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With 100 employees and $10 million in annual revenues, Cynergy Systems — a software developer in the United States — applies effective and economical advertising techniques. Its founder and president, Carson Hager, is blunt: “In reality, the traditional means of marketing do not work for us. Also, we do not have a large budget for it.”
The lesson from Carson, 36, is simple: Before starting an expensive ad campaign, consider cheaper, but just as effective, options. Here are 21 tactics, which require a minimal investment or have no cost at all. And they will surely bring very good results to you and your business.
1. Get involved in social media. Aside from posting a profile about your business on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, you also have the option of creating your group. The advantages of this tool: It is free and allows you to publicize your brand among a large number of people who are fond of visiting these types of sites on the Internet. In addition, the name of your group will appear on the profile page of each of the users.
2. Reward referrals. When clients of Choice Translating — a translation firm in North Carolina — recommend the services of this company to others, they get a gift. “And best of all, each gift — which is a small handmade craft — costs no more than $5 and people love it,” says Michelle Menard, a partner at the firm.
3. Create a blog. This resource is becoming more and more popular. Today, you can have your own blog for free on sites like WordPress.com or Blogger.com. “This is the perfect space to write comments related to your business,” says Hager. To increase traffic, participate in other blogs related to the subject you handle and include in each of them a “link” that refers users to your blog.
Don’t know how to do it or don’t have time? Wendy Kobler, founder of the advertising firm Kobler Communications, suggests that you get in touch with bloggers in your field. These experts can advise you to become an “online” communication professional. Or, ask them to write about your business in different spaces. Sometimes, bloggers have such a reputation that their name is recognized in the virtual world; therefore, their words go further than you can imagine.
4. Cultivate a relationship with your customers. “Loyalty programs motivate consumers to come back more often,” said Denise Dorman, public relations expert and founder of WriteBrain Media. “Create a space on your blog for customers to enter their data and immediately start receiving exclusive products and promotions.”
Reward with discounts and gifts to those who make the most purchases. Remember that once you establish an emotional bond between your business and your consumers, you will become a brand for them.
5. Speak louder. Kobler recommends that you become a speaker at trade shows, exhibitions and industry association meetings to make yourself known. You can even organize an event at your business premises and invite your clients (current and potential) to learn about the different lines of products and services that you sell. Also involve your suppliers to participate as sponsors. Thus, everyone wins.
6. Distribute content. Tools to distribute content and news for free or investing a minimal amount of money, such as PRWeb.com, can help you promote your business “online.” Other free news services on the internet are i-Newswire.com, Mininova.org and TheFreeLibrary.com. In Spanish, some options are Ambosmedios.com and Abastodenoticias.com. You choose which is the best for you.
7. Exploit your information. To streamline the operation of their Green Tango salad restaurant, Billy and Alissa Maupin began taking orders via the Internet and text messages. The result: in addition to satisfied diners, this system helped them to know the purchasing habits, the volume of consumption and the type of products that the 4,000 registered customers in its database demand the most. With this information, entrepreneurs can calculate the amount of supplies they must buy, as well as measure the effectiveness of the promotions they carry out.
8. Learn how to send emails. “Once you know what the buying patterns of your consumers are, thanks to the database you formed, take advantage of it,” says Scott Cooper, marketing consultant. For example, the Maupins review the consumption habits of customers who order via the Internet to design emails with offers and promotions tailored to each one.
9. Build a team of super salespeople. The employees of the Green Tango restaurant wear T-shirts, hats, aprons and buttons with different messages about the brand. “When we launch a new product, we use the staff uniforms to promote it,” explains Billy Maupin. But not only that. They also train their collaborators to promote certain dishes on the menu. Tip: prepare all your employees to become expert marketers of your brand.
10. Do quality surveys. Develop new advertising hooks by conducting opinion polls. To do this, ask your consumers what are the issues or topics of importance to them. Then, use the results to publish (on your website or blog) a note related to what, precisely, your business offers. For example, maybe your audience likes reading. Then you can announce that your coffee shop will soon have comfortable armchairs and perfect lighting to spend a pleasant time reading a book.
11. Become a specialist. The Maupins based the design of the Green Tango menu on salads. “As the saying goes: choose one thing and do it well,” says Billy. “Our goal is for the public to know us as the best in this specialty.” Therefore, it is best to get certified or have the recognition of an institution or association that endorses you as a prestigious business in a certain area.
12. Make the most of your resources. For example, use your regular correspondence – be it traditional mail or electronic mail – as an opportunity to advertise. Offer exclusive promotions every time you send a letter or email to your clients. Make sure to include basic elements such as your business logo so that they are always present. Or, attach the “link” to your website or blog so that users have access to special offers and prices on some products or services you sell.
13. Promote yourself in the media. Take advantage of the last months of the year to consult the editorial calendars of the following period of some media. “Generally, you can find this information on the magazines’ website, either in the ‘Media Kit’ or ‘Advertise with us’ section,” says Dorman. Find out what are the topics that each information source will deal with and set a date limit to write a relevant story about your company (and that you think could be published).
14. Compete and take the opportunity to advertise. When Green Tango was a finalist in the “Best Salad” contest, organized by the local newspaper, the Maupins took the opportunity to spread the news: they sent an e-mail to all their customers. Remember that participating in competitions sponsored by the media, associations and institutions is an effective tool to promote your brand on a large scale.
15. Spread a video of your business. A simple VCR is all you need to create videos about your business. Then upload them for free on YouTube, Google Video, and other sites. Cynergy Systems recorded a simple internal video to promote its Cynergy Labs program, which provides funding and support for employees to develop ideas and proposals. One of them emailed the material to a friend. In just 10 minutes, the video was downloaded hundreds of times — 214,000 times so far.
16. Write a story about your business. If a relevant event occurs around your company, it is recommended that you write something about it. A short note is sufficient. The important thing here is to make it known. But if some medium – be it a newspaper, magazine or website – publishes the story using their own contacts, at least make sure they know that you wrote something related too. In this way, you will enter the editor or producer’s radar as a source of information to take into account in future occasions.
17. Use the internet to your advantage. Dorman believes that you should include your business website on free sites that help you increase your traffic, such as Delicious.com, Digg.com, Squidoo.com, and Yelp.com. “But the key is to get the customers of your product or service to promote you there as well.” In addition, local newspapers and websites have free “online” calendars where you can announce an event, celebration or anniversary related to your business.
18. Go out and find your clients. Menard, from Choice Translating, took advantage of the approaching Valentine’s Day to visit his clients, give them chocolates and express his goodwill. The gift was accompanied by a fun holiday-related card, asking for referrals from potential new customers. Also, the entrepreneur sent a gift by mail to those who could not see personally. The effort resulted in a $22,000 increase in sales in a matter of one month.
19. Take advantage of your location. If you have a high-profile store, that is, one that is located on a busy street or on a corner, what are you waiting for to place ads on the facade and thus attract people’s attention? Note: First find out what the rules of your locality are in this regard and process the corresponding permits. Billy Maupin uses small advertisements that can be attached to the floor, which require an investment of between US $20 and US $30 and are a good medium to advertise seasonal promotions.
20. Take into account the opinion of your customers. Invite your consumers to contribute their comments on various points related to your business, from the design of the store to the last advertising campaign you ran. They can also contribute ideas to develop new channels to keep you in touch with them and to win more customers. Reward this help with a small gift or a special discount.
21. Create strategic alliances. Investigate what other businesses -— other than your direct competitors — are directed to the same target market that you serve and propose the creation of a partnership that suits both parties. The Maupins partnered with a fitness center to promote their natural products to customers concerned about healthy eating. Thus, the people who come to their training sessions place their order before starting the class and, at the end, their dish is ready.