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Effective Marketing For the Small Business
How to Leverage the Effective Marketing Strategies of Larger Brands For Your Smaller Company

By: Stephen Rapier

Steve Rapier is VP at The Artime Group (, an advertising, branding and marketing agency based in Pasadena, California, that specializes in helping small to medium sized firms achieve their goals. Steve is the author of the Rapier ReportÔ, a comprehensive decision-making tool that details the tactical execution of a successful branding and marketing strategy for companies in any industry.

It's Basically All About Numbers

Forgetting about branding and messaging for a moment, much of the success of many of the larger brands can be attributed, in part, to the basic understanding and use of numbers that are common to any market, audience, competition, and marketing strategy. These numbers are the core building blocks to improving the measurable results of your marketing strategy while potentially lowering the cost of awareness, perceptions and customer acquisition. Understanding these numbers, such as the demographics of a target market and audience, the dollar cost of reaching them, the available budget, the competition, the marketing goals, and the return on investment, are often critical for a strategy to work.

For a small company, this means understanding who your target market is (companies, households, individuals), who the decision makers are within the target market (executives, housewives, teens, etc.), how many there are (10, 100 or 100,000), where they are located (local, state, region, nationwide), the best way to reach them (direct mail, advertising, newsletters, etc.), the associated cost of reaching them ($.1, $1 or $10 per impression), how often you can reach them given your budget and the competition (1, 12 or 1,220 competitors). This basic information forms a solid foundation for you to work from to craft a marketing strategy that will deliver the results you are seeking at an investment you can afford.

Who is Your Target Market?

To begin with, you need to know who comprises your target market for your products(s) or service(s). Your target market will often consist of some organizational unit, such as a company, institution, family unit, household, etc. Once you have determined your market's composition you will need to find out how many there are. The size of your market can be determined by referencing either the U.S. Census Bureau's statistics online (, or by querying a mailing list provider, such as Dun & Bradstreet. This will give you an overall view of the size of your market, and by knowing average consumption of your product or service, give you an idea of the overall market potential for your products and services. For instance, if you determine that fast food restaurants use your product, and that there are 174,000 fast food restaurants in the U.S. Moreover, you estimate that each restaurant typically consumes or purchases $1,000 of products similar to yours annually providing you with an estimated total market potential for your product of approximately $174 million.

Next, you will need to determine who the decision makers are for your product within these organizations. For instance, the decision makers may consist of store managers at each location nationally, in which case your target audience is 174,000 individuals. On the other hand, you may find that the decision makers consist of corporate purchasing agents located at the corporate headquarters of each fast food chain, in which case your target audience may be comprised of only a few thousand individuals.

Where are they located?

Once you have determined the size and composition of your market and audience, you should determine where they are located and which ones you are going to reach. This is important for a variety of reasons, such as budgetary and distribution constraints, the value of testing first before expanding to a larger market, and the communication cost associated with reaching a small audience compared to a larger one. To begin with, because of limitations of your budget or distribution channels, you may be able to only service a market that is located locally. You may also wish to test your strategy on a smaller, more manageable geographic market before expanding to a larger market. This will allow you to gauge the success of your strategy at a smaller cost before incurring the cost of rolling it out to a larger audience. Finally, you may find that the cost of reaching a large audience may be initially cost prohibitive no matter where they are located.

Who is Your Competition?

Once you've determined the size and location of your target market you'll need to estimate the composition and size of your competition. Although we may consider ourselves on a par with the biggest and the best, and although you may provide essentially the identical product as all other competitors, the reality may be that your product differentiation, product price, company size, manufacturing capabilities, distribution channels, marketing budget and target audience (such as only fast food restaurants that are independently owned) may limit your real competition to only those firms that more closely resemble your composition. Understanding who the other players are will help guide your strategy regarding price, product, discounts, service, etc. Once you've determined the composition of your opposition you can estimate the number of firms competing directly against you by visiting the U.S. Census Web site. For instance, if your competitors consist of companies located in Georgia with less than 20 employees who manufacture paper bags, you can determine that there are approximately 3 companies in your market. On the other hand, if you competitors are located in California, Arizona and Nevada with more than 20 employees, you can determine that there are a total of approximately 47 competitors in your market. Understanding these numbers can guide your decisions relating to the frequency you reach your target audience with your message.

How to Reach Your Customers… and How Much is will it Cost?

Determining the composition of your target audience and their location are important factors when planning the most effective and cost efficient approach to reach them. For instance, a small, homogenous market of 500 decision makers located within only 100 miles of your office lends itself to a variety of direct response methods, such as direct mail, e-mail, and newsletters. For example, if you have a budget of $1,000, and given a target audience of 500 individuals, you determine that you can spend up to $2 to reach each person once. If, however, you plan to have a longer campaign, such as six months or a year, the budget will need to be increased accordingly to reach each person repeatedly.

Contrast this with advertising, where a hypothetical publication with 10,000 readers charges $2,000 for a one-page ad, representing a cost per impression of 20 cents. This is an example of how advertising can prove to be more cost effective on a cost per impression basis when reaching a larger audience than direct response, which often is more ideal for smaller audiences. Although the per-person cost is lower than direct mail in this example (20 cents for advertising versus $2 for direct response), the total cost per advertisement is higher than direct response ($2,000 for advertising compared to $1,000 with direct response), and you'll therefore need to be prepared to spend more to reach this larger audience. While the cost of advertising in six issues will necessarily require a larger advertising outlay, it will still maintain an acceptable cost per impression compared to direct response.

However, the comparison between advertising and direct response is not as clear-cut if you determine that your target audience actually represents only 500 individuals, or 5% of the publication's readership. This means that the advertising's true cost per impression is actually $4, compared to $2 for direct response, implying that direct response in this example would seem to be a better choice. This is, however, a good example of the increased costs associated with advertising in a general circulation publication, such as your local newspaper, whose circulation includes a disproportionate share of non-target readers. When considering advertising you'll need to factor the cost per impression specific to your audience.

You can verify the readership of a publication represents your target audience by visiting the reference section of your local library and looking them up in the SRDS. You can also go to the web site of the publication and view their media kit for advertisers, or call them directly and request a media kit that will give you the information you need to make an informed decision.

How Often to Reach Them?

Once you've determined who your audience is, where they're located, and the most effective and cost efficient way to reach them, you'll need to plan a marketing schedule that delivers multiple impressions of your message. It is important not to assume that one or two direct mail pieces mailed over a several month period, or a big splashy ad that appears in your local paper once, will necessarily give you the results you are looking for against your competition. Typically, you'll need to create a minimum of five impressions among your target audience before measurable results can occur. Significantly, many small companies make the mistake of thinking too small and not committing to a prolonged campaign beyond a month or two (think of all the Coca Cola ads or Chevrolet ads you've noticed). A well-crafted message that is not seen or remembered by your target audience when they are ready to buy is worthless. This is partly because not everyone within your target market will be making a purchase decision that coincides with when they see your advertisement or read your direct mail piece. They may be ready to buy next month, or the following month, or at the end of the year, in which case you'll need to ensure that they are aware of you in addition to the competition at the time they're ready to buy.

Measuring Success

The final component to any successful strategy is to build tracking into you marketing strategy. By measuring the numbers that result from your marketing strategy, such as in-bound calls, visits to your web site, proposals, sales, satisfaction and churn, you'll be able to proactively fine tune your marketing program to improve results. Tracking can be accomplished in a variety of ways, from including a dedicated toll free number that only appears in your ad or direct mail, to using a web site reporting tool, such as WebTrends or Hitbox to track unique visitors to your Web Site. These tracking mechanisms provide objective numbers to how well your strategy might be working, and provide clues to which areas may need improvement.


For small business owners and managers, the marketing fundamentals employed to great success by larger brands are readily transferable, on a smaller scale, to mid-size and small businesses. By understanding the basic numbers of who your market is, how many there are, where they're located, how best to reach them and how often, and against which competition, you'll be able to embark on a marketing strategy that will deliver measurable results within your budget.

© copyright Stephen Rapier, The Artime Group, 2002

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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