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5 Low Cost or No Cost Advertising Ideas
Marketing is what you make of it
Not all types of advertising or marketing work for all businesses. Rarely will the person trying to sell you advertising point out that you will have a low or negligible return on investment. That's why many businesses of all sizes look outside of traditional avenues to get the word out. These are not the only ideas in the world; please feel free to share what's worked for you in the comments!
1. Market to your present customers. I've found no better return on investment that inviting my current customers back for another visit. While there are a variety of ways to stay in touch, the first step is collecting their contact information. Do it in a polite fashion and don't harass them if they don't want to give it to you.
Remember, spam is spam; high-frequency email offers don't make you any friends. Yes, they know you...as that guy who emails them every day. They hate it. A monthly offer is probably the best with the occasional email about super deals.
Junk mail is often thrown away with no attention paid to it whatsoever. There are two ways around this problem. First, postcards are great. They're a billboard for your pocket. One offer, a few words, and a simple graphic and the point is across. Plus, they're cheap to mail! Second, if you're doing a small mailing, hand-addressing the envelopes and putting a return address with no name will mean that your envelope will at least be opened.
2. Market to your neighbors. Most of your traffic is local. When I first opened my arcade, I printed flyers and hand delivered them to my closest neighbors (since it was a commercial street, I introduced myself to the managers). I then mailed post-cards to the rest of the street. It was amazing the number of people who would stop in and later come back with their kids. Some of my best customers worked up and down the street. They were the ones that I saw come in month after month for years. I wouldn't have picked salesmen at a used car lot as my potential customers, but they were some of my most reliable. You don't know who your next customer will be, but they'll probably live or work within a mile of your business.
3. Business Expos. My father ended up owning a cement business that made birdbaths, benches, paving stones, and such. Both of us thought that the majority of molds he had made tacky garbage we'd never use, let alone put in our yards. It was not a business either of us would have gone out of our way to own, so marketing the products we thought were gauche was rather daunting. However, the local garden club had a yearly "Garden Expo" in the spring. Dad arranged for a spot, took a picture book of what he made, and increased his sales exponentially. While not everyone wants a tacky garden gnome, most do need a pathway or a tree ring, or something simple at some point. You have to be in front of the right group.
4. Cooperative advertising. There are various ways this works. Ask your suppliers if any of the products you handle have cooperative advertising programs. Many large corporations have all types of ads prepared and ready to run and money to give you, if you'll only ask. In the tire business the split was generally 80/20 based on the amount of product you purchased. In other words, if your wholesale purchases were high enough, of every $1000 in advertising, you only paid $200. Granted, you generally pay up-front and get reimbursed on your account, but money is money.
Another common cooperative advertising strategy is advertising cross-branding. For years local phone books would pick up part of your advertising cost if you would include their logo and a mention that your ad can be found in their publication. You can build cross promotion ventures, too. If the local manager of a burger joint wants to include a $5 off coupon for your product with a value meal if you give your customers a coupon to his restaurant, it's a win-win.
5. Trade or barter. Media outlets love to give stuff away. You've got stuff. When your ad rep is trying to sell you the next giant package, ask about trade. One of my most successful trades of this kind was bunches of tokens to a Hispanic radio station. While the audience of the station tended not to be the kids, it was definitely their parents and grandparents. One of the DJs had a cross-over Hip Hop show on Saturday nights that drew a different crowd. Plus, every DJ and anyone else who worked there would get part of the tokens and bring their kids in. There's no telling how much free advertising I got from the DJs talking about taking their kids out to play at my arcade over the years, let alone the actual ads and residual interest from the give-aways.