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3 must-have marketing tools for small businesses

Eric Groves
3 must-have marketing tools for small businesses Eric Groves

Small businesses naturally gravitate to tools and strategies that quickly generate revenue without incurring significant costs. So it's no surprise that web-based marketing technologies have become a boon to small businesses because of their low cost and ease of use. Tools that are purpose-built for small businesses project a more professional image and deliver a richer set of management and monitoring capabilities than online tools targeted to consumers, which are often ad-supported and limited in function.

The essential small business marketing tools described below encourage stronger customer relationships and are easy to use and affordable, which makes them must-have tools in the small business marketer's toolkit.

Email marketing
Despite critics who have called email marketing's effectiveness into question, email marketing continually delivers the highest ROI for any marketing method. According to the Direct Marketing Association, email marketing delivered $43.62 for every dollar spent in 2009.

What makes email marketing so effective? It's simple: permission and relevant content. This means that the recipient is looking forward to receiving messages and considers the content of the emails to be beneficial. For marketers, this translates into a pre-qualified list of prospects and returning customers. All you need to do to keep them is stay in touch with content that is compelling and useful.

Businesses can achieve several important goals with email marketing, but the most important are strong, lasting customer relationships. With email marketing, you can consistently communicate your expertise, your offerings, and your brand, thereby building trust and recognition. When the time comes for customers to make purchases, they'll naturally turn to the businesses they're familiar with and loyal to, and they're more likely to recommend those businesses to others.

Online surveys
The most successful small business owners understand that listening to their customers is critically important. Yet, it's not always practical to engage in one-on-one conversations to find out what every customer is thinking. That's where online surveys come in. Online survey tools allow you to easily request anonymous feedback from your customers at their convenience.

Whether conducted frequently, such as after a purchase, event, or customer service issue, or just once a year, surveys are an excellent way to glean valuable information about your customers' satisfaction, experience with your business, or feedback on your product. For example, a retailer might survey his customers to find out what product lines they'd like to see expanded. A consultant could survey customers to learn what marketing challenges are most important to them for 2010. In both cases, the survey results will help guide important business decisions that neither business owner may have determined without the help of the customer base.

Another benefit of online surveys is the opportunity for your customers to feel like they're a part of your business. In fact, asking customers about the best way to communicate with them -- either via email, Facebook, Twitter, or some other mode or combination -- is a great first step in gathering useful feedback. By opening up a two-way dialogue and inviting them to offer suggestions and constructive criticism, your customers feel that they're contributing to your success. Knowing that you took their advice or considered their feedback creates a sense of loyalty that will naturally lead to longer and stronger relationships.

Your social network of choice
Everywhere you turn these days, someone is talking about Facebook, retweeting Ashton Kutcher's latest comment, or asking you to connect on LinkedIn. While all the hype can seem a bit frivolous, the business benefits of social networks are very real. Countless small business owners have made valuable connections, including new customers, through their participation in social networks.

Participation is the key to success when it comes to social media. Much like email marketing, you must first offer real value before you can expect to get anything in return. Simply being there isn't going to place your brand at the center of the conversation. You first have to establish your credibility as a member of the community and a legitimate expert in your field.

Establish yourself as a resource by sharing your knowledge. This may mean linking to your blog posts, media coverage of your product or business, or your email newsletter. You can easily add value and show you "get it" by offering your thoughts and commenting on another's blog post or tweet, or by answering a question on LinkedIn Answers.

Once you've committed to a particular mode of communication, be consistent in using it. Frequency of communications is always a challenge for busy small businesses owners, but a regular effort to communicate will help deliver your message most effectively. Eventually, your audience will begin to anticipate your outreach and even look forward to your next tweet, post, update, or newsletter.

Low cost, high return
Today's small businesses face an ongoing battle for mindshare among their target consumers. These low cost, high return marketing tools provide small businesses with the advantage they need to cut through the noise and get their messages heard without breaking their budget.

Eric Groves is senior vice president of global market development for Constant Contact Inc. 

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


to leave comments.

Commenter: Gavin Head

2010, February 11

I love the fact that you included online surveys here. Most small businesses don't realize the value in receiving feedback in an organized, well designed fashion- or they simply don't know how to do this. There are many tools available such as Survey Monkey or Zoomerang that make this so much easier than business owners realize. I also found it surprising that email produced such a huge return. Many marketers (mainly those favoring inbound tactics only) have been telling us for years that people don't pay attention to this anymore. But as you've pointed out, it can be a great tool when applied relevantly and consistently.

Commenter: Scott Scanlon

2010, February 04

Good overview. Email marketing is still one of the most cost effective and easiest to implement. It is becoming less effective though. People today are increasingly looking at an email as a distraction-- it is no longer on their terms.

Also good point on choosing your social network of choice. Choose one, master it, then add another to the mix.

Commenter: Olivia Bevan

2010, February 04

Hi Eric,

you're absolutely right about establishing yourself as an expert. I'd also recommend creating an expert profile and source filing yourself with the media to help make sure you're on their contact list should they be running stories in your field.

Great posting.

Thanks, Olivia.

Commenter: Tom Crandall

2010, February 02

Eric, similar to online surveys, I would add that generating local business reviews via email and online forms is also becoming important for small/local businesses.

These reviews can then be published and syndicated on various social media sites, or, an email request can be sent to customers asking for a review directly on the small business' Yelp, Citysearch, or Google Maps business listing. Offering customers an exclusive coupon or promotional offer for providing feedback increases conversions.

Easy-to-use CRM/email tools are also fundamental to manage turn-key rewards or loyalty programs for small businesses.