Small Business Marketing: Creative Thought Processes

by rishil on January 14, 2010

I often get questions regarding small businesses and how they can get the much needed edge in increasing their web presence. It’s not always easy to answer such a question without much thought. After all, small businesses, by their very definitions have limited budgets and resources available to market. Every penny counts and they have to stretch the cash flow they already have. As a result, they take a risk and venture into spending some of their funds on an online presence and if they are unlucky, get burnt, either by not knowing the right thing to do, or choosing service providers that can’t do much for them.

On the other hand there are those moms and pops that carefully research their market, their suppliers, devouring tonnes of freely available advice online, and then make informed choices on how to spend their budgets. Take for example Local Search Ranking Factors – much of this work can be carried out in house without having to pay for it. These guys sometimes come up with creative uses of freely available resources such as Facebook or Twitter, or creative campaigns that sometimes even surprise seasoned marketers. And that would be my advice to Small Businesses. Let the creative thought processes flow. Discuss various options available, and get a bit crazy.

Stages Of Brainstorming <br/>Photo Credit:

Stages Of Brainstorming Photo Credit:

I know it isn’t an easy process to get small businesses thinking creatively, especially if they are your clients – after all aren’t they paying YOU for this stuff? My own strategy is to emphasise that they would do much better and to use a cliché, get “more bang for their buck” if they use me as an advisor rather than a full blown service, something that would end up costing  them a lot more. Part of this process is geared around thinking games and random brainstorms that sometimes end up in really good ideas, or at the least, get the creative juices flowing.  I have often left a meeting without a resolution or workable idea, only to get an email or a call from the clients weeks later starting with “I have been thinking about what we discussed, and suddenly I thought XYZ would be a pretty cool idea…”.

I use various tools and techniques to get people thinking, and some of the more common ones are listed below:

-          Word association

Word Association is a pretty good warm up for a creative session. I normally ask participants what the least and most probable words people would use to describe their service or product. This leads to quite a few lively discussions!

-          Customer role play

This is a situation game. Ask participants to think of themselves as a potential customer for a service / good and then outline your consideration to purchase cycle. This really helps in getting businesses in the mind set of a customer, and stop trying to think like sales people. It’s amazing how many people get the light bulb moment when exposed to this sort of an activity.

-          Hobby Listing

Small Businesses (well all businesses!) are made up of individuals. They all have skills and hobbies along with quirks that are often not brought to their work environment. Getting them to discuss these in a forum usually helps identify members that may have skills that can be used to market the business.  Take for example a recent discovery by one of my friends – one of his employees was a DJ and pretty popular on Facebook and was well known in the local area. Leveraging his popularity to promote my friends restaurant in the area worked wonders. Not to mention gained the businesses Facebook Fan Page plenty of free and invested members.

-          Research and Bring

This is a situation when team members have too many ideas prior to the decision making cycle. I typically ask them to spend some time researching other businesses that may have tried these ideas, and during the session we evaluate the potential benefits or possibilities of benchmarking.

You would be surprised how often these techniques work at generating executable ideas that are often within the businesses budget. Everyone has an imagination, you just need to learn to leverage that to be a creative marketer.

I recall one pharmacy that I worked with that wanted to generate links to their site. The idea? Research all the local BnB’s in the area that have their own websites, and ask they could supply some local health information for their sites, along with discounts for their customers. This information is freely available on the web – all the pharmacy had to do is collate its and put it together in a user friendly form (whilst adding relevant anchor text links like “For further Vaccination Advice contact The XYZ Pharmacy” . This turned out to be free hosted content on relevant  local sites with customised anchor links, whilst at the same time gaining confidence of the BnB owners who in turn also referred business occasionally.

I hope that this technique for working with small businesses proved useful to some of you! Please feel free to add to the discussion in the comments below, and let me know if you have any coll techniques you use yourselves!

I have written a number of Small Business SEO and SEM articles discussing techniques and thought processes, please feel free to use as you wish!


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Rishi Lakhani is an independent Online Marketing Consultant specialising in SEO, PPC, Affiliate Marketing and Social Media. Explicitly.Me is his Blog. Google Profile

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gab Goldenberg June 30, 2010 at 9:22 pm

I like to think of myself as a creative thinker, but I only knew the word game here, Rishi! This is remarkable valuable stuff you’ve shared here :D .

Related note: Do you ever partner with local businesses to get a percentage cut on any lift in business your SEO brings?


rishil June 30, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Thanks Gab – coming from you that is high compliment indeed :)
Re Partnering – I dont it is hard to monitor and enforce – I rather do my piece, in and out. But some people do, sort of online / offline affiliate type deals…


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