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Marketing on a shoestring – the creative ways to get your company’s name out there

Marketing on a shoestring
Thinking creatively can help businesses gain traction in the noisy world of customer acquisition

From flash mobs to listing on Groupon, discover how four innovative SMEs embraced marketing on a shoestring to great success and carved out new ways of acquiring customers.

Marketing on a shoestring requires creativity and a more lateral thinking approach compared to investing in mainstream marketing activities. But the good news these days is that, with the growth of social media and a plethora of new marketing channels, there are many more opportunities to promote your product or service without spending huge amounts.

Elite Fish and Chips has three large restaurants and four takeaways within Lincolnshire. The first takeaway opened in 1988 and this year marks its 30th anniversary in the county.

The company had tried a variety of different marketing methods, including newspaper and radio advertising as well as delivering flyers door-to-door. “These methods had a marginal improvement on getting customers through the door, but we realised we needed to step up our activities to compete and take more of an interest in our community,” said Rachel Tweedale, who is a third-generation fish fryer in the Tweedale family.

Having realised that its radio advertising was producing less of an impact, Tweedale and the management team decided to invest more time in charity work and consider new and interesting ways of engaging with its community and target audience, all while marketing on a shoestring.

Elite Fish and Chips charity
Charity work has helped Elite Fish and Chips engage with local communities

Think differently

“We’ve always helped local good causes where we can,” she explained. “Our counters always host a colourful display of collection boxes and our walls are plastered with charity posters. Every day we see families who’ve been coming to us for over 30 years and over that time we have got to know them and learnt their stories. It was a natural progression for us to see how we could support those families who have become our friends as well as lend a helping hand to staff and customers who were actively involved in helping others.”

The company found charity campaigns to be one of the most effective strategies for boosting its local reputation, launching it into the media and for winning awards. Its Christmas Wish campaign has been particularly successful.

Use social media

One advantage that anyone marketing on a shoestring enjoys today is the opportunity to see a campaign go viral. As an online operation, activities and experiences company Fizzbox was looking for promotional activity that could not only raise its profile among its target audience but also enhance its image as a trusted, well-known brand. The company, which launched in Brighton last year and has a staff of 15, helps people to find and book activities across the UK and Europe. Given the nature of its business and its target audience, a “flash mob”, where a group of strangers are invited via social media to arrive at a spot and dance, seemed like a good piece of marketing.

Fizzbox Flash dance
Flash mobs have been used by businesses large and small

“One of our colleagues had seen a really impressive flash mob in Belgium, which had been done by a dance company who were trying to get new students,” said Josh Mason, digital marketing and content executive at Fizzbox. “We were really impressed by this. Often these mobs have been used to celebrate and anniversary or passing of famous musicians Michael Jackson.” In this case, the team hit on the musical Grease as a theme and chose Brighton station as it is familiar to so many people.

As well as many “shares” and “likes” on social media, the stunt earned Fizzbox positive coverage in the local media. “Much of the coverage was local to Brighton and we did see a surge of customers inquiring for Brighton events more than any other location, by as much as 50 per cent a few weeks after the coverage,” explained Mason.

His advice to companies marketing on a budget is to use the resources they have at their disposal. “We got the office involved too and, while they did enjoy an afternoon or two out of the office practising, it also meant free dancers. This kind of thing is a great motivator and brings a team together, as they all feel involved in a marketing campaign.”

Coupon culture

Sara Lou-Ann Jones, founder of the Centre of Excellence, which offers courses in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), a way of looking at communication, personal development, and psychotherapy, started marketing on a shoestring by approaching promotional sites such as Wowcher and Groupon.

“At the time they weren’t running any online courses at all and it took a bit of persuasion for them to run the deal as they were only really selling products and services,” she commented. “I contacted these sites as these were the companies heavily advertising on TV at the time when the daily deal websites were really popular.”

Jones added: “The deal sites are great for selling online products because once they are made you more or less have the product for life without any extra costs, apart from keeping the content up to date. When I started using them it was quite easy to make high profits as they sold the courses for good prices £49 or £39.” However, competition between these sites has driven down the prices offered to the public and so Jones believes that they are best for products and services with low overheads.

“I remember sitting at home when I had just started working with the deal sites and had received my first few months of payments,” she said, “one of which was a payment from Amazon daily deals for over £60,000 in one month and I suddenly realised that I could easily scale this up and make a million pounds very quickly.”

They have advantages beyond simply sales, though. “Regardless of whether you do actually sell anything, the sites are very good for growing your brand and getting your product in front of a large audience which helped us grow from a new startup to over 200,000 customers in a couple of years. We are now well over the half a million mark and sell courses into 30 different countries.”

Mobile billboard

The Wriggly Monkey Brewery takes its inspiration from the worlds of engineering and motoring, combining traditional real ales and low alcohol brews. Former F1 engineer, founder and head brewer Luke Roberts spotted a gap in the market for a brewery targeting the motoring world and now travels the country, attending for motoring events with the brewery’s specially adapted Armstrong Siddeley Racing Bar.

For Roberts, this eye-catching stunt, which is relevant to his product’s unique selling point, has been a cost-effective way of marketing on a shoestring.

The Wriggly Monkey Brewery
Think about creating a mobile billboard for your business

“From the start we needed a vehicle for beer deliveries and I liked that this could also be something fun for our audience to connect with,” he explained. “As a result, we developed the concept of the “racing bar” – which we believe is the first in the world. The racing bar has Goodwood Revival racing history – one of the most prestigious competitive car events in the UK – and has now been customised to carry six casks in the back.”

“The brewery is still very new, but we have had event bookings every weekend of the summer across England and brilliant press coverage based solely on the racing bar,” said Roberts. “It is really driving the business – no pun intended – and is the thread that connects, in a very tangible way, our brewery to the motoring world. The racing bar is unique and exciting. Our customers love to see the beer lines coming out of the car and then the beer coming out of the bar pumps.”

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