May 26, 2021

Surprising Similarities & Differences in Small Business Marketing

The fundamentals of marketing are not size dependent. Many small businesses, however, assume the costs are. The surprising truth is that is not always the case.

Starts with a Vision

Your marketing will never operate in a vacuum. It will be an integral part of your business and should focus on delivering your business objectives. 

There are as many definitions of a vision as there are ‘experts’. I prefer a simple definition. If your mission is the reason your business exists, your vision is how you see your business achieving its mission over the medium term (1-3 years).

Target Market

Every product or service needs to have a market. While this may seem obvious, it is more difficult than it may appear at first glance.

A target market requires an identifiable market segment where the product or service has a distinct competitive advantage.

Market Segmentation

A market segment is a group of customers who share one or more common characteristics, are distinct from the rest of the market, and will react to the market in similar ways.

market segmentations

It is important to define the market clearly and at the right level. Not too broadly as to be meaningless. Not too narrow so that it isn’t viable.

Common characteristics can be more than just demographics

We base demographic segmentation on age, gender, income, occupation, etc. They group people in basic buckets, but often cannot tell the entire story. 

Psychological segmentation is often the way to go one level deeper. This level goes into beliefs, ideals, and values. They may be harder to uncover, but they are worth the effort.

market segmentation types

Not only do the share characteristics, these characteristic have to set them apart. Characteristics of the group shares but the rest of the market do not

React in the same way

When presented with a problem or an issue, the group tends to respond to the issue in the same way. Their shared characteristics or beliefs lead them to acting a certain way that is predictable.

An outstanding example is how distinct groups in our politically charged and divided state react to the same stimuli. Using the election as an example, when presented with the same evidence, one group consistently defies those results and is willing to behave in ways that differ completely from all other groups.

Choosing the right target market from several market segments

Just because the market has segments does not mean that all segments are equal in opportunity for your business. The key is to find the market segments where the need is high, and your ability to meet that need is high

target market selection

For all the segments you have identified, it is important to evaluate each segment to see where the need for your product or service is greatest, and where you are in a unique position to provide it.

Up to this point, the only cost involved has been time. After this point, some money will need to be invested to confirm the hypotheses you made about your target market, especially regarding how the target audience articulates their needs. Subsequently, how you craft your message so they understand how you meet those needs.

Target Audience is all Potential Customers

The target audience encompasses the entire target market. Depending on the size of that market, it may or may not be realistic to reach them all. Therefore, it is important to understand your target audience and the extent to which you can realistically reach them.

For many local businesses, it comes down to geography. For other small businesses, it comes down to the cost to service disparate groups of customers. It’s important to understand your parameters so you can focus on identifying your ideal customer. Around whom, we will create a persona. 

Persona is the Personification of the Ideal Customer

The classic definition of a persona is the public face a person presents. It’s a role they play. This isn’t an actual person, per se, but he or she is relatable and believable. A persona is an archetype–based on observed patterns and behaviors, not a stereotype – a simple reduction without a basis in fact.

Insight & Benefit

An insight expresses the emotional need of the target, which, when met, has the power to change the target’s behavior. The insight is about uncovering and understanding the genuine need of your target audience. 

Few customers will go around with “I need X” written on their sleeves. Therefore, this takes a little effort. One simple way to understand and mine potential insights comes by scanning social media.

Social listening for insight mining

Your customers are out there every day providing information about themselves. The challenge is how to scrape it all and analyze it. There are several tools available, but they can be costly. This requires more information than we can cover in this post. However, here are the steps to take.

  1. Find a social media listener or scraper
  2. Select your target audience and platform
  3. Select your topic(s)
  4. Collect the data
  5. Find a natural language processor and use it to conduct sentiment analysis. This will give you the key themes and emotions that people are discussing their needs.

After you have a decent understanding of how they discuss their needs, you can craft 1 or 2 benefit statements that tell them how you solve that need in a differentiated way.

Simple, Cheap, but Effective Message Testing

This is where you should do some small scale message testing. One of the simplest tools to use is Google Ads. You can create a simple test where you create a separate ad group for each insight. Then, for each insight, you create 2-3 ads using different benefit statements.

The goal you could set for Google Ad (GAds) is conversions, sign-ups, time-on-site, or pages per session. Once you have about 50 clicks from each, have a good idea of which message combination is resonating with your target audience best.

Digital message testing has significantly leveled the playing field

After 20-plus years of using traditional methods in large companies, the process above used to take months and thousands of dollars. The beauty of this approach is that it takes weeks and only hundreds of dollars. This allows small businesses to develop ads that work and the big corporations.


The last step in developing your marketing strategy is to put your message within a competitive context. Positioning is a tool that allows you to use all the work that you’ve already completed and frame it competitively.

positioning statement template

Key Marketing Strategies for ALL Businesses

This section covers the ‘so what’ portion of your marketing efforts. All businesses, large or small, have some version of the following key marketing strategies.

Brand Awareness

To promote your business, building brand awareness is the first step. There are many tactics that you can use to achieve this strategy. This is where the divergence between large corporations and small businesses begins.

As all marketing strategies require spending, budget is a key factor determining what you will or cannot adopt. For many small businesses, this limits our options. We can spend big on splashy advertising so it leaves us with slower or less expensive methods.

We have covered online marketing in great detail in our post Digital Marketing Small Businesses' Use to Succeed. We have also discussed how to build awareness using social media platforms on this post Social Media and the Future of Small Business Marketing. Last, we have blog posts and other forms of content marketing, which we’ve covered previously.


The next strategy all businesses employ is generating interest. It’s not enough to build awareness. We need to generate interest in what we are offering. This is where all that message testing and upfront work pays off. 

Interest is a direct function of how well a target customer feels you understand their need and they believe that you have the solution to solve their problem. The better your messaging, the faster this phase goes.

Referrals and word of mouth can be very useful in driving interest. It can help you skip a few steps. 

Using content marketing to email acquisition is also a cost effective way to convert awareness into interest. It’s the exchange of valuable information for a small commitment by your target audience.

Gaining an email is a genuine sign of interest. If they gave you the gift of an email address, use it wisely. A smart and effective email marketing campaign can significantly improve your chances of converting interest into trial.


Even with services, all businesses are concerned about generating trials. Trial comes at the end of the messaging funnel. It is the last hurdle of getting the customer over the finish line.

Coupons, incentives, special offers, deals are all useful tactics to promote trial. All are fairly inexpensive and can usually get a wavering client to give you a chance. You typically only get one chance, so delivery is everything.


A happy customer is the holy grail. They are worth their weight in gold. They will be your evangelists. Their testimonials will help convince others to give your business a try. Make the most of these assets by leveraging them in your marketing materials and campaigns as much as you can.

Marketing Plan Coordinates ALL Marketing Efforts

The marketing plan is home for everything we just covered. The reason a plan is so important is that it ensures that we capture all the great thinking in one place. It also allows you to look at the plan versus a bunch of unique pieces.

Having a plan enables you to see how the different parts fit together and determine which are working as planned vs. not. Without considering the bigger picture, it is easy to get lost in the details.

How Small Businesses Owners Can Market like a Pro

Local Businesses can market as well as a large business if they follow the basic marketing principles outlined in this article. You may not achieve the scale, but you will identify, attract, convert, and keep customers every bit as well

  • Define your target market: A target market requires an identifiable market segment where the product or service has a distinct competitive advantage.
  • Develop your ideal customer: When you know your ideal customer, you will understand their emotional needs and how to motivate them.
  • Messaging testing works: If you follow our approach, any small businesses can develop ads that work and the big corporations.
  • Focus on the core strategies: awareness, interest, trial, and repeat.
  • Build a marketing plan: Without a road map, it is very easy to get lost.

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About the Author

Brian Cairns, CEO of Prostrategix Consulting. Over 25 years of business experience as a corporate executive, entrepreneur, and small business owner. For more information, please visit my LinkenIn profile

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