Small Business Marketing Ideas from the Big Brands

As a marketer, do you dream of having a big brand and the budget that goes along with it? Well, you may be surprised how much you can take from major companies and their tactics to improve the results for your marketing at a small company.

To set the stage, the top trends for 2014 predicted by Forbes are:

  • Content marketing continues to grow. Marketing to the masses through techniques like ads on TV or radio is becoming less effective. Producing valuable, engaging content designed for specific audiences yields better results.
  • Diversity is important to social media marketing. New sites are introduced constantly. Brands have to operate on several to reach the most potential customers, increasing overall complexity.
  • Images and visuals perform best. Many of the emerging social media sites are visual. Furthermore, most blog posts that are shared extensively incorporate arresting images. Infographics have become more common.
  • Less is more. As a result of our hyper-connectivity and highly-digitized lives, consumers are craving simpler campaigns and messaging. The most successful ads and content are likely to be the ones that are easy to digest.
  • Duracell Commercial Featuring Derrick Coleman of the Seattle Seahawks

    The newest Duracell commercial features Seattle Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman, who triumphed over his hearing impairment

    Mobile-friendly content is essential. Forbes notes that “87 percent of connected devices sold by 2017 will be tablets and smartphones.” It is important to provide an acceptable experience to users on these devices.

  • SEO and social work together. The goal of search engines is to provide the most relevant and high-quality content, so Google and others factor in the social shares that content gets when delivering organic search rankings. That is why many companies are including social share plugins and encouraging visitors to share content.

Considering the trends and priorities, there is some general advice small businesses should follow:

  • Weave personality into everything. Take a look at your logo and your tagline. Carefully read through your website copy. Listen to how customer service answers the phone. Packaging is also important. The way your customers see products in person, in photos or on websites can make a major difference and advance your image.
  • Show up. Whatever you do, commit to it. Consistency is important. If you publish blog posts three times a week and then drop off to once a month, you fail to meet the expectations you set among your readers.
  • Always be closing. Sales and marketing drive business. That does not mean you have to be as aggressive as Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, but you should be listening and moving your prospects toward buying in a professional way.
  • Produce solid content. Larger companies have the money to hire people but you have the latitude for creativity with your materials.
  • Be interesting. Even if you think your business is boring, there are ways to sound intriguing. Interview your customers and find out what they think is special or even exciting about you. Then highlight these features. What is essential here is to be specific to your customer and stay focused, rather than try to be relevant to everyone or attempt to go viral.
  • Evoke emotion. I really love the new Duracell commercial featuring the Seahawks’ Derrick Coleman but I know that my services are not going to bring a tear to the eye of clients (unless, we’re late delivering a design and clients shed tears of anger!). But there are a range of emotions such as fear of failure, aspirations of success, sense of security and more that you can trigger when you fully understand your customers.

Here are some other tactics to employ in 2014.


Heading into a new year, there are three major trends for websites. As with messaging and marketing campaigns, simplicity is in demand for websites—reducing clutter and features and/or design elements that are not needed to improve usability. Storytelling is being combined animation and user interactivity and responsive web design is the new standard so sites render properly on every type of device.

  • Make sure your site views well and is easy to use on a desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone.
  • Own your site URL and set up analytics.


ExactTarget surveyed 2,500 global marketers on their top 2014 priorities and 41% said 31-50% of subscribers open their emails on mobile devices and 24% report that their emails are opened on mobile devices more than 51% of the time.

  • Confirm that your site is easy to navigate, attractive and intuitive for mobile users.
  • Ensure contact information is easy to find.
  • Highlight the calls to action.


The survey revealed that 68% of marketers surveyed say email marketing is core to their business and 88% believe that email marketing does or will produce ROI for them.

  • Make the offer look like an offer.
  • Convince readers they will learn something by reading on.
  • Repeat the call to action.
  • Fulfill offers via email.
  • Make lead nurturing part of your campaign plans.

Social Media

According to Marketing Profs, 34% of global marketers surveyed said they are seeing ROI from social media marketing, but 52% believe it will produce ROI eventually. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the most popular channels and Google+ has the highest planned adoption rate in 2014 (18% of respondents plan to introduce). In light of the point above about image-centric content and the need to work on multiple social sites, it might pay for your business to try these tips.

  • Consider publishing videos of your employees on YouTube. Every company can’t be Old Spice, but you can showcase your products and services through short videos featuring customers talking about their experiences. You can also show videos about your activities in the community.
Walmart features employee videos on YouTube.

Walmart features employee videos on YouTube.

  • Display photos of products and people on Instagram.
Starbucks 2

Starbucks show interesting product placement shots.

    • Spotlight your locations and unique features on Vine.Spotlight your locations and unique features on Vine.

Other Tactics

  • Conduct contests. You don’t have to have a big budget. You can even partner with other companies who offer complementary products and create a unique package that drives engagement for all the businesses.

Whichever of these methods you try, there are several marketing advantages to being a small versus a large business. You can be much more nimble and can implement ideas in days or weeks rather than months, thanks to fewer layers of management and streamlined approval processes. You can be closer to customers because you are probably helping to support them day in and day out. If necessary, you can rebrand yourself if a concept does not work or the company has evolved in a different direction. Lastly, it is likely you are not weighed down by the past and are more willing to try new and innovative tactics.

GE-EcomaginationIn closing, one of the best lessons comes from GE. In recent years, marketing has made the company accessible, so it feels human and approachable. There is also a strong culture with people feeling passionate about what they do. And they established familiarity; making the brand real to a diverse audience. Regardless of the size of your company, if you could do the same, you’d be a marketing superhero.

What lessons have you taken from big brands and applied to your marketing?

About Kelly Glass
Kelly has been vice president of Marketing at Affinity Express for nine years now. She drives company strategy and all marketing activities.

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