When you have a limited budget, it’s important to choose the marketing channels which will give you the best results for your money. But how do you know where to start? How do you know which ones are worth your time? No worries, help is here! In this blog post, I’ll talk you through the pros & cons of marketing channels for small businesses.
This list is packed with options, so before you jump in, it’s important to figure out which channels and tactics suit your type of business (and, crucially, your audience!) best. I have a whole post exploring how to make that choice – you can find it here!
Once you’ve done that, it’s much easier to whittle down the list! From loyalty programmes to social media advertising, my guide will help you understand the pros & cons of marketing channels for small businesses and pick the channels which will work best for you.
What is it?: newspaper/magazine adverts, posters and leaflets, billboards, digital screens, online adverts, Google Adwords, social media adverts, radio/TV adverts, vehicle branding, shop signage and more.
The pros: can be very targeted to reach the audience you want; can reach customers both online and offline.
The cons: ads need to be repeatedly shown to gain attention; works best when shown to lots of people due to low response rate; can be expensive so large sales margins are required; mostly transactional, converting only people who are ready to buy.
The verdict: advertising can be a really useful tool when you’re launching a new product or need to give your small business a boost during quiet times. It works best as part of a multi-channel campaign. But, to get great results, you’ll need to be prepared to spend a good chunk of your marketing budget.
Click here to find out if digital advertising is worth it for small businesses.
What is it?: business cards, letterheads, email signature, brochures, branded promotional items such as keyring and pens.
The pros: usually cheap to create; helps connect your audience with your brand; actively strengthens your key messages and branding; easily communicates standard information.
The cons: difficult to target specific groups; hard to measure ROI (return on investment).
The verdict: it’s well worth creating collateral materials which will help to convey your brand message to both existing and potential customers, clients and collaborators. You would likely be sending emails and letters anyway, so why not make sure they’re branded with your logo, website and contact details? I’d say business cards are a must for all small businesses, whereas branded items like keyrings and pens may be more useful for events.
Want to learn more? Check out my post about offline marketing for small businesses.
Content Marketing & Social Media Marketing
What is it?: blogs, podcasts, smartphone apps and social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok, as well as Flickr, Vimeo, Youtube and Pinterest.
The pros: relatively cheap, especially if produced in-house; evergreen content can continue generating leads and sales long after it’s published; can reach a targeted audience; seen as more authentic and less “salesy” than other forms of marketing.
The cons: it’s time-consuming and research is often required; needs to be creative; can be expensive to outsource; more likely to generate results in the long-term.
The verdict: content marketing and social media marketing should be part of a long-term strategy, so it might not be for you if you’re looking for a quick fix. Creative and genuinely valuable content works best and can have a very high engagement/response rate. It’s also a great way to establish yourself as a knowledgable authority in your industry.
Customer Lifecycle Management
What is it?: product packaging, manuals, tutorials, customer communication, referral schemes – any interaction you have with your customers after the sale.
The pros: captures an already engaged audience; empowers customers to make their own decisions; repeat business and referrals more likely.
The cons: requires in-depth understanding of your audience.
The verdict: making sure your past & existing customers are happy and well taken care of after the sale is one of the most powerful marketing channels there is. It takes time to build trust with customers. But creating a loyal customer base will ensure they continue shopping with you or are happy to upgrade. This also encourages word-of-mouth referrals, helping to expand your audience organically.
Learn more about after sales service and why it’s such a great way to grow your business.
Customer Retention & CRM
What is it?: loyalty programme, newsletter, feedback form, survey.
The pros: cheap or free to produce; makes use of existing customer base; helps to increase sales by understanding your customers.
The cons: needs to go hand-in-hand with generating new business.
The verdict: retaining customers will help you build a loyal customer base who are more likely to shop with you again in the future. A loyalty programme or targeted newsletters can help to boost sales during quiet times. They don’t cost a lot to create but will add a huge amount of value for customers.
Here are 7 ideas to help you keep in touch with your existing customers.
What is it?: direct mail, telemarketing, email newsletters, leaflet drops.
The pros: directly reaches potential customers so can produce fast results; can be very targeted.
The cons: many customers dislike push/salesy marketing like this; can be expensive; large volume required as there is usually a low response rate.
The verdict: If your business relies on quick, one-off sales then direct marketing may be a good option for you. However, due to the low response rate, it can be expensive to run a direct marketing campaign. For most small businesses, it’s best used to give a seasonal boost around a particular product or service, rather than a year-round strategy.
Find out more about when to choose direct marketing and when not to.
What is it?: roadshows, exhibitions, conferences, charities, raffles/fundraising, awards, trade shows, workshops.
The pros: allows you to communicate directly with customers or clients; increase your industry contacts; raise brand awareness; opportunity to collaborate with other small businesses.
The cons: preparations can be very time consuming and require travel; expensive to attend or organise events.
The verdict: event marketing is a great way to network with both customers and industry contacts, but it can be difficult to do on a small budget. It’s difficult to guarantee any sales from events, but they work really well as part of a long-term strategy to build brand awareness or retain existing customers. Focus on seasonal, local events which are particularly targeted towards your audience for the best results.
What is it?: viral videos, flashmobs, street giveaways.
The pros: helps you stand out from the competition; potentially huge reach; low cost to produce.
The cons: no guarantee that content will go viral; difficult to target a specific audience.
The verdict: if you like to do things a little bit differently, guerrilla marketing is a unique, creative way to promote your small business. Don’t rely on it as your only marketing channel, however. It’s impossible to guarantee results and how well the campaign does depends on how much the audience connects with it. Best used as part of a wider marketing campaign, such as when launching a new product.
Networking & Sales
What is it?: referrals, word of mouth, collaborations, business clubs, trade organisations, public speaking.
The pros: low cost; can share the expertise/knowledge/customer base of other businesses.
The cons: requires good networking skills and base of contacts; can be time-consuming.
The verdict: this type of marketing tends to work best with B2B businesses, as it’s a great way to connect with those in your industry. Although there are plenty of relaxed and friendly networking opportunities these days, it does require a certain level of confidence and salesmanship that not everyone is comfortable with.
Online Marketing & SEO
What is it?: website, affiliate marketing, directories, webshop.
The pros: encourages a continuous flow of traffic; good conversion rate; exposure to a large audience; position yourself as an authority in your niche.
The cons: can be expensive to hire an expert; difficult to stand out from competitors; results take time; no guarantee of results; requires regular updating.
The verdict: online marketing, and in particular SEO, is a key part of many small business marketing strategies. It allows your business to be seen by a potentially huge audience, and many of them may convert into paying customers. It does, however, take time and expertise to get it right so it’s best used as a long-term solution rather than a quick boost.
Read on for ways to promote your small business website.
What is it?: press releases, advertorials, testimonials, case studies, success stories, interviews.
The pros: generates positive brand awareness; coverage is often free; exposure to a large audience.
The cons: lack of control over content; can be expensive if outsourced; difficult to measure ROI; requires good contacts.
The verdict: PR is a great way to generate brand awareness, particularly surrounding something like a product launch or new branch opening. If you have a good “little black book” of contacts, it’s possible to target your PR stories towards audiences that are most likely to engage with your business. However, it can be difficult to measure exactly how successful a PR campaign has been. It doesn’t always result in direct sales, but can help people remember your business when it comes to future purchasing decisions.
What is it?: early bird offer, bulk bookings, discounts, gifts, free trials, tasters.
The pros: quick sales boost; can target particular products or services; cost-effective; high conversion rate.
The cons: too much promotion can damage brand image; can attract price shoppers rather than loyal customers; can limit your profits.
The verdict: special offers or discounts are a fantastic way to attract customers to your business. They work well as a one-off deal to give you an instant boost in sales – whether it’s 10% your whole shop, or a free 7-day trial of your latest service. Many who take advantage of the special offer will go on to become paying customers. However, beware of running too many offers. If promotions are commonplace, there’s a chance customers will no longer pay full price.
Next step: Over to you
To make sure you’re picking the right marketing channels for your small business, it’s not just important to know about the pros & cons of marketing channels.
First, find out where your target market is “hanging out”. Are they on Facebook? Do they read specific magazines or are very likely to be a member of a known organisation or charity? Are they online a lot and if so, when?
Next, take your own preferences into account. Whether you enjoy writing more than designing, have a knack for photography or really like to meet people face-to-face, it’s important to build your marketing based on your (and your team’s) strengths.
Finally, make a shortlist of activities that tick above boxes and check out the pros & cons of marketing channels above to narrow it down to your final choices. (It also can’t hurt to have a look at your budget before you finalise your list.)
To read more related to the pros & cons of marketing channels, have a look at these:
How to Choose the Right Marketing Channels for Your Small Business
The Best Online Marketing Channels for Small Businesses
Digital Advertising for Small Businesses: Waste of Time or Worth It?
The Small Business Guide to Marketing Planning & Budgeting