At the Michigan SBDC, we understand every small business has a brand, but the most successful small businesses have brands that have been carefully and thoughtfully designed. Branding is the process of crafting your business’ identity, messaging and overall ethos. Even though branding and marketing are closely related, they are different processes (you can read more about branding here!).

While all your marketing efforts (and many other factors) will play a role in defining your brand, there’s no denying that strong visual elements like logos, color schemes and headlines play an enormous role in influencing how consumers perceive brands. At the very least, your business should have a logo, and you should strive for consistency in the look and voice of your marketing communications.

First things first — let’s set a budget for your small business’ marketing efforts. Setting money aside for marketing may seem difficult, but remember that your business can’t succeed without marketing. As a general rule, many experts agree that small businesses with revenues less than $5 million should devote about 7-8% of their annual revenue to marketing. Some small businesses, like retail stores, may require a lot more; many retail stores spend up to 20 percent of their annual revenue on marketing during their early years.

Your marketing budget will also determine whether you’re able to hire a professional marketer or a marketing agency to help you build your brand and grow your small business. A good marketing partner can not only help you create a thorough marketing plan but should be able to help you execute every aspect of the plan. Make sure the marketing partner readily communicates with you and provides clear billing and reporting that you can understand. You should always know what you’re paying for and what results you’re getting from the money you devote to marketing.

If you don’t have the budget to hire an agency or a marketing professional, it may take time and effort, but there are always options. It is possible to effectively market your small business, even if you’re working on your own and don’t have experience in marketing.

Start with an effective marketing and communications strategy, which you should begin to develop from the moment you start planning your small business and continue to refine for as long as your business exists. Creating a marketing plan involves four essential steps:

  1. Assess your company’s current situation.
  2. Identify your target audience.
  3. Define your marketing goals.
  4. Research and select your tactics

Once you have a documented marketing plan in place, you will need to start creating your marketing assets. The most important criteria to judge your marketing efforts is whether they lead to more clients or customers and help your small business grow. If an advertisement or marketing strategy gets people’s attention but doesn’t lead them to trust your business and purchase your products and services over those of your competition, then that advertisement or strategy does nothing for your small business.

If/when you understand your target audience, then you’ve already got much of the information you need to choose a successful marketing mix. Your goal is to find your potential customers and deliver marketing messages that will engage them and energize them to become customers. Where that process happens and how it happens depends on the behavior of your target audience.

To evaluate your options for your marketing mix, ask yourself the following questions about your target audience:

  • What types of advertising messages do they notice and respond to?
  • What types of media do they watch, read and interact with?
  • Where do they look for information about products and services?
  • Where do they make purchasing decisions?
  • How long does it take them to make a purchasing decision?

Besides asking questions about your target audience, it also helps to observe what your competitors are doing. Study the strategies your competitors use to market themselves and ask questions like:

  • What are my competitors doing well? What are they doing poorly?
  • Are there things about my competitors’ marketing tactics that I like but feel I could do better?

If you’re able to identify what marketing strategies your competitors are using successfully while discarding the tactics that don’t deliver results for them or wouldn’t work for your business, you’ll most likely have the beginnings of a very effective marketing mix.

Regardless of which tactics you decide are best, it’s usually not wise to spend your entire budget on one marketing tactic. No matter how much research you perform or planning you undertake, there’s no surefire way to know which marketing tactics will deliver the best results without trying them, observing the results, and adjusting them over time.

If you need assistance, the team at the Michigan Small Business Development Center is here to help. Whether you just have a few questions, or need hands-on guidance, let us be your guide.  Contact us here to get started!


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