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SMB Marketing Growing Pains

From 3 Perspectives: Agency, Brand, and Consultant
Brett Friedman

If you've run advertising for a small business, you can relate when I say there's one problem that rules them all: low resources. To advertise, you need money and you need great ads.

The Small Brand Perspective

As a small business, you spend most of your money on employees and production, and less of your money on making great ads. But therein lies the problem.

As a budding brand, you may not be able to afford a marketing team yet. And if you have no background in advertising or design, it's hard to find what makes an ad work.

Calloway Cook, President at Illuminate Labs colors the point:

"Paid marketing isn't my specialty, but it doesn't make sense to hire someone for PPC."

But it's crucial to have ads that not only perform well, but are profitable. With small budgets, there's little room for error. In order to deal with the huge uncertainty of running your first ad campaign, you need a way to make good creative fast. Cook continues:

"I test various paid channels at a small scale to determine profitability."

We've already written about small scale testing here and here. To recap: test your creative. It's relatively cheap, you save money in the long-run, and it's the only repeatable way of knowing for sure your ads will work without pouring money into a campaign.

So that's the brand perspective. What are the pains of an agency working with a small brand?

The SMB Agency Perspective

Small companies have large needs, but little direction. Many small businesses are still figuring out their branding, their unique value props, and often their audiences. And all this on budgets under $1000 a month.

Annaliece Mattingly of SelfMade, an e-commerce digital marketing shop, puts the problems of agency work into 3 groups:

  1. "Lack of Brand Clarity" - Without knowing what makes their product special, it's hard to make ads that differentiate from the crowd.
  2. "Poor Assets" - Marketing is about your brand shining in a sea of boredom. To do that, you need high quality creative assets. Otherwise, you risk having a negative impact on your brand association.
  3. "Restrictive Budget":  The problem that plagues all SMBs: low budget. Especially companies just starting their marketing journey, it's important to find the right target audience, but that costs money. And agencies are expected to make an immediate return on investment. It's hard to learn and to grow revenue simultaneously.
"I think a lot of brands don't realize the importance of allocating a certain part of the budget to creating really well done, high quality photographs/lifestyle imagery for agencies/marketers to use in campaigns"

It's a daunting task to find product-market fit with such small spend. We discuss how to use testing to solve that issue here. For now, let's turn to an expert consultant.

The SMB Consultancy Perspective

Consultants have all the same problems as agencies plus some more. Because consultancies are typically one-person shows, brands often try to push how much they can get for less money- again a low resource problem.

Ariel Lim, a 9-year veteran of the industry breaks it down across time:

• "Pre-Engagement" - Brands want, no, need, to get the most out of their money. So when it comes to consultants, they ask for too much and offer too little.
"Start of Engagement" - The pain here is twofold: new industry and slow approval. Starting out with a new company means learning their industry well enough to differentiate from the market in just a few days. That becomes a real pain when you have to wait on your employer to approve every ad you make.
• "During the Engagement" - Unrealistic expectations. A classic issue in marketing. Shareholders expect a company to grow at enormous rates every month. Where does that growth come from? Marketing of course. Growing a company from scratch, as is the case for most SMBs, deepens the challenge. You need to build a following, convert them, and continuously increase income for your client. Doubled results? They want 3x. Triple results? 6x.

"Most often, clients are anxious and impatient on getting results."

A Possible Solution

So what's the solution? How do we remedy the problem of 'it takes money to make money'? It's tempting to say there is no solution. That there's a lot of luck involved. That you should adopt a Stoic mentality and do all that you can until external forces stop you. And that's all true.

But my advice is to test and learn. Run 25-50 ads for a dollar a day. As soon as you see one outperforming the rest, put $5-10 dollars behind it. See if it scales. If it does, great, you can now afford to pay for the rest of your test. If it doesn't, great, you can keep testing to find other outliers.

The best way to appease clients (and yourself) is to use data for your creative decisions. Showing your client 100 ads lets them quickly choose what to run, speeding up approval. Testing 25+ ads lets you show clients why you're choosing to use certain assets, certain ads in your campaigns. And if you're a brand owner, you can have more realistic expectations by understanding exactly where your advertising successes and failures are coming from.

And if you really want to keep costs down, automagically find your best creative by signing up for Marpipe.

Happy testing!

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