When using chalk stencils to leave messages on the pavement was all the rage in guerilla marketing a few years ago, business owner Nicky Shore recalls wanting to get in on the act too.
"So we had some stencils made," says Shore, "but what we didn't realise was as we were putting them down there was a person from the council pretty much following us with a steam cleaner taking them away!"
Shore cites it as one instance where efforts to market her OFF chain of wax and brow bars on a shoestring didn't pan out. But the beauty of doing things on a limited budget means that if a strategy doesn't work, she says, it's not a major issue to move on and try something else.
Shore is one of a handful of business owners who share some of their experiences of marketing on a shoestring budget in Your Business this week. Between them, they've tried a broad range of strategies over a range of channels.
Shore's shoestring marketing strategies have largely focused on finding ways to create positive word of mouth and communicate a quirky point of difference. Concepts like creating, trademarking and promoting the idea of the 'Brozilian', for example, have created 'talkability' and help people remember the brand, she says.
"A lot of this is about communicating the tone of what we do, and it's more about the message than the medium. If you want to focus on one thing I think that should be about creating your points of difference, which give people ways to talk about and market you on your behalf."
Lisa Jansen, marketing manager at The Icehouse business growth centre, is another word-of-mouth advocate.
"In my opinion there's no better marketing channel than word of mouth. And that's not just because it is free; it's just so much more powerful when other people promote your business."
Jansen's tips for generating positive word of mouth include giving customers an outstanding experience, and offering something extra - even if it's a small thing - that the customer wasn't expecting. Offering incentives or rewards can also get customers referring you to their networks.
Jansen has a host of tips for marketing on a shoestring via other free or cheap channels, including traditional media and social media. With social media, for example, it's all about finding the platforms where your audience is most active, and then ensuring you regularly post content that engages - generally something that's entertaining or educational, she says.
Nicky Walsh is co-founder of early-stage startup Curate, a website (currently in private beta) that connects retailers and shoppers and harnesses the phenomenon of social shopping. It's very early days for the business, but Walsh says social media has so far been the online business' most cost-effective marketing channel.
For the past few weeks the venture has been putting together a regular blog called Eye Spy on The Block, where they source products bought by contestants on the reality TV show, write a blog post about it and post to their social channels, tagging in featured retailers.
Creating content that strikes a chord with followers of the show has helped the business quadruple its number of Facebook followers to 2000, says Walsh, and signups to Curate have tripled during the four weeks the posts have so far run.
Word of mouth, social media, PR and events have all worked well for Cathy Pope when marketing her startup jewellery business on a shoestring. Pope has worked as a costume designer and wardrobe stylist in the film and TV industries for 15 years, and she's been able to leverage her contacts to good effect.
"Being a stylist has made it easier for me to get my jewellery worn on TV and by celebrities as I know a lot of people in the media. My network of friends and colleagues wearing my work, and word of mouth have helped enormously too," says Pope.
Enlisting the services of fashion PR agency Showroom 22 has been her main marketing cost, but she says the exposure her brand has gained from the relationship has made it well worth it. Collaborating with one of her stockists, designer Celine Rita, also gave Pope the chance to have her jewellery featured at New Zealand Fashion Week.
"I was really thrilled to be part of that event in my first year, and for my name and products to be floating around in the right circles," she says.
Nicky Shore, OFF Wax and Brow Bar, and ON Browhouse
Nicky Shore is the founder and owner of the OFF chain of three specialist wax and brow bars in Auckland, along with brow bar ON Browhouse, which recently opened in Britomart.
What's your philosophy when it comes to marketing your businesses?
I think when some people hear the word 'marketing' they think it's just about advertising. But from my perspective marketing is everything you do and how you come across to the customer in their day. For me that means you have to be looking at everything as a marketing tool when you're in a small business - especially when you have a limited budget - because when you can impact lots of little things you can actually deliver a message that's so much better as a whole.
What factors have limited your marketing budgets?
They've definitely been limited by both default and design. By default, we definitely didn't have any spare cash when we opened new stores, because we really focus on delivering a premium experience via the stores. That's an expensive business and it's really tight with cash until the business builds.
From the 'by design' perspective, I've never really believed bigger budgets create bigger results. I think people look at a limited budget as a disadvantage, whereas I think sometimes it can be an advantage because maybe it makes you a bit more on your game. We're in the field of personal services, and success is definitely down to word of mouth; recommendations from friends or experts who are in that field can hold so much more weight than plonking an ad on television or something similar. So if I was going to focus on one thing, it would be 'how do I make that word of mouth as the best it can possibly be?'
How do you do that?
Customer service is probably the most cost effective marketing tool that we can have. We always want our customers to leave happy, but there's also that old adage that getting a new customer is way more expensive than retaining a happy, existing customer. We want our customers to become brand ambassadors, but our staff are our brand ambassadors as well. It's a win-win if we can keep happy clients and staff.
What are some specific marketing tactics you've found effective on a small budget?
We try and grab opportunities when they present themselves that actively promote people to talk about us. Getting something that has legs is key. We had an opportunity when we first opened to take a large prime billboard site that was discounted at short notice, where we ran a 'say no to fur' campaign that featured a bald cat. People loved it because there was a real talkability about it.
We've also created, trademarked and promoted the idea of the 'Brozilian', which has become a turn of phrase now that people associate with us and want to talk about. Another example is our staff wear 'I love muff' t-shirts, which customers have come in and wanted to buy for themselves. It's finding quirky ways that communicate us, but in way that people want to be involved with.
But are there specific mediums that you've found more effective for you than others?
A lot of this is about communicating the tone of what we do, and it's more about the message than the medium. If you want to focus on one thing I think that should be about creating your points of difference, which give people ways to talk about and market you on your behalf.
So for us we use quirky imagery and phrases like 'don't let your lady garden go to seed' in our stores and on our collateral, and that becomes marketing in itself because people remember and talk about it. We've also tried to buck the trend with our fitouts; OFF is more like a bar than a traditional beauty salon and ON is more like a New York loft apartment.
Have there been any shoestring tactics you've tried that haven't worked so well?
There have been lots! I remember when we opened one of our branches several years ago it was when everyone was using chalk stencils on the footpath as a very cheap way of guerilla marketing. So we had some stencils made, but what we didn't realise was as we were putting them down there was a person from the council pretty much following us with a steam cleaner taking them away!
You try things, but the good thing is if they don't cost a lot then you just chuck it out and try something else.
What are your three key tips for marketing on a shoestring?
1. Don't think of marketing as advertising.
2. If you can do nothing else, focus on word of mouth.
3. Have a clear point of difference, because that makes your efforts so much more cost effective.
Coming up in Your Business: I'm keen to hear about some of the interesting small businesses people are running in rural locations, and how their environment impacts on their operations. If you've got a story to tell about your rural business, drop me a note: email@example.com