Marketing on a Shoestring

Small businesses and startups can get the marketing boost they need without spending a fortune.Small and startup businesses shy away from marketing because they fear they cannot afford it. However, lean marketing plans can be affordable and extremely effective.

Business owners imagine astronomically expensive ad campaigns, but a whole lot can be done for far less. In fact, the whole notion of marketing public relations is based on clever, cost-effective techniques that attract the attention of target audiences.

The first steps to success on a shoestring budget include:

  •   Clear, mutually agreed upon objectives
  •   Sharply defined target audience
  •   Fixed dollar limit
  •   Measurable outcomes 

With those anchors for a strategy, marketing PR professionals can tap into their ingenuity to create low-cost tactics that turn your target audience into revenue-producing customers.

Tactics can involve fun contests, eye-catching discounts, buzz-generating videos, thought leadership, cause-related promotions, beneficial partnerships and media-attracting events.

Instead of costly advertising, affordable vehicles to reach potential customers can include social media, earned media, guerrilla marketing, websites, email, event calendars and word-of-mouth.

It's not how many things you do, but doing things that set you apart, get you noticed and demonstrate your brand personality.

Because you don't have a huge investment in a single marketing approach, you can mix and match lower-cost tactics and vehicles to diversify and fine-tune your outreach. Even your shoestring marketing budget can become an active element in your campaign.

Toms Shoes is a good example of a company that markets its products with a good idea instead of an expensive TV ad. Founded in 2006 by Blake Mycoskie, Toms Shoes donates a pair of shoes through its subsidiary nonprofit, Friends of Toms, for every pair it sells.

Toms Shoes has a distinctive look and brand appeal, fostered by cause marketing and powerful word-of-mouth referrals.

The company's cause marketing strategy has attracted lots of media attention. Friends of Toms coordinates "shoe drops" where volunteers and employees hand-deliver donated shoes. One shoe drop in 2009 was filmed and included in a national AT&T commercial. 

Toms hosts an annual One Day Without Shoes event to highlight the plight of people worldwide who cannot afford footwear. Event cosponsors include Flickr and the Discovery Channel. 

Toms has been recognized in high-profile media coverage for social entrepreneurship, innovative product design and fast growth.

Relying on a similar business model, Mycoskie launched Toms Eyewear. For every pair of eyeglasses it sells, Friends of Tom will contribute to medical care, prescription glasses or eye surgery for needy children.

Alameda Floral is fairly hidden in downtown Portland’s PacWest Center, and professionals were purchasing fewer weekly arrangements for their offices.

CFM helped Alameda Floral share its message that flowers are not as expensive as you may think they are, and the benefits to including them in your workplace are very important both for employees and the clients you welcome to your place of business.

CFM executed a photo and video shoot highlighting the store’s offerings and the personalities behind them. We used the visual assets when developing its new website and integrated an email sign-up portal and the shop’s Facebook page. Now CFM is helping Alameda Floral connect with its target audience — downtown professionals and office managers — through customized store tours complete with incentives and special offers.

Arts non-profit Portland Piano International needed to connect with new audiences and generate buzz around its mission and recital offerings. In response, CFM created the Piano Love Stories video campaign.

The campaign provided a platform for piano lovers of all ages and backgrounds to share a personal story. CFM developed creative prompts, held several filming sessions and shared the stories through YouTube, email and a new PPI blog. The campaign generated hits and excitement, adding energy to the organization as it moved toward its next recital season.

New company Happy Campers Gluten Free partnered with CFM when it was fewer that two years old to create a strategic marketing PR program to increase demand for its gluten-free bread products within the gluten-free and health-conscious consumer markets.

CFM monitored gluten-free trends and research to shape key messaging and identify influential bloggers. We created a digital media kit that included sharable brand assets including product images, information and an entertaining video highlighting the Happy Campers brand personality. We also diversified content on the Happy Campers page on Facebook and conducted advertising campaigns to attract new qualified fans.

Happy Campers Gluten Free garnered numerous positive reviews from influentials, including national thought-leader Shauna Ahern. Many bloggers used assets from the digital media kit. Nearly 1,000 new fans joined the Happy Campers page on Facebook within four months, and word-of-mouth engagement increased dramatically.