There aren’t ad agencies bending over backwards to solve the problems of the micro-enterprise unless they want to win awards, because the value equation just isn’t there. Big clients equal big media budgets, small clients equal no media budget, and even though the media budget shouldn’t have any connection to the compensation of an agency, every one would rather have Burger King instead of Benjamins Burger Meister on their account list.

So, if you own a small business, and may want to be big one day- this post is for you. But, right now, you just want customers and have a small marketing budget and need real answers so here we go.

Branding is the most critical decision you can make. They say “what’s in a name” and the simple answer is everything. Yet, I don’t know how often little thought is given to the corporate moniker and the associated mark. This will be what you have to live with for the life of your business. The name needs to be unique, catchy, have meaning, be memorable- and preferablly spellable with out having to go to phonetics.

Here’s the short don’t list:

  • Don’t name it after yourself, in case you ever want to sell the business. Yes- I know it worked for Ford, Chevrolet and Chrysler and Toyota, but, there was no Mr. Scion, Mr. Lexus or Mr. Infiniti.
  • Don’t name it after the location- in case you ever have to move the business ie. Dorothy Lane market has three locations- none on Dorothy Lane.
  • Don’t make it cute using numbers for words or abbreviations- ie. Marketing4Performance or Gold4yaMouth.
  • Don’t limit your business by a technology or what you do- ie. “Muffler Brothers” does complete car care and “Dayton Electrolysis Center” now uses lasers to remove hair.

After naming comes the brand mark. Nike originally paid $35 for the “Swoosh” and thought it would never be as good as the Adidas 3 stripes which actually helped reinforce the shoe. Next Computer paid Paul Rand $100,000 for their logo- only to have the company last a few years.

Rule of thumb- it’s not a good logo if only you would ever want to wear it. Invest in a good design.

15 years ago, the URL wouldn’t make a difference- now it does. It’s preferable to get a dot com address- even though search engines have made this really irrelevant (a good site will be found no matter what). Find something people can spell- like as opposed to

The importance of a website that can be searched and indexed is absolutely critical- and it’s why we teach our Websitetology seminar at least once a month in our market. Small business can’t afford to either have a static website that isn’t updated frequently, or an over the top Flash site that looks uber cool but can’t be updated or found. If nothing else, make sure your business is listed in Google local.

While we could spend quite a bit of time on building a better site your website must have the following:

  • a search tool
  • a way for customers to comment
  • an RSS feet
  • a unique URL for each key concept or product
  • webstats
  • content should be separate from presentation.
  • Blind friendly W3C section 508 compliant

All of these can be accomplished with an Open Source Content Management System. If you don’t know what some of the above mean- spend some time on our websitetology site.

While having a great brand and site are a good start- the real problem is how to tell people where you are and what you do- FOR THEM. It’s not about you- it’s about how you solve your customers problems.

If you are a restaurant- what will be different, what is your value proposition, what kind of experience you will provide. This was dubbed “The Unique Selling Proposition” or USP- and today it is even more relevant. In a web 2.0 world where ideally, the consumer is all knowing of all options available, how will you convince them to buy from you? While paid media was the method of choice for the last century, recent studies are suggesting that 57%+ of internet shoppers are more likely to trust “someone like them” than a professional reviewer. Remember where we said customers need to be able to comment on your site- well, either they’ll comment on yours- or someone elses (this restaraunt lasted a little over a year).

Building links to the community isn’t any faster than building an ad campaign. No one shot silver bullet solutions- it’s a long term commitment to forging ties that connect you to your marketplace. Sure, sponsoring t-ball leagues doesn’t seem like a sophisticated marketing strategy, but for an orthodontist, it’s one way to reach kids that will probably need braces.

Mass media is failing small business miserably. While local broadcast TV used to be a viable solution- with the addition of first cable, then sattelite, then competing IPTV over phone lines- it’s becoming less of a BROADcast and more of a hit-or-miss cast. Local radio is now splintered by multiple formats, owned by a very few companies, providing very little localization. People are tuning into internet radio, podcasts and their own personal music servers (iPods). Newspapers are losing readers in droves in print- and picking up readers online- yet, the ads they serve are just as untargeted as before. Until these media build a marketing profile of their customers to gain permission to provide focused marketing in exchange for their content it’s still a hit-or-miss marketing strategy.

This one-to-one marketing relationship is the holy grail of our current media landscape. The best example of providing meaningful targeted advertising is now coming from “sponsored search” where marketing messages are keyed to the topic you are searching. Google has become a mega brand and a powerful force in media by only showing text ads that relate to the searches you are making. No pretty pictures- just words based on your words. Even though 70% of searchers ignore the sponsored ads, these may actually be the best option for small business available. Even with the spectre of click-fraud, and high cost per click, at least the ad is being served to someone looking for your specific product or service.

Ideally, you are on the first page in organic search. It can be done for any business, if you make the effort. Instead of spending time cold calling or shotgun marketing- work hard at building your site to be the “expert’s answers” to your customers problems. We provide the most complete listing of our competition for ad agencies in Dayton on our site as one way to make sure we are considered in a customers search for an ad agency. You can do the same for your local business, or join in a trade association that keeps a list.

While we’ve spent quite a bit of this post on internet strategy, old fashioned Public Relations (PR) and event marketing should also be part of your plan. Even though readership is decreasing in newspapers- there is nothing like an article on your business to build awareness. Look to become friends with local business writers and bloggers- and be available as a source. Any time there is a new development in your field, make sure to write about it on your site- to share your expertise on the subject.

Knowing your customer: We can’t stress enough the importance of getting at least a name and e-mail address from every single customer. Comment cards in restaurants can be a great tool- but only if you reward your servers for getting completed cards from every table. A simple bowl to enter to win a meal, or movie tickets can be your best source of leads for your next promotion.

If you are still reading at this point- you must really care about marketing your business and want to differentiate your business from the competition. Here is the magic that makes small business work- you have passion for what you do, and love being the best at what you do.

Often times this means not taking yourself so seriously. Seriously. Have fun, make your business the place that people like to talk about, make your ads that you do run- fun, friendly and funky. We once names an electrician “Singing Joes Electric”- only to have it nixed by Singing Joes Wife. After years of struggling as the boring “Electrical Quality Services” he bought an established brand “Jahn Electric” and took over their brand. We’ve run into too many people who want to stand out- yet say they want an ad just like the competitions- don’t make that mistake.

When we do posters for the Second Street Public Market events- people steal them, frame them, decorate their room in the same color palette. When was the last time you wanted to take one of your ads home with you? What happens when customers want to wear your shirt, hang your poster up, or stick a bumper sticker on their car? Business.

We have no problem laughing at beer ads during the Super Bowl- but, when it comes to wiring a kids mouth with braces- why not make fun of it? Marketing is about building relationships- and there is nothing better than humor and fun to break the ice.

So when looking for an agency to work with your small business, look for the one that has ads that you would want to take home with you, the ads that speak on multiple levels, that interest, intrigue, inform or just instigate some sort of emotional connection between you and the brand.

You aren’t hiring an agency to spend your money on media- but to give you a message that people would want to make a part of their life. And remember, the agency can only make an introduction- it’s the execution and delivery of your product or service that will cement the relationship and be the platform for your business to grow.