What’s the difference between small and big business marketing?

There’s a common myth that all marketing is the same. Whether you’re working in a huge multinational company or a small business, it doesn't matter, your approach will be the same. But that’s not true. 

There’s LOADS of ways that small business marketing differs from how things are done in bigger businesses. In fact, at times, your approach to marketing a small business can actually be the complete opposite of how you’d approach it if you were marketing a big business.

For a start, there’s a huge difference in the marketing budget available, the size of your marketing team, and the amount of market research needed to get started. Economies of scale mean that a process that works efficiently for a large business will be ineffective in a small business.

So, how do these key differences affect a business's approach to marketing? 

The marketing budget

Small businesses obviously have smaller budgets, but that doesn't mean they're at a disadvantage. In fact, some of the most innovative and effective marketing campaigns come from small businesses that have to think outside the box and maximise their limited resources. This is where a marketing plan in a small business can be worth its weight in gold. When you only have a limited budget to play with, you need to be sure that what you're investing in is delivering ROI or whether your budget would be better spent elsewhere.

Audience size

The temptation in any business is always to try and get your message out to anyone who might ever conceivably buy from you because you don’t want to exclude anyone who might turn out to be a client one day. This is the classic “scatter-gun” approach to marketing and if you have a vast budget and a colossal market presence (e.g. if you’re Google or Apple) then go ahead – you will probably reach the right people amongst the clutter.

But in smaller businesses, it’s actually far more efficient to target a smaller, more niche audience who you know is going to be a perfect match for your business. Although this audience size might be much smaller, it's actually far easier to promote and sell to these people than waste money trying to reach everyone for your message to resonate with no one. 

Market research

Most Marketing Graduates will spend at least a term (if not a year or more) learning how to carry out market research. Research is essential in a big business because nobody in the marketing team actually deals directly with customers. That’s usually the job of the sales and customer services teams. This means the marketing team has to carry out HUGE amounts of research in order to really understand their ideal customer and what they want. In fact, it's so important to get this right that a significant proportion of their annual budget will be set aside for market research alone. 

Now, if your business is anything like mine and my clients’, this huge investment into market research just isn't feasible. And it's not actually necessary… You probably speak to your customers every day, or at least a few times a week. I’m sure you could probably tell me more about your ideal customer than any market researcher could. So instead of wasting a lot of time and money on market research, it’s far more effective for small businesses to adopt an agile approach in their marketing. This is something to be aware of if you’ve taken on a Marketing Graduate or someone with previous marketing experience in a big business. Small business marketing is rarely taught in marketing degrees, and not in any real detail.

Marketing channels

Showing up in front of the right people in the right place at the right time is a challenge for every business - no matter their size. But without the extensive budgets that most big businesses have, it can be a challenge. This isn’t to say that larger businesses have money to throw away on their marketing. Rather, they can invest in much larger campaigns like television, radio, print media, digital advertising, and sponsorships because they’ve already invested a large percentage of their budget in market research to know everything about their customers and where they’re showing up. 

Small businesses, on the other hand, are more likely to rely on more cost-effective marketing channels like social media, local advertising, and word-of-mouth. This is especially true if you’re trying to manage your marketing yourself and don’t have a huge team behind you as you’ll be able to keep track of these yourself and measure your success.

If you’re struggling to get your marketing working for you, let’s book a clarity call. It might be that you’re trying to apply big business marketing strategies to your small business (or vice versa).

Ros Conkie


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