing list and deliver relevant content and offers
  • Identify businesses that serve the same target market and develop strategic partnerships
  • Introduce a referral marketing program

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Joel is Chief Strategy Officer of Boost Marketing, a specialist small business marketing consultancy. He is an accomplished marketing professional with 22 years experience, and is passionate about delivering strategic, practical marketing solutions that help small business to be more profitable. Joel distributes Weekly Marketing Tips which you can subscribe to at www.BoostHQ.com.au, or you can follow him on twitter @BoostHQ

[via Power Retail]

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