Posted on Tue, Oct 23, 2012

Sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures.  That was the dilemma Zeller's, a Canadian discount retailer, found itself in last year.  Zeller's had just announced that it was going out of business and had sold many of its store leases to U.S. giant Target.  Zeller's found itself trying to sell much of its inventory with very little marketing budget.  Faced with a very restricted budget - $400,000 vs. the $20 million marketing budget of other big retailers - Zeller's could not do the traditional TV, radio and print advertising campaigns for its final pitch.  It still had to continue to sell product for months to come and do so profitably.

These were surely desperate times for the retailer.  It's funny how desperation often leads to producing creative solutions.  Zeller's turned to social media, creating some funny YouTube spots and a successful use of Facebook.  The campaign exceeded expectations in terms of sales, Facebook fans and views of the videos.  Through these campaigns, Zeller's has driven more than $8-million in sales linked to digital coupons and social media promotions, exceeding its targets for the year.  All this by being forced to pursue lower-cost social media campaigns it had previously avoided in favor of more traditional marketing vehicles.

You can read more about Zeller's campaign here by clicking on this "The Globe and Mail" article

Zellers' business results demonstrate why you as a marketers might want to consider shaking things up and look for alternatives to traditional outbound marketing methods.  The Zeller's example teaches us that shaking up the status quo and marketing our companies on a shoestring budget can be successful. 

A study released earlier this year by Hubspot found that organizations that primarily use inbound marketing experience a 61% lower cost per lead than organizations that predominately use outbound marketing.  The average cost per lead for businesses using predominantly outbound techniques was $346.  In comparison, the average cost per lead for businesses primarily using inbound techniques was $135.

Inbound marketing techniques include SEO, blogging, e-mail and social media.  The focus of inbound marketing is to get found by potential customers who are using the Internet to learn about products and services. Outbound marketing techniques include direct mail, trade shows, telemarketing, radio and TV ads to name a few. Outbound methods are a more traditional approach to marketing wherein businesses push their messages to prospects, as opposed to attracting prospects to them, which is what inbound marketing does.

To be sure, the size of Zeller's reduced marketing budget is the stuff of dreams for small to medium sized businesses. So what about us small frys? Digital inbound marketing can be done relatively inexpensively.  If you choose to do it yourself, much of it can be done for free! Here are some things that you can do:

1.  Create a Blog on Your Website

This is the first thing you should set up on your website to drive traffic to your website and begin the process of filling the top of your marketing and sales funnel.  Strive to educate your readers about the issues and problems that they face (their pain points) that your product or service might help them address. The recent Google search algorithm changes in Penguin and Panda now reward you for educating your audience and will penalize you for keyword stuffing on your site.

2.    Create Interesting Content for Your Website

This is one of your most valuable marketing tools.  Make sure each page provides information that your potential customers will find useful. On each these pages you can include a call to action: a small offer you make in exchange for contact information from your potential customers.  At the very least make it obvious and easy for customers to get more information from you.

3. Use Free Online Tools

There are many free on-line tools that you can use.  Here are some examples:

  • As Zellers used so effectively, social media tools can help you spread your message and extend your marketing reach.  For example, create a Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and encourage customers to converse with you there.  Create a profile on other networking sites and local business directories.

Here are some other free online tools that can help your business grow on a shoestring budget:

  • For optimizing your keywords to maximize search engine optimization (SEO) of your site, Google Adwords can help you develop your keyword strategy.

  • If you want to analyze the marketing effectiveness of your website, Marketing Grader provides a free detailed analysis of what you can do to improve the sales and marketing effectiveness of you website.

  • Google Apps provides a free suite of tools that can satisfy most small business needs.  As a business grow, there are paid plans available that can meet your growing company needs.  The suite is becoming more and more preferred over some larger enterprise solutions.

These are some free tools you can use.  Eventually, you may find that these are time consuming and you want to take your marketing up to the next level.   You may want to consider using a digital marketing agency for help.  This can still be done affordably, and as the Hubspot study showed, can be well worth the investment.

4. Viral videos can help you spread the word much more effectively

Video is good marketing, whether it be through traditional or online channels.  Zeller's thought about low cost ways of spreading their marketing message to make their online presence more compelling, which helped with search engines as well as social media.

This is one of many videos that Zellers created that they shared through YouTube and Facebook.

The net result of making great content is selling more product than they thought possible.  Good marketing, whether it is traditional or inbound, is about creating greater awareness, which can translate into driving more people to your physical store or linking to or visiting your site.

We are not suggesting that you completely abandon outbound methods because there will be situations and audiences for which these work best.  If you are faced with a small budget and need to drive sales (what business doesn't, really?), then inbound marketing is something you should consider adding to your marketing mix.


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Tags: blogging, marketing on a shoestring budget, Inbound Marketing, marketing with limited resources, digital marketing, Social Media