Michael Porter, a world renowned economist and academic, wrote, “Strategy is about setting yourself apart from the competition. It’s not a matter of being better at what you do – it’s a matter of being different at what you do.”
Even the greenest of business owners know that you have to have a unique marketing presence to survive in your field, but creating a marketing strategy requires a consistent budget to do it right. Unfortunately, many new businesses do not have the budget to back up their big ideas.
While we respect what Porter said, it holds more power if you replace “strategy” with “strategic thinking.” Anyone can make a marketing strategy and follow the steps, but not everyone can think on their feet when an opportunity comes out of nowhere. Not everyone can see the forest through the trees, especially when it comes to marketing with a razor-thin budget.
Thinking Strategically About Marketing
As you launch into discussions about a marketing budget and plan, it’s easy to get sucked into this idea of “creating a strategy.” Unless you have marketing training, spending time crafting a a step-by-step action plan is not a good use of your time. In the beginning especially, profits fluctuate and new business owners tend to overestimate what’s going to be left over each month for marketing.
Remaining flexible and ready to adapt to situations as they arise is more valuable than completing the same marketing checklist every month and calling it a “strategy.” You can let the experts handle marketing strategy when you get to that point.
In the meantime, you need to think strategically about marketing.
Being strategic means keeping your eyes open for opportunities. It means doing the best you can with what you have. Perhaps most importantly, it means “keeping up with the Joneses,” so to speak. Whatever the competition around you is doing with more money and resources, you need to do the same.. but with less.
That all being said, let’s dive into what a business owner might experience during her first year of marketing, and the ways that strategic marketing can give you the best bang for your buck until you’re ready to work with a marketing team:
Claire Allston is a new business owner who recently opened up a brick-and-mortar storefront in a moderately wealthy college town of about 20,000 people. Her products are mostly homewares, such as dishes, linens, and various decor, but she will sometimes pull in other local products to feature for a share of the sales.
In the area, there are two other boutique-style home goods stores, as well as several “big box” department and craft stores.
Claire knows that in order to stand out and sell her product in the same area as more established local businesses and lower-priced chains, she has to market online to her specific demographic. She is mainly seeking female customers, between the ages of 18-45. This demographic covers everyone from college students decorating their first apartment to mothers looking to revamp their homes after the kids move out. She recognizes that marketing to such a large range of ages is going to be a challenge, but is willing to take strategic marketing opportunities as they arise.
Situation #1: Back to School
With fall approaching, Allston is watching the calendar for class start dates, student-centered events, and local publications seeking coupons from local businesses.
Part of Claire’s marketing strategy is releasing one paid ad onto social media each month and uploading photos of new products to the online store, then sharing the photos through her profiles.
Claire launches a new set of online advertisements across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Cash-strapped parents looking for budget buys for their college kids scroll past these ads. Instead, they order through an online retailer offering discounts with the use of a university email address.
Thinking Strategically About Marketing:
She knows that the university often invites local businesses to take part in back-to-school expos, where she can get a booth and pass out coupons for 10% off their purchase. She also switches from Facebook as the target of her advertising to Instagram and SnapChat. Social media handles are put on all coupons, offering an additional 5% if they follow the business’ account.
When several opportunities to market at these kinds of events are offered, she snips her online ads budget down to pay for the booth fees. Instead, she focuses on creating Boomerangs and SnapChat stories showing off her wares… Plus, it’s free!
Situation #2: The Approaching Holidays
As the holidays draw closer, Allston knows that increases in sales are common. She wants to use the time of year as an opportunity to pad her cash for the seasonal slowness in late winter and early spring.
Allston maintains her strategy, marketing to her whole demographic. She continues to spend time and resources on ads for all social media platforms, offering holiday discounts and Black Friday sales.
For students, money from the beginning of the semester is running out, and a large percentage of them are returning to their homes for the better part of the winter. Time and resources spent marketing on Snapchat and Instagram are wasted on the younger end of the spectrum, while not enough effort is being made for the other end.
Thinking Strategically About Marketing
Allston knows that focusing on the 30-45 year old crowd is her best option for the time of year. She spends some time speaking with a local cleaning business about offering a 3-hour cleaning service giveaway, as the holidays are often hectic and household chores are ignored for family gatherings and other events.
In exchange for the cleaning services, Allston offers a decor package valued at the same price that the cleaning service can give away through their own marketing channels.
Allston uses her marketing budget to make the initial investment by bartering for the service, then sells “tickets” through the sale of her own products. She offers one entry for every $20 spent in the store.
Women who are looking for winter home decor and gifts are tempted by the chance at a respite from the chaos of the holiday season, and are willing to “splurge” a little more for boutique prices.
Situation #3: Spring Cleaning
It’s the season of rummage sales and general sprucing up! Sales are pretty steady in the spring, with no major holidays after Easter that would impact her business too profoundly one way or the other.
Claire continues on her path, putting out regular social media updates, refreshing her inventory for spring, and offering spring sales. Her marketing budget is tied up in her social media advertising, as well as her yearly payment for her website hosting platform.
Thinking Strategically About Marketing
Allston frequents rummage sales in the area, picking up older pieces that she can refinish and resell. These pieces sell for a little more because customers can specify what they’re looking for through her social media pages. Allston posts pictures of the pieces, then offers several “refinish packages” that include the interested party’s choice of paint, finishes, and decor to accompany the piece.
The money saved by purchasing deeply discounted furniture and other home goods is redirected into offsetting the cost of upcoming back-to-school discounts and the summer lull.
Is Strategy Always a Bad Thing?
Our message here may seem like we’re discouraging new businesses from creating actionable plans and thinking ahead, but that’s not the case. It’s always good to have a plan of action, especially when you can afford to have someone else implement it for you.
Instead, we are suggesting that you remain flexible in your approach to marketing. Doing so allows you to find your “groove,” which will make working with digital marketers in the future all the more fruitful.
Marketing isn’t impossible on a small budget, but it does require calculated risk-taking and creativity. These traits go hand-in-hand with having a strategic mindset.