Leaders often grapple with the right balance of technology to market their small businesses. How much is too much? How much is not enough to be seen, heard and remembered?

The answer? It depends on things like the size of your business, the price of your product or service, growth goals and number of employees. Among many other things.

How can you make the best use of dollars to market your business? Define your goals and figure out what customer(s) will help you get there. This makes it easier to determine what technologies you’ll need to help fill in the gaps.

Start with your customer in mind

A best practice for small businesses is to clearly define the target audience before spending time and money to attract the masses. Without that audience in mind, you’ll be serving up scoops of vanilla. I define the vanilla approach as dishing out whatever for whomever without any real strategy in place (hoping your efforts don’t melt before they’re savored). Building a business, brand and marketing strategy around the customer will yield a stronger return for dollars spent. And thinking through this foundational issue early-on pays off long-term.

Why marketing is getting personal

Marketing to individuals, as opposed to mass marketing, is valuable because it allows businesses to tailor products, services and marketing campaigns to delight customers. Personalization has also gained appeal because mass marketing can be very expensive (think Super Bowl ads). What small business can afford TV advertising?

Yet the irony is that personalization requires extensive resources, too. And it may be challenging for small businesses to engage customers individually due to time and cost constraints. Amazon set the standard for personalization, but they’re also the most valuable public company in the world, according to CNBC.

A great way to get close to personalization without the exorbitant investment is customer segmentation– or organizing a universe of customers into four-six smaller groups with similar interests and behaviors. This allows organizations to customize products, offers and marketing messages to meet customer preferences more efficiently.

But how can you reach customers in the first place?

Using technology to expand your reach

To nurture a customer relationship, you have to have a database of customers. Building a list takes time, but it’s a necessary building block to growing a business.

There are lots of tools to engage customers without breaking the bank. For example, list-building platforms like Mail Chimp or Constant Contact are great for building a database of leads and nurturing relationships to drive sales. You can do a side-by-side feature comparison, but I have found both to be user-friendly and beneficial for a biz.  MailChimp offers a forever free plan for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails/month. Constant Contact is free to use for the 60 days, then they charge $40/month for up to 2,500 subscribers.

While less robust than marketing automation platforms, these email marketing tools have many useful capabilities, such as segmenting prospects and customers by location. This allows business owners to create meaningful content for target audiences to generate interest in a business and brand.

Consider automation platforms as the business grows

Marketing automation can turbo-charge the lead generation process to track prospects through the buyer journey, allowing companies to serve up content, such as emails and landing pages, that meets a prospect’s readiness to buy. Though some of these tasks are possible with email platforms, it requires more manual involvement. Marketing automation allows businesses to track digital behaviors, build out customer personas and expedite the buying process – automatically (but with expertise and oversight).

Marketing automation platforms like Hubspot, Marketo and Pardot are extremely valuable for medium-sized and larger businesses (primarily B2B), but they may be cost-prohibitive for smaller ones. Many platforms require hefty set-up costs and monthly fees, plus expert resources to manage them.

While many may feel the strong urge to jump on the automation bandwagon, it’s important to think through all the resources needed to make the purchase worthwhile, not just the monthly fee. Unless businesses make the most of the software’s features and capabilities, the investment of time anddollars may be best spent elsewhere.

Other useful marketing tools to track your customers

There are few shortcuts for strategic thinking, innovative design and creative ideation. Sure, you can crowdsource the development of a logo, offshore the development of content and dive right into tactics without a strategic plan. But you get what you pay for (or not!).

There are great tools to monitor social media, such as Meltwater, and manage social posts (Hootsuite, Sprout Social). There are also useful programs to manage projects more efficiently, like Basecamp and Asana.

These and other marketing tools make the management of marketing tasks quicker and easier and more cost-effective.

What price should you pay?

As a business grows over time, customer needs and interests will evolve, too. Monitoring customer behavior – regardless of how sophisticated or expensive the system may be – is a great way to earn their loyalty and trust. For life.


For more guidance on how to reach your customers more effectively, don’t hesitate to reach out.

About the author

Melinda is a marketer, researcher and writer. She also has a passion for healthy living, every day.