Let’s Work Together

Non-Traditional Marketing for Small Businesses

Mar 28th, 2011


Alan Steele – For many small businesses, thinking about marketing has meant thinking about traditional advertising platforms such as television, radio, billboards, magazines and newspapers.  These well established alternatives can be expensive, especially in larger cities, and may not be highly effective in reaching today’s consumer.

Many credible sources claim that Americans receive more than 2,500 commercial messages every day, a level of clutter difficult for any message to penetrate.  Additionally, the modern consumer is increasingly cynical.  A Nielsen survey found that only 62% trust television advertising and the trust levels for print, billboard and radio are even lower.  Given these realities, small businesses should embrace non-traditional marketing opportunities that are less costly and more likely to be trusted by prospective customers.  Contributing to these opportunities are social media sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter that provide new channels of communication.   Let’s examine three examples of small businesses who have found success using social media as a tool to build non-traditional marketing efforts.

Goshen Birth Center offers natural birth alternatives for women who want to give birth in a home-like setting.  The business has effectively leveraged social media, beginning with a YouTube video that has attracted more than 185,000 views and ranks very high in searches for the term “birth center.”  The center also maintains a business page on Facebook to share information and announce births.  Social media platforms like Facebook can foster development of communities, and in the case of the birth center it helped unite a group of customers and like minded individuals that came together as volunteers to support the business.  The “Friends of Goshen Birth Center” group expands the center’s presence in the community, providing a presence at health fairs and other community events and serving as ambassadors for the business.  The group is a highly valuable addition to the center’s marketing efforts, creating greater community visibility than the center’s small staff could generate on their own.

Valley Screen Process, Inc. utilized non-traditional methods to introduce a new product line.  A long time supplier of graphics to the Recreational Vehicle and Marine industries, Valley Screen was negatively impacted by the recession that began in 2008.  The company responded with a diversification strategy including the launch of a new product line featuring decorative graphics for children’s rooms.  To help build awareness of the new “Olee Kids” line, the company identified blogs written by stay at home moms and determined which of these bloggers had influence with large numbers of readers.  The company began following these “mommy bloggers” on Twitter to build relationships, and then approached the bloggers with offers of product samples.  Many of the bloggers wrote positive reviews of the product and posted links to a new website developed especially for the new product line.  Introducing a new line to a national market through traditional media would have been financially impossible for a small company struggling to overcome a downturn in its core markets.  By reaching out to prominent bloggers, the company tapped influencers within their core target market for nothing more than time and the cost of a few sample products.

Our final example is Spice Street Studio, a fitness center specializing in Zumba.  Like Goshen Birth Center, the studio uses Facebook extensively to communicate with its customer base.  The end result of doing so, however, is even more non-traditional.  Spice Street Studio has utilized “flash mobs”, inviting customers to meet in busy, high visibility parking lots where a sound system in the trunk of a car provides music for spontaneous Zumba sessions.  The sight and sound of 20 or more people doing Zumba in a busy parking lot is sure to attract attention.  Spice Street Studio also gains visibility and gives back to the community by aligning themselves with a cause.  The business stages Zumba events in a major shopping mall to support Hello Gorgeous, an organization that provides professional makeovers and cosmetics education to women battling cancer.  Zumba participants at these events seek pledges to raise money for the Hello Gorgeous organization.

The common thread in the non-traditional efforts of Goshen Birth Center, Valley Screen and Spice Street Studio is the ability of those businesses to activate their customers to multiply the business’ marketing efforts.  All succeeded in building communities and generating customer participation in activities that increased awareness of the business.  Social media sites facilitated communication, but the practices of creating a video, building a fan group, reaching out to influencers, organizing flash mobs, and aligning with a cause were ideas originating from the business owners.  Non-traditional marketing is not constrained by financial resources, as traditional marketing can be, but is limited only by creativity.  What innovative ideas can you unleash to build awareness of your business?

Alan Steele is a Business Advisor with the North Central Indiana Small Business Development Center.  Prior to joining the ISBDC in 2008 he held a variety of senior level marketing and business development positions, working with both products and services in B2B settings.