How to Market On A Shoestring Budget


Many Houston small and medium-sized businesses on shoestring budgets are concerned about investing in marketing. They hesitate to invest creatively, because they think it is a risky proposition and are worried that the costs will eat up way more of their budget than they can afford to spare. When promotional dollars are scarce, planning a marketing campaign can be a daunting task. However, effective marketing can make the difference between a ho-hum sales year and a fantastic one.

It might feel like a bit of a gamble to invest a lot of money in marketing, but not only is
marketing less expensive than many business owners may imagine – it is also vitally important in helping to grow a business. Even when working with small marketing budgets, creative promotion is one of those gambles that could pay off with significant investment returns. With the internet age, it is easier to instantly get pertinent information and feedback from your marketing campaigns than in the past. This reduces marketing dollar waste by providing the ability to quickly switch gears, to maximize and replicate successes.

Rather than treating an investment in marketing and advertising as a gamble for his/her business, a savvy, forward-thinking business owner recognizes that the right approach will turn their efforts into more of a calculated risk. Here are some creative marketing ideas for Houston business owners and marketers working with tight marketing budgets:

Think Small:  Start with a bare-bones budget. When dividends from your initial marketing campaigns roll in, re-invest those returns into further marketing

Constantly Analyze Results:  Examining your marketing results will help you formulate an effective strategy going forward. Assessing your website traffic reports, search engine rankings, your social media following and the social communities you participate in will be useful information for future marketing efforts.

Shop for Freebies, Discounts and Coupons:  Many impressive marketing tools and programs offer free trials. A good example of this type of “dangling carrot” is Google AdWords. Google often offers businesses an AdWords coupon as an incentive to commit to a paid search engine campaign.

Overall, there are many free online tools and social media resources to leverage and help you efficiently spend your marketing dollars. Here are a few examples:

  • Leverage local online business directories via their free business listings.
  • Create a free business profile on a professional business site, and build a following on free social sites, forums and bulletin boards.
  • Build an interactive Facebook page and update it daily.
  • Reward customers for product reviews, testimonials and referrals.
  • Advertise for free by offering guest posts on industry blogs.
  • Develop videos for promotion through YouTube and other video hosts.
  • Design and build a website and blog. Write interesting content relevant to your industry for your blog daily.

One of the first mistakes many small businesses make is to downsize their marketing budgets when money is tight. However, the right marketing approach can make or break a business. If you are experiencing financial belt-tightening, vary your approach, compare the results and adjust your marketing focus to continue successful business growth.

Top 10 Mistakes Houston Advertisers Make


Small and medium-sized businesses in Houston need to extract maximum value from their marketing budgets, which are typically limited and demand a high return on investment. This makes it even more important that they avoid common advertising mistakes, which happen when businesses and their marketing teams lose focus on the all-important details of a campaign. Such errors can occur on the level of both campaign conception and execution.

The best way to avoid these mistakes is for businesses and marketers to pay close attention to the relationship between a brand and its target audiences. With that in mind, here are 10 mistakes businesses make when implementing their marketing campaigns:

  1. Failing to form and implement a marketing plan up front. It’s essential to identify short-, medium- and long-term goals with any marketing campaign, and to commit an annual budget to advertising. Tempting as it may be, it’s also a mistake to cut back on advertising when business is slow. This move tends to further diminish the number of new customers walking through the door.
  1. Under spending. While there is no universal answer to the question of how much to spend on ad campaigns, a good approach is to tie the advertising budget to company revenues. We recommend service-oriented businesses spend about 5 to 8 percent of their revenues on advertising, though new companies seeking to establish themselves in a marketplace may bump that figure to as high as 15 percent.
  2. Using the wrong medium to target the intended audience. Campaigns should always leverage the medium or media the intended audience is most likely to use. For example, younger demographics are more likely to respond to social media marketing, while certain segments within older consumers respond better to traditional media, including print, radio and TV advertising. (Heads up – certain older consumers are becoming more digital savvy than you think!)
  3. Spreading the campaign across too many media channels. It’s also a mistake to spread a marketing budget too thinly across a wide range of media. This generally leads to sub optimal end results, as the effectiveness of the message is undercut by a media presence that, because of budgetary constraints, is simply too watered down. A Houston business is better off investing strategically investing in the top media channels with proven success in reaching your target demo.
  1. Logistical errors. Businesses should always make it easy for the customer to follow through. However, they often fail to do this, by making errors such as burying important contact information in the middle of an ad or placing QR codes on the side of moving buses, thus making them impossible to scan. Be sure to allocate some of your marketing budget on ramping up the experience customers will ultimately follow in order to purchase your product or service. (For example, ensure your website has a clear call-to-action that aligns with what consumers heard in an ad on the radio that pointed them to go to the website.)
  1. Overuse of technical terminology. While the use of technical or industry-specific jargon can boost perceived professionalism and expertise, communicating in a more common language helps Houston businesses reach and connect with a broader audience. (This is especially true when a business is limited on character space or air-time.)
  2. Taking the wrong sales approach. Always isolate and define a campaign objective. A “branding/awareness” approach increases brand awareness and recognition but doesn’t necessarily drive immediate traffic or sales. This may be ideal for a new business trying to build its presence within the Houston market.  A “sales/incentive” approach pushes specific products and services and offers trackable results. The latter typically inspires consumers who are already aware of a Houston business to buy or act now.
  3. Ineffective calls to action. Do you want a prospective customer to visit a website? Come to a store? Call a customer service representative? Advertisers should make this a clear and prominent part of marketing messages, especially those that support a “sales” goal.
  4. Inconsistent creative across marketing elements. Failure to use consist creative themes – especially for new businesses – will leave it incumbent upon consumers to put the pieces together. Make it easy for them. The more consumers see the same logo and the same message, the more likely it will resonate and get them to take action. This is a marketing tactic that the strongest and most viable brands in the world employ.
  1. Failing to track results. Many businesses fail to quantify the results of their ad campaigns, leaving them without enough information to evaluate the effectiveness of their ads and pinpoint areas for improvement. A thorough, numbers-oriented approach to ad tracking is necessary at all levels of the campaign.

Avoiding these pitfalls will help Houston’s small and mid-sized businesses get more bang for their marketing bucks. And adhering to some of the “dos” listed above will ensure they not only connect with potential customers, but stand a much better chance of converting leads into new sales and, ultimately, stronger, healthier businesses.

Marketing Solutions That Build Your Customer Base


Over the past sixty years, the world of marketing and advertising has changed drastically and what were once tried and true marketing strategies are no longer relevant and have been replaced by integrated campaigns that don’t focus on one medium but many.  These changes are important to Houston business owners and marketers because they have altered the strategies that were once employed to build and keep a customer base.

In the Fifties, marketing solutions stood at the cusp of an evolution, placing the core focus on economics rather than behavior. Products were central to marketing campaigns, which were woven around functionality and investment. Walls of text explained, praised and described whilst pricing strategies were kept firmly away from marketing departments. Supply and demand were the sole determinants of price setting, effectively placing emotional response into economists’ hands. Marketing solutions focused on units rather than relationships.

The 80/20 rule had emerged a decade earlier, yet Fifties business leaders failed to link it to their corporate dealings. Pareto’s Principle of the crucial minority versus the trivial majority only emerged as a guiding marketing practice in 2004, and since then it has been tailored to fit a variety of uniquebusiness practices.

Modern Marketing Theories

Today’s marketing landscape has evolved into an industry that defies its adolescent self. Brand potency and corporate identity have become buzz words as products fade into the background. Invented needs have overwhelmed existing ones as today’s high tech marketplace creates an ever evolving demand for virtual products, gadgetry and invention. Brick and mortar campaigns have lost much of their force as the internet creates a global marketplace that steals competitive advantage from businesses that don’t keep up with the times. Digital strategy dominates campaigns, and algorithms such as Google Panda continually complicate the tactical solutions used by SEO and social media professionals.

Digital Marketing’s Impact

Digital marketing solutions have thrust small businesses into unfamiliar territory, and while many best practices have become extinct, brand strength and corporate identity remain two of the most muscular ways to gain market share. Contemporary environments have become infused with social media networks, which have negated the archaic, traditional media tactics from years prior. In fact, many traditional marketing solutions no longer work. The new frontier has opened the doors to methods of engagement that allow for intimacy, powerful communication and more comprehensive ways to build branding power.

Social Media Emerges

Social media sites have resurrected old fashioned word-of-mouth advertising. Consumers have been brought into closer contact with friends, family and colleagues through Facebook and similar sites, inducing community-oriented buying habits that take place online. The opportunities social media sites offer is astronomical. Companies now have tremendous power to cultivate client relationships and simultaneously gather market research material. Customer lifetime values are soaring as a direct result of campaigns managed strategically through online networks and deciphering data intelligence. The Pareto Principle has become turbo charged through web channels which can exploit customer advocates and influencers to your business’ benefit. Value is no longer measured financially but rather in terms of social capital built on reputation and customer influencers.

Optimally, a social media campaign is designed to carry enough potency to eventually ride passively on the back of viral advertising. Truly compelling content is created through traditional market analysis and research so that marketing media campaigns appeal to a select demographic compellingly enough to induce ‘like’ and ‘share’ responses.

What Does This Mean?

What does all of this mean to you, the Houston business owner or marketer? It means that if you have been using the same marketing strategy for too long (eg. ineffective direct mail pieces) you risk falling behind the curve in terms of technology and relevance with your customers.  Using some of these marketing solutions to grow your customer base can not only help jumpstart your revenue but should also attract a new generation of customers that are more technologically savy and expect more from the businesses they deal with.

Pick Two: A Must-Know Marketing Theory for Houston Businesses and Marketers


A wise creative director once put effective campaign execution so eloquently to me: “You can get it good, fast or cheap. But you can only pick two.” Talk about a marketing and advertising proverbial truth.

Back when I was a rookie in my career, it became increasingly obvious that the perfect mix of these three key ingredients wasn’t always possible. In fact, in most cases, it was impossible.

My understanding of the “Pick Two Triangle” saved the execution team and myself from the additional stress of a workload that didn’t have to be, allowed me to set realistic expectations and gave me relief to know that there was some semblance of a formula for success in the shades of gray that marketers constantly sift through.

My goal is to help the Houston businesses or marketers know and understand expectations when launching new campaigns or tactics. Looking at the “Pick Two Triangle” from the business to consumer angle may help:

Good + Fast = Not Cheap

You’re the owner of a Houston-based auto body shop and a customer comes in with a new, red convertible. It was just rear ended by another vehicle. And the [desperate] owner needs the vehicle good-as-new by 10a tomorrow. You know your crew can get it done – but it won’t be cheap for you, or the vehicle owner. That’s because unplanned man hours +over-time + expedited parts + rearranging existing auto appointments = a whole lot of work. But it’s worth it because you’ll make it up with the revenue on this one. Your team makes it happen. The car is as good as new and it was ready in time. But – again – it wasn’t cheap.

Good + Cheap = Not Fast

You own a local bakery that specializes in wedding desserts. You make it very clear to Houston consumers that you have a handful of experienced, professional bakery chefs that can create intricate, delectable wedding desserts at competitive prices. But in order for you to deliver on these expectations, your cake specialists only work twice a week. [Any more hours logged would increase customers’ costs and you don’t want to sacrifice this value proposition.] Yet, while orders for wedding cakes must be placed months in advance, the fantastic results drive business for you.  Weddings guests rave to others about your desserts and you continue to woo the fathers of the brides with the affordability.

Fast + Cheap = Not Good

You own a residential painting company and a leasing agent must turn a recently vacated apartment in less than two days, on a slim budget. You’re known for quality work and typically you could handle this job with ease. But on short notice, you’ve got your top employees booked on jobs. Therefore, you’ll need to send in a painter with less experience, the only one who can be available last minute. You debate in your mind the risk of quality in work – which could hurt your reputation. This may jeopardize the integrity of the job…and your business. It upsets you thinking of the risk you’re taking. Perhaps it’s not even worth it? You’re right. It likely isn’t.

As I painted these scenarios for you [pun intended,] it probably became evident that the inclusion of “good” in both instances seemed to position each business owner for success as long as the expectations on timing or budget were clear. Therefore, Houston business owners, whenever possible – include “good.” It’s worth the time. It’s worth the money. And you make the time and money factors work by effectively planning for both.

No business owner or marketer wants to see their brand and reputation compromised. Partner with your marketing teams/agencies to build effective timelines that maximize your budget but don’t compromise the quality of the experience with your brand. Respect the time that it takes to do good work. Your marketing and advertising teams want to help elevate your brands, not bring them down. Give them the resources and time to do their jobs well. It’ll be worth the wait – and the budget.

Houston consumers – marketing savvy or not – have been exposed to enough both sophisticated and shoddy advertising efforts to and know which brands have gone the extra mile to make it worth consumers’ time. Those are the brands they’ll do business with…the ones that make sure that no matter what… good is a part of their equation.