A Guide to Small Business Marketing

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Create a strategic marketing plan for your small business and start earning more today.

[Featured image] Two women and two men sit at a conference table discussing business marketing.

As a small business owner, the path to success requires connecting your product or service to the right customers. While it is necessary to promote any new product or service, reaching individuals who will love and identify with your brand can build a solid customer base from the start. Marketing, alongside product development, supply chain, finances, and hiring, can be part of a holistic business strategy that gets people excited and familiar with your brand.

Marketing your small business does not need to be complicated to be effective. You will need a strategy and plan that is intuitive to your product offering. Chances are, you already have some ideas.

Marketing your small business

When marketing your small business, start by considering the 4 P’s (product, price, place, and promotion). How will potential customers find your brand? When they do, how will they experience it? Implementing the right marketing strategies for your small business can help you thrive in the future.

This guide will illustrate each step using the example of Terracotta, a fictional small ceramics business based in Los Angeles.

1. Identify your brand needs.

Consider your small business from a stranger’s perspective. Conduct initial research to determine your core audience, value proposition, and competition. Identify your brand needs by asking the following questions:

  • Does your small business offer a product or service?

  • Does your business serve consumers (B2C) or businesses (B2B)?

  • Do you have a marketing budget?

  • How long have you been in business? 

  • Does your current marketing strategy target the right audience?

  • What is your brand identity? What colors and designs will you use in your logo?

Terracotta’s brand needs

As the owner of Terracotta, you offer both a product and a service because you sell handmade bowls and host pottery classes on the weekends. You have recently launched, so your customers have been friends and people who found your shop when passing by. You’ve created a brand logo and website and acquired social media handles but have done no promotion.

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2. Define your target market.

Next, identify your target market, the groups of potential customers that your products or services will resonate with. Consider segmenting the groups by demographics like age, gender, marital status, education, and income, and psychographics like lifestyle, hobbies, and interests.

You might want to conduct market research through surveys and focus groups to help create buyer personas—fictional representations of your consumer that elaborate on specific lifestyle and buying habits—to deeply anticipate your target market’s needs and desires.

Terracotta’s brand segmentation

Terracotta’s target market: Females between 25 and 55 years old who enjoy spending time bonding over an activity, like making pottery or shopping. Salary ranging from $50,000 to $95,000. Lives in Los Angeles or is a tourist. Attended college or university.

Buyer persona 1: Fran is 27 years old and enjoys supporting ethical, sustainable brands. She loves plants and enjoys decorating her studio apartment. Fran has bought several Terracotta bowls and is considering taking up pottery as a hobby.

Buyer persona 2: Callie is a 43-year-old mother of three. She lives in Manhattan Beach with her family and works from home. She does yoga and pilates three times a week. When shopping downtown, she enjoys picking up a few specialty items for herself or friends.

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3. Position your product or service.

After defining who you’re selling to, you can begin to differentiate your product or service from your competitors. As a small business, you may have competitors that range from big companies to start-ups.

Make a list of your five main competitors. What are your strengths and weaknesses compared to these other businesses? What makes yours unique? Whether it is customer service, quality products, location, or price point, identify what makes your business special, and use this to position your brand.

Terracotta’s brand positioning 

With Terracotta, your main competitors in Los Angeles are two franchise pottery classes and numerous craft brands that sell handmade ceramic bowls. The differentiating factor is that your bowls and vases have a natural brown-orange color and are sold unglazed. The brand’s ethos relies on these earthy imperfections, so the price point is slightly lower than other craft brands.

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4. Devise a strategy.

Now, it’s time to craft a marketing strategy. There are many types of marketing to choose from, such as traditional, digital (including social media), content, and guerrilla. Let’s take a closer look at what strategies might work for brick and mortar, online, or hybrid small businesses: 

Brick and mortar: Strategies should be location-based for businesses that sell products and services in a physical shop. You might choose from a combination of the following: 

  • Paper flyers at local businesses

  • Social media platforms (including Facebook, Instagram, Google Maps, and Yelp) for promotions, updates, and ads (targeted by location to reach customers passing by)

  • Signage and displays

  • In-store and local events

  • Content marketing (local neighborhood guides and partnership opportunities)

Online: Online businesses can take advantage of the many types of digital marketing available today to drive traffic and convert them into sales.

  • Marketplaces such as Amazon, Etsy, and eBay, in addition to your website

  • Social media and sponsored ads (targeted by interest)

  • Content marketing (blogs and videos to drive SEO traffic)

Hybrid: Small businesses can select from both strategies, using a tailored combination that works for their offering and audience.

Small business marketing venn diagram showing brick and mortar, online business, and hybrid.

Terracotta’s strategy

As a brick and mortar business, you create a strategy for Terracotta that involves a combination of in-person and online marketing:

• Official launch event, followed by monthly bring-a-friend pottery nights

• Weekly Instagram posts and daily stories featuring new products

• Paid Instagram advertising (sponsored ads)

• Booth at local craft shows, farmer’s markets, and festivals

• Etsy shop

• Media features from select publications

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5. Carry out your plan.

After creating your strategy, map out a marketing plan and timeline. You may consider hiring an intern or outsourcing work to a marketing consultant to execute campaigns. The plan should include deadlines for measuring return on investment (ROI) so that you can assess whether your strategy is successful.

Terracotta’s marketing plan

For Terracotta, you created a Google marketing calendar with different colors for each part of the plan. You hired a full-time intern to help with event planning and digital marketing and help out in the store.

You are in charge of measuring impact and tracking sales. After three months, you compare the percentage of monthly sales to refine the strategy and plan.

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When marketing your small business, a strategy and plan can help you stay organized and on budget. Show off what makes your brand unique because this is how you can connect with prospective customers and sustain them long term. Building and nurturing a strong customer base can be essential for a small business to succeed.

Next steps

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Written by Coursera • Updated on

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