Great marketing is as much art as it is science.
If there’s anything we’ve learned from working with 3,000-plus print and promotional shops at Printavo, it’s this: There are lots of ways to accomplish successful marketing.
But what strategies are most effective that you can begin implementing today?
There are five simple strategies that pop up again and again throughout the custom printing industry—these are time-tested ways to reach customers that build legitimacy and boost awareness, driving clientele back to your business again and again.
Strategy No. 1: Focus solely on a niche audience
Want to lower your spend and make your marketing efforts easier?
Then target one niche audience. The “niche” strategy requires focus and discipline, but the potential payoff is huge. The urge to be everything to everyone is hard to resist—there is just so much cool merchandise and so many amazing customization techniques.
But focus in!
Kyler Moppert from Surcee Designs in Mississippi has mastered this strategy. He’s built a custom hat business that focuses on one narrow type of customer. By specializing in technique and customer, Kyle has watched his business expand with far less friction than other custom printing businesses. To local hunters and outdoorsmen, there’s no other choice.
The benefits to the niche strategy are exciting and outrageous.
First, it lets you understand the total addressable market (TAM)—so you can build a long-term strategy around that niche without over-or-underestimating how many customers you can serve.
Second, it lets you work with the people you want to work with and understand. The value of this is hard to understate: working with people you “get” is a real boost.
Third, and most importantly, by focusing on a niche, you can run carefully targeted marketing campaigns. You can tailor imagery and messaging to be exactly what that type of customer wants. You can offer products and services that meet their needs. You can go where they are and be part of events they’re part of.
By focusing on a niche, you can carefully shoot bullets instead of dropping expensive cannonballs and hoping you hit your target. It’s obvious, and perhaps simple, but it’s obviously difficult: few businesses really nail their niche (but the ones that do are wildly successful).
Strategy No. 2: Use email marketing
Email is still a powerful and underrated tool—even decades after its invention.
The big reason that email is so powerful?
There’s no third party or algorithm mediating who sees the email, when it shows up, or whether it even reaches the intended person.
Social media? You’re putting everything through a filter and praying that it sticks—and the odds are good that it won’t.
That isn’t to say you should avoid social media. It’s part-and-parcel of keeping an online presence so your company seems “real” to people that are just finding out about you.
But the time and effort spent deciphering the algorithm, gathering “viral” content, or generally fighting against a major Silicon Valley tech company is better spent on tightly crafted email campaigns.
Email is free, it’s low-risk, it can be extremely personal, and it’s simple to manage and attribute. It’s the best way to nudge existing customers to repurchase—and the most effective way to start building a list of potential customers.
Whether you write a simple biweekly newsletter, send out sample designs, or run carefully orchestrated campaigns that target specific subsections of your clientele at the right time of year, email marketing is a reliable and powerful tool.
Three themes we’ve noticed in great marketing efforts
We’ve noticed that there are themes that emerge again and again in shops that have remarkably powerful marketing efforts.
This doesn’t mean that it’s eco-friendly—though it may be. Their marketing efforts are built into their business. It’s something they can do for a long time. Maybe they’ve found someone in the business who’s passionate about art, branding, or even photography—and handed efforts off to them. In these businesses, the marketing isn’t a big lift, and they aren’t starting from scratch every time they sit down to create. The benefit to this is affordability. It’s already a part of the day-to-day life of the company.
Risk and attribution: the gambler
Bold and effective marketing means trying new things—almost all of the time! If your first concern is how exactly to track and attribute every dollar that is spent on marketing—you may want to take more of a gambler’s outlook, or put marketing in the hands of someone who’s got a higher risk tolerance. There’s inherent riskiness to every marketing campaign. Some efforts fall flat. Sometimes, you’ll be able to launch marketing efforts that have a great deal of certainty—maybe you know that one event always yields some follow-up orders just because it fits your niche so well. But other times, you’ll need to gamble on new techniques, new channels, and new ideas if you want to win. What level of uncertainty are you comfortable with?
Shoot bullets, not cannonballs
Can this campaign be targeted to a specific person? Untargeted efforts like billboards, TV ads, or radio ads are most powerful when they’re used to raise awareness. But targeted and semi-targeted marketing channels—social media, direct mail, events, local SEO articles, email, and direct messages—are where masterful marketers make a big impact.
Strategy No. 3: Be like a mayor
We don’t mean run for office. Instead, go where the people you want to work with like to go. Throw events that capture their attention. Put yourself at the center of the activity.
True leadership is often remarkably simple: show up over a long period of time. Be consistent. Be reliable. Be involved. Look, speak, and act like the people you want to be involved with.
The exact form this strategy takes depends on what kind of business you run and who you want to work with.
But a great example is Dylan Gilligan from Upstate Merch and the Shirt Show podcast: “For me, I like motorcycles, bands and Sasquatch. There are ton of motorcycle groups, clubs, clothing lines—and I already know the lingo to talk to those people. ‘Hey, I have three Harleys, I like riding here…’—I’m legitimate right away.” When there’s a quiet afternoon in the shop, Dylan and the Upstate team will take off on their motorcycles and meet up with local motorcyclist groups.
Some would question whether this is really marketing at all—it sounds like goofing off—but it’s a time-tested guerilla marketing tactic that companies like Pepsi use, too.
Being part of an exciting event, part of having a good time, and staying at the center of activity is a marketing strategy. Don’t underestimate its power. As Dylan explains, “It makes it so it’s not a sales pitch. It’s just like, ‘Hey, let’s start a conversation.’”
Strategy No. 4: Use content marketing
We mentioned earlier that social media marketing is part of seeming “real”—and it’s true.
Without a presence online, some people will have a hard time believing in your business. They need to see a story and have something to connect with before they’ll engage with your brand.
Content marketing is the way to seem like a bigger company than you actually are, too. High-quality images, videos, and even customer instructions can be powerful.
If you hear “content marketing” and your eyes start to glaze over—hang in there. “Show, don’t tell” is the most effective strategy for content marketing.
Interviews with successful customers, guides to merchandise, featured designs, the story behind the merchandise, infographics—all of these are options that are both authentic and simple to execute.
Where do your customers get stuck? How can you get them unstuck? Make a piece of content—image, email, infographic, video, whatever you like—that focuses on that. You may be surprised by its success.
Strategy No. 5: Ask for referrals and reviews
Want to know the most underutilized marketing technique in the world—for any small-to-medium-sized business?
Flat out asking for referrals and reviews.
If you don’t ask, the odds are good people won’t do it. But if you do ask—you’re making a bet that even a small fraction of your customers might know someone who could use your services. The odds are almost 100% that every single customer you have knows at least one more potential customer for your business.
But you have to ask, and you have to ask every single customer.
First, understand that word-of-mouth still drives most small business marketing. The absolute best person to talk about your business is someone that’s purchased from your company and loved it enough to tell their family and friends. We know this instinctively and have experienced it first-hand—but so few businesses build a way to proactively request referrals and reviews.
So what should you do? Automate an email (Printavo does this, but so does other helpful industry software) to each customer once they’ve received their order. The content is super simple: “Our services have helped dozens of businesses like yours—can you review us—and help us find someone else we can help, too?”
Marketing: simple but hard
If none of these strategies blew your mind, good!
Marketing is not about reinventing the wheel every time you sit down to create a new campaign.
Nor is it relentlessly data driven—it’s data influenced.
These techniques are simple, but executing them over a long period of time is what makes them effective. Try the one that seems like it could work with what you already have first.
The discipline and focus required to execute any one of these strategies is exactly why so many businesses don’t execute them!
If we can urge you to take action, it’s to pick one strategy here. Build a system to execute it for the next month. Then the next quarter. Then the next year.
As the results build and build, you’ll observe how great marketing is made of simple parts (emails, images, copy, videos). The difficulty, challenge and successes lie in marketing over the long haul with focus and grit.