How to market on a budget

How do SMEs help their marketing spend to go further, asks John Cradden. He examines the options in terms of word of mouth, email, social media and even podcasts as a way of being relevant and being top of mind for new and existing customers.

It’s rare to find a company in Ireland that doesn’t understand the importance of marketing, particularly in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Indeed, more than a third (35%) of Irish companies expect to increase their marketing budget this year, with 44% stating it will remain the same, according a recent survey by Amárach Research.

“Good marketing is all about precision, so knowing exactly who your customer is will increase your chances of successfully targeting them”

Furthermore, there was relatively little difference between corporates and SMEs in terms of what proportion of their budgets they plan to allocate to marketing this year on average (around 4.5%-5%), while two-thirds of all Irish businesses intended to spend between 5% and 10%.

Of course, the challenge for SMEs is how to make their budget go as far as possible. So how can you achieve the biggest bang for your marketing buck?

1 Know your customer

While there are various general strategies you could adopt, one common denominator among them is to find out as much as you can about your customers to start with.

Good marketing is all about precision, so knowing exactly who your customer is will increase your chances of successfully targeting them.

With limited resources, having a clearly defined target audience can help you focus those resources on reaching those most likely to convert into solid customers and reduce time and effort wasted on those less likely to purchase from you. Creating customer personas can also be a good high-level guide to ensuring your products or services meet their needs.

2 Choose the right platforms and activities

The sky may be the limit for corporates with big marketing budgets in terms of what channels they can use, so focusing on cost-effective marketing platforms and activities, such as email or social media marketing, search engine marketing and word-of-mouth or online recommendations, can help you stretch your budget further.

Email marketing, for instance, is still a highly effective marketing strategy. The Central Statistics Office’s Household Digital Consumer Behaviour survey shows that email remains the most popular internet activity in 2023, with 93% of users surveyed still using email.

Social media marketing is another cheap way to target new customers, where you can set up a presence for free on the likes of Facebook, Instagram and X, and allowing you to post content. Needless to say, it’s worth investing a bit of time and money on devising a social media content strategy in line with your overall marketing strategy to make the most of these platforms. Social media also offers targeted advertising as an cheaper alternative to advertising in traditional media.

Word-of-mouth recommendations are like manna from heaven for marketers in that they are highly effective yet don’t burden the budget too much, so the strategy here should be to focus on providing a great product and a great experience, which means focusing more on customer service and exploiting any positive feedback that comes your way.

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a variation on SEO (search engine optimisation) whereby you pay a search engine, such as Google Ads or Bing Ads, to display your website on the results page when people search for particular targeted search terms. SEM has the advantage of being quick to set up and deliver fast results but only last as long as you keep buying them, while SEO takes more time and effort but the results are longer lasting. Some experts recommend using a combination of both SEM and SEO – SEM to get things started, and SEO as an investment for the longer-term.

3 Get to grips with inbound marketing

Using the channels mentioned above will tie nicely with an inbound marketing strategy, which is based on attracting prospective customers to interact with any kind of content created by your company. For instance, they could consume a website blog, online video, social media post or email and thereby prompt the start of a conversation, whereupon a salesperson takes the opportunity to connect with them and convert them to real customers.

It’s often best explained by comparing it to outbound marketing, which is where customers are targeted through ‘push’ methods like cold calling or unsolicited emails or texts, while inbound methods attempt to engage customers, ideally by prompting them to make the initial contact.

4 Don’t forget to keep in mind your existing customers

Amid the focus on winning new customers, many companies make the mistake of paying too little attention on retaining current customers.

You’ve probably familiar with the adage that acquiring new customers is significantly more expensive than keeping the ones you have. As well as being more likely to spend more, make larger purchases and to try new products and services, they’re also the main  source of those valuable word-of-mouth recommendations and referrals.

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John Cradden
John Cradden is an experienced business and personal finance journalist and financial wellbeing content designer.