Marketing / Digital Marketing

Effective advertising techniques specifically for small business

Jessica Mehring, Philip Piletic & John Rampton

Updated: Dec 06, 2023 · 21 min read

Toolkit for download in this article

marketing tools and techniques

Today, smart marketing is no longer just about creating a TV commercial, magazine ad, or killer radio spot. Consumers are now finding new products and services on the web thanks to a slew of digital platforms, from mobile advertising and social media campaigns to influential blog referrals.

What does that mean for the small business owner? Large corporations could once use the deep pockets to dominate print, television and radio advertising. But increasingly, so-called “traditional media” is reaching fewer and fewer people as effectively as it used to. Radio disrupted print, and television disrupted radio. Now digital media is disrupting all of the above.

All of this disruption means that if you’re savvy, you can get a lot of marketing bang for your buck. But you’ll have to be very targeted in how you use your marketing dollars.

So what’s a small business to do?

Effective advertising techniques: the small-business basics

These four effective advertising techniques are the basics of every small business today. Master these, and you’ve got a strong foundation:

Tool 1: Branding

Our collective obsession with all things technological often means that you overlook some of the more basic and highly effective ways to market your business.

You, my friend, need a sign.

Today’s signage, though, isn’t just something that hangs over the door to your office. It can’t get rusty. It can’t fall down and hit someone on the head. The signage of today is all about branding: a sharp logo, a well-designed website and compelling cover images on social media sites.

This is the essential first step in your digital marketing journey. Your future customers need to see consistency in your brand’s image and message.

Still relying on the DIY graphics of your early days? Enlist a reputable graphic designer to create polished, cohesive look for your business—a visual identity that builds credibility and elevates your business above the competition. Your company’s image is worth the investment.

Tool 2: Social media

You have a Facebook page. You have a Twitter profile. Maybe you even have a few other social media profiles. Today, all that may be meaningless—unless you do something with it. Enter social media advertising.

Having a social media page isn’t the same as having a true social media presence. Using social media effectively means actually being part of a larger conversation with your customers and prospects. What does that mean exactly?

Your business needs interesting content that people want to read. It’s your job to provide your customers—current and prospective—with helpful, relevant information. Spend an hour once a week to comb the internet for relevant articles, tips, and tools. Keep a document with these links and the corresponding one- or two-sentence Facebook or Twitter post text. Even better: Make a Google doc so your team can contribute when they find a great social media-worthy link! Posting on Facebook isn’t a chore when you have an arsenal of killer content ready to go.

OK, so you’re regularly posting actionable content on Facebook. Now what? Interact with your customers! If they have questions, answer them. And in a timely manner, to boot.

Pro tip: Set up some community moderation guidelines, including appropriate response times and guidelines for handling negative comments or concerns. That way your entire team is on the same page.

While you don’t have to live on your social media pages, you do need to address your customers in a timely manner. Above all, be responsive. It makes your business look good. And looking good equals more business.

Tool 3: Mobile advertising

Mobile’s growth is nothing short of explosive, and mobile advertising is changing the game. As more people increase their mobile use, the role of mobile advertising has taken on a tremendous level of importance. In the coming years, hundreds of millions of people in developing nations will get their first smartphones. Is your business ready?

The heart of mobile advertising is making certain that your website is optimized. You want your business’s website to look great and function smoothly when being viewed on various devices. As Google’s mobile update showed us, driving web traffic only to have the website function poorly on mobile just won’t cut it.

google mobile

People are increasingly using mobile for researching and making purchases. You have to be in the mobile game. Mobile advertising, such as SMS, can be highly effective and affordable. But your website still needs to be mobile friendly.

What’s that mean exactly? First, your site must load quickly on mobile devices. Make sure to optimize images and minimize code so your future customers don’t X out of your site during a slow load time. Avoid Flash, and make sure your clickable buttons are the right size for a finger. It’s also a good idea to optimize your website for local search—that means including your city and state in the metadata—and don’t forget to make your address and phone numbers text-based so users can click ‘em.

Tool 4: Blogging

Blogging can do wonders for local search optimization. If you have a limited budget, forget about attempting to grab the top keywords in your industry, and instead focus on local search results. In this way, you can attract local customers and keep one step ahead of the competition.

Combine local search engine optimized blogs with discounts, deals, loyalty reward programs, referral programs and other incentives, and you will start to see the results.

Not interested in blogging yourself? Take advantage of the huge pool of bloggers who already have a dedicated group of followers. Reach out to blogging influencers and offer sponsorship, or simply ask them to recommend your product. Let’s compare two scenarios:

  1. You post one blog a week for a month; they get 10 likes on Facebook collectively

  2. An influential blogger with 50,000 fans supports your product or service

Which one do you think will have a bigger impact on your bottom-line?

Creative advertising: step up your marketing tools and techniques

Creativity is the once and future foundation of effective advertising techniques. But 21st-century creative advertising is very different than it was in the second half of the 20th century.

Avi Dan, a successful brand manager for many iconic brands, and now a consultant, says we’re living in a “post-advertising age.” He’s right, in many ways.

Let’s get to the heart of the revolution that is turning advertising into science and how creativity will come to rule the day once again.

Advertising as a science

Data, lots of data, big data—it drives advertising today, and its influence will only grow. Alexandra Levit claims, “As fast as technological innovation has multiplied and spread in recent years, it is poised to change and grow at an exponential speed beyond the power of human intuition to anticipate.” A wealth of information is being gathered about consumers’ demographics, online browsing and shopping habits, preferred social media and even their favorite colors.

Clark Howard says, “Tech giants like Amazon, eBay, Facebook, and Google can all track users across devices. [Currently] 6 percent of all marketers can reliably track consumers across devices, according to the research firm eMarketer. But more will get that capability as technology advances. Smartphones are a gold mine for people looking to track you, dissect who you are and sell to you.”

Is it starting to feel like former Fox Business News contributor Charles Payne might have been right when he said, "At one point, Amazon will send things to your house that you didn't order, but when you get it, you'll keep it because they knew you wanted it"? Even if we’re not there yet, the forces that could make that a reality is now leading the industry.

General advertising is targeted and aggressively pervasive despite the ability of consumers to turn it off. In fact, since consumers do have tools like AdBlock Plus, Privacy Badger, and Disconnect to prevent tracking your online activities, marketers attempt to throw as many ads as possible at you across as many channels as they can in hopes that a few will get through. Websites that rely on ad revenue are refusing to show content to users that won’t whitelist their sites. In Forbes, one of the “whitelist us or else” sites, ad agency McKee Wallwork + Company partner Jonathan David Lewis recently summed it up aptly, “The modern consumer is overwhelmed by the sheer amount of media noise while simultaneously more empowered than ever to tune it out. But instead of seeking new relevance, the advertising industry has responded by trying to get better at spamming consumers.”

That’s what advertising has become in an age of 300 TV channels and innumerable other ways to reach consumers. Track a consumer to find out what they’re looking at, then get an ad in front of them precisely customized to their metrics, and do it at a ridiculously low cost. Lewis explains the demand to cover all advertising channels with content made “faster and cheaper” and uses Henry Ford’s development of the assembly line in automobile manufacturing for an analogy. “The only way to make a lot of content both faster and cheaper is to be extremely efficient. Thus, creative quality goes down and quantity goes up. Add in growing access to ‘good enough’ freelance communities, dashboard design tools like Squarespace, and the coming artificial intelligence revolution, and you have the dawn of assembly line advertising,” he says.

A great line from “The Hucksters” a 1947 classic film (shown above) about advertising suggested the best way to sell a product was to “irritate, irritate, irritate,” until consumers were psychologically cowed into buying the product.

The strategy used to sell Ivory soap on soap operas and through print ads 70 years ago now haunts web pages and social media pages where ads appear for products we were just looking at somewhere else.

There’s no use decrying this reality, nor, perhaps should it be knocked. Regardless, it is the current state. Google AdWords and Facebook Ads Manager are the tools of the trade that are threatening the existing of the traditional ad agency. Metrics like impressions, click-through rate, completion rate, time spent viewing, and effective cost per mille are driving strategy.

With the demise of traditional creativity, advertising professionals must understand what being creative must mean to thrive in this reality.

What creativity once meant

The late Bill Bernbach, one of the founders of Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), was an advertising maverick and is now a legendary figure in the industry. His ads for Volkswagen’s introduction into the American market, Alka-Seltzer, and Ohrbach’s thrift department store brought huge results for the clients because they told compelling stories readers and viewers could relate to. He was a master when creativity in advertising meant what it used to mean.

Bernbach famously told his team and anyone who would listen, “I warn you against believing advertising is a science.” This was long before the age of big data, but it is naïve to think ad execs weren’t busy crunching any numbers they could get their hands on about readership and viewership in determining advertising and marketing strategy.

Bernbach saw the potential for the "scientification" of advertising in his day, and his foundational message that advertising demands artful creativity is being lost in the takeover by data analytics as the basis for determining advertising strategy.

Seth Godin’s oft-quoted line comes to mind. He said, “People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories, and magic.” The industry once balanced the magic of creative advertising with the logic of successful marketing strategy. The magic is shrinking, lost in the push for “faster and cheaper.”

However, creativity is an asset that will never lose its power. Lewis calls it, “preeminent competitive advantages in business.” The creative among us will reach the front of the pack when the creativity is properly channeled. Being effectively creative in the 21st century means putting those talents to work on the logic side of the equation.

Creativity’s new role and how to use it

Creativity is a powerful asset. That’s worth repeating, and its truth must be embraced. But here is the difference between successful advertising companies and professionals: The most effective use of creativity today isn’t in content development with its “faster, cheaper” mantra. It’s in elevating creativity to allow it to influence our entire approach to advertising, including the business opportunities we pursue.

Here are four principles for success with creative ads in the “post-advertising world”:

Find a niche, meet the need

Product development has always been about finding or creating a need and filling it. Now, ad agencies are structuring their entire business plan around the oldest marketing principle there is.

For example:

  • McKee, Wallwork + Company is having success focusing its efforts on turning around brands that are “stalled, stuck and stale” without trying to be all things to all potential clients.
  • Broadhead is filling a niche by providing sound marketing and advertising strategies to rurally focused companies in agriculture, fertilizer, and farm veterinary service niches.
  • Immersion Active boasts its track record of reaching the 50+ boomer and elderly market while Fuse Marketing is a leader in marketing to youth and millennials.

The term "unique selling proposition," or USP, is defined as, “one that highlights the benefits which make [what you offer] better than, or at least effectively different to, its competitors.”

What's your USP? How will you bring that to bear in an advertising world where every agency defines itself as “outside the box, thought leaders, disruptive” and other hackneyed terms?

Find a problem and solve it

Henry Ford wasn’t the first automobile manufacturer, but he was the first to find a way to solve the cost problem. His assembly line allowed Ford to make cars faster and cheaper, so most working families could afford one. Victor & Spoils solved the “faster, cheaper” demand in the advertising world by becoming the first agency to completely crowdsource creative. It started when the company posted a brief to its crowd of 7,200 creative types and used the input to win the Harley Davidson account.

Remember the goal is to sell stuff

Advertising exists to produce sales. Traditionally, this meant helping a client sell more stuff. Now it can mean becoming the developer of your own products. Advertising pros are full of creative advertising ideas that make others’ millions of dollars. Why not make your own pile of cash?

Anomaly created Eos lip balm and pushed the brand to be the No. 1 selling lip balm in the U.S. in 2013, beating out market leader ChapStick, while also co-creating and financially backing a cooking show on PBS called Avec Eric with chef Eric Ripert of four-star Le Bernardin restaurant.

New York-based agency Droga5 launched a software development studio DE-DE, and its first product, Thunderclap, took home a Lion at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Montreal’s Sid Lee agency launched an architectural firm after being the go-to agency for others, and just announced its Insoapropriate “line of inappropriate soap” products like Stellar Vision glycerin soap globes and Crystalline Hearing cone-shaped soaps.

Think less about products and more about problems

How familiar are you with your customers’ problems? Can you help them find a solution? If you do, it will likely be transferable to other industries, and you will have hit on something uniquely beneficial and profitable. In this way, you’ll be less focused on selling what they have and helping them produce something better.

Now that you’ve got the fundamentals of creative advertising under your belt, let’s look at two modern, effective advertising techniques that will take your small business advertising up a notch: ad retargeting and native advertising.

Ad retargeting: The secret weapon of the smartest marketers

Let’s start off with a basic definition of retargeting. Retargeting is a process that allows you to display your ads to people that have visited your website or product page in the past.

For example, you go to Amazon and look at a pair of shoes or a set of golf clubs and then leave. You then go browsing around the internet and you see those same shoes or golf clubs on ads inside Facebook, on, or other websites you visit. This is Amazon retargeting you for the product you looked at.

Why should you care about retargeting?

People usually do not buy on the first visit to your site. Studies have shown that it can take as many as 12 interactions with your brand for someone to buy, especially if the price of the product is high. Retargeting gives you the ability to get extra brand “touches” with your prospective buyer and give them an opportunity to take action on your site.

Here are some other compelling reasons to use retargeting:

  1. Retargeting gets better click-through rates and conversion percentages.
  2. People need several touch points prior to purchasing decisions.
  3. Retargeting technology gives you the ability to include and exclude groups of people from ads for better ad management.
  4. It also gives you the ability to focus your advertising budget on a specific product or service.
  5. Retargeting is less expensive than other pay-per-click advertising.

According to CMO Magazine, “The average click-through rate for a display ad is .07 percent and the average click-through rate for a retargeted ad is .7 percent.” That is a pretty significant jump in click-through rates.

A quick case study on why you need retargeting

An Keap team member recently shared this story with us:

“When I first started working with this company they were not using retargeting, and they were losing around $400 per day in ad spend. After working with them and implementing retargeting, they are now at a positive ROI and receiving free leads every day because the retargeting generates enough revenue for them to cover their advertising costs and still make a profit. The ROI on the retargeting campaigns they are running is between 488 percent and 2054 percent. That means for every dollar they spend on the retargeting ads, they generate between $488 and $2,054 in revenue.”

Facebook reporting

Where to retarget

You can retarget on Facebook, Google’s display network, YouTube, and in Google search results. Ideally you would want to at least use Facebook and Google to give you the broadest reach and increase your chances of getting people to take action. The best would be if you could use all three platforms to do your retargeting to allow you the greatest reach and exposure.

When you set up your retargeting, make sure that you can track people through your funnel all the way until they purchase. That way, once they purchase, you can remove them from your retargeting and save on ad spend by not advertising to people that already purchased. You can also use your customer list to set up a retargeting list to exclude people that purchased in the past.

The other great thing about retargeting is that once you have a customer on a retargeting list, you can use cross-sell to upsell or cross-sell to other products.

Check out Keap's Lifecycle Automation Assessment to determine where your business stands among the industry's top performers.

Some retargeting basics

On Facebook, you can retarget people for up to 180 days. On Google and YouTube, that can go as high as 540 days. Ideally, you would want to retarget people for a period of time to allow for the completion of the sales cycle.

To set up retargeting, put the Facebook and Google retargeting pixels on every page of your website. This will allow you the most flexibility to create your retargeting lists. You want to create a list of people that take the following actions.

  1. Visit your website
  2. View your product page
  3. Add your product to the cart
  4. Purchase the product

This allows you to retarget people through your funnel and get them to take the next step. For instance, if someone visits your product page but does not add the product to the cart, you can retarget to get them back to the product page. If someone adds something to the cart but does not purchase, you can retarget them back to the cart to get them to complete the purchase. This allows you to fill the holes in your sales funnel and get more people from the top of your funnel into becoming your customer.

Native advertising strategy for small business

What is native advertising? Native advertising is paid content that appears to be organic content.

Here are the reasons why you should consider running native ads for your small business, followed by some suggested tactics for incorporating it into your marketing strategy:

Why use native advertising

Native advertising is accessible to businesses of all sizes. It doesn’t require a large buy-in to work well. Even the smallest of companies can take advantage of native ads.

Engagement levels with native ads are much higher than other types of advertising. This is likely because the ads are not intrusive, they don't interfere with the user experience like pop-ups, and they deliver valuable information that the audience members may already be seeking.

IPG reported that consumers engaged with native ads 53 percent more than traditional display ads. Nearly 32 percent were also compelled to share a native ad with their social circles.

Customized targeting enabled by native advertising provides a better return on investment than other types of traditional digital advertising tactics, too. It's one of the few advertising mediums where you can feel confident that those seeing your native ads are actually within your target audience.

Native ads are labeled as ads so that users know what they are. That transparency helps you maintain an honest relationship with your audience. (There's no point in trying to fool an audience that is highly aware of online marketing tactics, anyway.) At the same time, these ads blend in more to the overall online experience.

Because the native ad is focused on valuable content, when the user clicks on it, you have a better chance of converting that lead since they are more interested in what you are offering compared to other ad formats.

Shareaholic discovered that 70 percent of those surveyed want to learn about products through content rather than ad copy.

There are numerous formats now available for native advertising, offering more ways to engage with your audience. These formats include in-feed ads, paid search ads, recommendation widgets, promoted listings, IAB standard ads with native element units, and custom ad units.

Establishing native ad goals and purpose

The first thing you need to do once you decide to deploy a native advertising strategy is to list all of your marketing tactics. You need to align your native ad goals with your existing initiatives and messaging to create a consistent experience across all channels.

Is your goal to generate leads? Or promote your thought leadership?

Once you know the purpose of your native ads, you need to decide what audience segment you’re going to target, so you can figure out what your ad content should be.

Native ads and content creation

Consider the various native advertising platforms: Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Each has a different purpose and audience focus.

Figure out what platform your target audience is spending the most time on, and then explore the native advertising options on that platform. LinkedIn, for example, has sponsored content, sponsored InMail, and dynamic ads.

When you are ready to create content for your native advertising strategy, use the same approach you would for a blog post. Make the content valuable and engaging for the audience.

Test and revise

To understand how your native campaign is performing, track your metrics, including page views, conversions, the amount of time spent on the page, the number of conversions and referrals you get, impressions and links out, and any overall responses related to engagement and audience feedback.

Use A/B testing to help you refine the technical elements of your native ad down to the headlines, images, copy size and format, and the specific offer.

There's a definite learning curve with native ads, but it is an advertising medium that allows you to test and revise without losing your audience in the process.

The opportunities are increasing for advertising your small business

There are more effective and cost-effective advertising options today than ever before. Small businesses have an entire collection of advertising tools to propel their products, ideas, and services to the forefront of customers’ minds.

You have the marketing tools and techniques, now it’s time to put them to use. Social media, blogging, and incentives can be very effective, but you also need to be creative to stand out in the sea of advertising today—and you need to keep abreast of the newest advertising tools.

In the post-advertising age, you must broaden your vision.

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