21st century marketing for small businesses

21st century marketing for small businesses

“If you have more money than brains, you should focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing.” – Guy Kawasaki

challenges faced by Indian SMEs

India has 4.8 crore1 small and medium size businesses (SMEs). One of the biggest challenges they face is absence of marketing platforms. They are delivering products and services, but they aren’t marketing themselves. And this is hurting them.

Big businesses have big marketing budgets. We all have seen Coca Cola and !dea IIN2 ads on TV. Those guys spend huge money on advertising. But small guys don’t have this kind of liberty. They have limited budgets. And they have to do their best with whatever is available.

So what options SMEs have when it comes to marketing? They can’t compete with the big guys, that’s for sure. And they don’t have to. Mass media advertising is a dying paradigm in and of itself. It is expensive and useless to some extent for SMEs. Digital marketing gives them endless opportunities at a fraction of mass media ad costs.

How marketing got started?

Marketing and advertising is not a new phenomenon. 4000 years ago Egyptians used papyrus signs and steel carving for advertising their goods. At the same time, we Indians were creating rock art paintings for advertising purposes. First printed ad3 was published in 1477. In 1922, first radio commercial4 was aired. And with this ad in 1941, advertising began its journey on TV.

After the invention of the internet, first banner ad5 popped up in 1994. And marketing world got divided into two realms. Ads on TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards became part of mass media marketing. While advertising on the internet became digital marketing. Google AdWords, social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) are now part of digital marketing.

Marketing is so important for a business that David Packard, founder of Hewlett-Packard (HP) went ahead to say:


His point is to draw attention to the importance of marketing in running a business. And this makes sense. Because a business exists only when buyers exist. And you just don’t get buyers like that, you have to earn them. With a lot of hard work in marketing and advertising. Now most of all consider marketing and advertising the same thing. They are not.

Confused between marketing and advertisement?

This is how Oxford dictionary defines the term “marketing”:


Marketing is a broad concept, advertising is just a component of marketing. Marketing includes:

  • Advertising
  • Sales
  • Public relations
  • Research
  • Branding
  • Customer care services

The sole purpose of advertising is repetition. There’s a psychological reason behind why repetition6 is crucial. More exposure to something breeds familiarity which in turn breeds liking.

“Repetition of anything, even false statement, will make people believe in it.” – Daniel Kahneman

Companies repeat ads. So that whenever you think of some product, their brand name comes to your mind first. Mass media marketing is all about advertising. But digital marketing has evolved into something more than advertising. It has now become a platform for communication. Where you just don’t sell ads, you communicate with people. You listen to them, and you answer their queries. Showing them that you care. People like when you take care of them.

“You cannot bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them in buying it.” – David Ogilvy

Traditional vs digital: Which way to go?

It’s nice to have your ad aired on TV. But the prices are not favorable for SMEs. Companies paid 8–10 lakhs7 rupees for a 10 second ad on TV show Satyamev Jayate. A 10 second ad on Star Plus8 costs anywhere between 50k–1 lakh rupees based on TRPs. For one-fifth of this amount, you can set up your whole digital marketing campaign. Yes, you can kick off digital marketing for your business with just 10,000 rupees. This is the beauty of digital.

Radio ads are not too useful for SMEs. Let’s look at an ad rates chart for Radio Mirchi, a leading radio station in India.


Spending 7,750 rupees for running an ad 5 times is not the best investment for SMEs. Newspaper classified were once considered essential part of marketing. But that’s not the case anymore. And for SMEs, they aren’t forgiving. Times of India (Delhi) charges around 11,000 rupees for displaying 6x5cm ad.


Now you can get creative and may think of doing posters and distributing leaflets. They work, but their ROI isn’t high enough for SMEs. Unless you just want to stay small, you have to get your word out. The problem with leaflets and posters is that humans aren’t good at multitasking. We think we are multitasking, that is doing many things at once. But in reality we are not9. All we are doing is juggling between tasks. And this gets heavy on our brains and we start ignoring stuff. When a driving person sees a billboard or a poster, he ignores it for most of the time. Because reaching to his destination is his primary concern. He’s not buying your product while driving at 80 kmph on a highway. People just want to read the morning news when they have newspaper in hand. Good luck with your hopes that they will read your leaflet.

Now we are not saying that mass media ads are useless. In fact, those are quite effective, but only when combined with communicative digital marketing. Because it used to be that you had your ad displayed on mass media and you get more customers. This strategy doesn’t work anymore. You can get a few new customers, but you won’t retain them. Now you need digital marketing along with mass media advertisement to work this out. If you are just starting out, digital marketing can work without any mass media ads. But not the other way around.

There’s something revolutionary about going digital. Here you are not looking for customers, like any other form of advertising. Rather customers are looking for you. With digital marketing, you are always at the right place, at the right time. People search for products and services online all the time. In fact, 81% people research online10 before buying anything in the store. Suppose you manufacture auto spare parts, and it’s a no brainer that people are already searching for them online. If you show up there, you get business. If you don’t, your competitor gets business. It’s as simple as that.

Today’s consumer is more knowledgeable than ever before. And fooling them or misleading them with ads doesn’t work much these days. He has more11 choices than ever before. And he has the power of Google. All you have to do is to help them make a decision. A decision that he won’t regret. And selling doesn’t end with consumer purchasing your products or services. You have to keep them engaged with your brand. That’s what major companies these days are doing.


So let’s make a list how digital marketing is more beneficial for SMEs than mass media ads:

  1. Great exposure at lowest cost, ideal for small and medium size businesses.
  2. You control how your ads are shown and to which people. You can target your audience based on their age, demographics, and interests.
  3. You can measure the success rate on the fly. Not possible in case of mass media advertisement.
  4. You get to engage with your customers on social media. This is crucial in these times of high connectivity.
  5. When combined with mass media ads, it gives remarkable results. Because people search online anyway, and mass media ads work as a catalyst.

How other companies are marketing and how you should?

Most successful companies are using inbound marketing. There are two ways to market. You can either reach out to people, or you can help people reach you. When you go looking for people, it’s called outbound marketing. All types of advertising is outbound marketing.

The world is changing, with it is changing the way we do business. At the heart of this change is the internet. It has redefined how we communicate with each other. Businesses all over the world are seeing this change and adapting to it. Inbound marketing12 is the most effective method of marketing in today’s markets. It’s effective because it puts communication at its core.


Here’s an illustration by courtesy of HubSpot:


Jeffery Gitomer once said, “People don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy.” It’s true. SMEs don’t have to spend extra money on ads. Just tell people that you are providing things they need. Tell it in a persuasive manner, help them out with something and they will buy. Make accounts on social media networks and see what’s going on there. Engage in conversations, pitch your products before them. Tell them how it’s better than others. Sure, it’s going to take some time to set things up. But it’s worth it.

Read about how SMEs are using inbound marketing to drive profits.

Got 10,000 rupees? Let’s start marketing.

With 10k rupees, you can start with any of the these platforms:

  • Google AdWords
  • Facebook marketing
  • Search engine optimization
  • Website redesign
  • UX enhancements
  • Email ads
  • Content marketing

We have discussed about them in detail on our blog. Be sure to read them and adopt them for your own marketing efforts. Have a good one.

Manu Mayank

Sucker for Growth Hacking and Disruptive innovation, Global brand consulting and digital marketing exposure, Passionate about cooking and insightful conversations. I am still in process of realization of self.

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