At a recent trade show, I had a conversation with a company that had a terrific new product. They were new to the market, eager to make a name for themselves. Their product was unique, filled a niche and could draw excitement upon demonstration. They had everything going for them that any small business could hope for except for one thing: they had no confidence that they could afford to market in their category.
"We don't have budgets like your other clients," the product developer told me. "I don't know how we could possibly compete on that level."
Regarding his budget he was right; but competition in many markets today isn't as black and white as it was a decade ago. The Internet, smart devices and the shift in how our culture absorbs content has leveled the playing field. The biggest differentiator today is not money -- it's time, commitment and branding.
Smaller Budgets Mean You Must Work Harder
Gaining ground in marketing today requires either time or money. If you don't have the money, you need to invest the time to create content, post videos and build a community. None of this happens overnight nor does it require a $1,500-an-article copywriter or a video crew that shoots car commercials. My company created a website juggernaut for one client that challenged its larger competitors within four months of launching. We succeeded by developing a similar volume of new content (articles, video, links, etc.) as theirs for a fraction of the budget.
Authenticity Has Changed The Game
In the past, few small companies could create commercials or industrial videos that didn't cost an arm and a leg. Even when decent budgets existed, the result often didn't look slick and professional. Fortunately, in the new world of the amateur aesthetic, where cellphone videos and hand-held productions with sub-par sound can be more influential than a $150,000 big agency commercial, the only differentiator is your ability to go out and get something done.
Be Disruptive, Bold and Unexpected
Unless you have that comfortable budget, the best way to change the game is to do something unique to gain attention. Blendtec, a consumer blender manufacturer, couldn't compete with the likes of Cuisinart for marketing dollars. As a result, they created "Will It Blend?" a clever video series that upped the ante by creating the practice of "extreme blending" to test the resolve of their product. It was unique and gained millions of views in the process.
DollarShaveClub.com owner Michael Dubin sold razor blade replacements out of a small warehouse where he was the only employee. Instead of producing the expected commercial pitch he defied expectations with a small comedic spot. The YouTube video was hilarious and went viral immediately.
Neither of these videos broke the budget. It was the idea that set them apart. How much does it cost to come up with a clever idea?
Find the Right Channels for Your Small Business
Are you a manufacturer or supplier? You'll need to be represented on AliBaba.com. Selling swimming pools? Pinterest and Flickr accounts will lead customers to you who might never find you if your photos are only available on your site.
Every product, category and service has a devoted community somewhere online. Do a little research and you'll find them. If the community doesn't exist, you have a great opportunity to create one.
Spread the Word Every Day
You've created it, now you need to get the word out on it by making the push through social bookmarking sites -- Twitter, Tumblr, Stumble, Reddit, Delicious, Digg, Scoop.it, LinkedIn and others. While this can be the most time-consuming activity, in the end it gives you the biggest bang for your limited bucks.
Success for your small business today depends more on your marketing acumen than the budgets of your competition. Sure, there will always be 800-pound gorillas with millions at the ready, but your creativity, discipline and smart planning will go a long way in boosting your brand and your bottom line.