Small business marketing & how to do it: Part I

Small Business Guides

5 min read

Customer emails, social media posts and sales receipts are full of marketing data. We spoke to Constant Contact, an online marketing company, to find out how small businesses can make the best use of this data.

Marketing on a budget

Large businesses often have dedicated marketing departments with big budgets, because it's not enough just to create a product or service – you also have to tell people about it.

Small businesses are at a disadvantage here, because they don't have the funds or the staff to run big marketing campaigns. In fact the marketing manager in a small business might also be the PR manager, customer service representative and advertising director!

Constant Contact says small businesses have advantages in other areas. They can move fast, are nimble, and have access to tools that can help them do marketing on a budget. Connected tools are especially handy, using the cloud to quickly and efficiently dig into business data to find useful leads.

You probably already have the information your small business needs to conduct successful marketing for your small business. All you need to do is analyse it properly. Constant Contact has made it easy to stay in touch with your customers and persuade them to become loyal customers.

Five ways customer data contains hidden gold

Everyday business operations generate a lot of data. Emails to and from customers, POS (point of sale) records and social media interactions are full of valuable information. Analysts call some of this unstructured data, because it isn't processed or 'mined' for business use.

That's a shame – and potentially a financial loss – because this information can give businesses a boost. For example:

  1. Seasonal trends
    We all know that t-shirts sell better in summer months and woolly hats sell better in winter. But what about more subtle seasonal variations? What's the best stock to carry halfway through spring, or at the end of autumn? Do trends follow the months of the year precisely? How much variation is due to the weather? POS data will help you out here, but only if you analyse it properly.
  2. Who's buying what?
    These days it's not enough to know that your customers are buying your products. You need to know which customers are buying which products. Age, gender, socio-economic demographics, all of this is vital marketing information. Loyalty schemes can help here, which is why so many businesses use them. But digging into your data will also tell you a lot about customers' purchasing patterns.
  3. Multiple purchases – how are they linked?
    Your POS system will record every sales transaction, including details of products that are bought together. This can help you create special linked promotions, but first you have to get that information out of the system and into a readable form.
  4. Marketing new products
    Customers might like your product but want it to do new things, or do existing things differently. Before you start the purchase or design phase for an upgraded model, analyse your customer feedback on social media and email. It will tell you what your customers want, which will save you a lot of time – and help you market the finished product to them.
  5. Complaints patterns
    Are the same complaints cropping up time and time again in emails and on social media? Analysing this data will help you identify problem areas in your business and fix them. Then you can tell your customers about your improved service – which is a form of marketing for your small business.

So looking at business data can uncover valuable insights. It can tell you what types of products your customers prefer, whether they like purchasing in-store or online, what time of year and even what time of day a customer makes the most purchases. It can also tell you why they might return something they bought, and what new stock you should consider buying or creating.

Once you have this knowledge you can set up intelligent marketing campaigns to sell more of your products or services. But first you must extract the information you need.

What tools are available?

Small businesses can access many sources of data, including sales receipts, Facebook Insights and Google Analytics reports. Ideally you'll want to integrate your own sales data with customer data. That will give you the best possible insight into the way your customers behave and let you use that knowledge in your marketing campaigns.

This data can be treated as financial information because it's telling you how and when money flows through your business. So it makes sense to use your accounting software as the hub to store and manage data for marketing purposes.

That might have been difficult just a few years ago, but cloud-based accounting software has changed dramatically. The best cloud accounts packages today will let you plug in hundreds of additional software tools. Some of those are designed to help you handle customer marketing.

So you might end up with an accounting system that's linked into a CRM (customer relationship management) package, data mining tools, reporting software and marketing programs. And all of it based in the cloud, so you can access it at any time and wherever you happen to be.

Communicate with your customers

Once you've extracted valuable customer information from business data, how do you use it? Quite simply, to understand what your customers want and then give it to them – and tell them about it! Let's take the example of a local hardware store:

  • Follow seasonal trends
    By looking at seasonal purchasing trends for items such as barbecue grills, outdoor rugs and sun cream, the hardware store owner can determine what kinds of items sell the best, such as gas grills versus charcoal grills, at what time of year. They can then make sure their inventory matches demand.
  • Offer helpful free information
    The hardware store owner can also use this information in a marketing campaign, perhaps by creating an email newsletter that highlights popular seasonal items. They might include some tips on how to create the perfect summer party, because that adds value through content and fosters customer loyalty.
  • Match offers to buyers
    This could be taken further, with special offers to encourage purchases of select items. For example, the retailer could create a targeted campaign to gas grill owners offering discounts on propane, and to charcoal grill owners offering discounts on charcoal.

You might not have time to do this for all the products you sell. But you can still have an effective marketing strategy by focusing on doing one thing well. Try sending out monthly email newsletters with valuable, engaging content. Curious to find out about the top ten tips for successful email marketing? Read more in part two of this guide.