The ultimate guide to small business marketing in 2024

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

The latest survey from VistaPrint, in partnership with Wix, captured insights from 1,000 U.S. small business owners and consumers in March 2024 and spotlights the resilience and creativity of small businesses. Despite inflation and uncertainty, 78% of business owners are boosting their budgets this year, and almost half are ready to dive into new strategies and marketing ideas.

Although competition is fierce, with 53% citing the struggle to stand out in the market as their main challenge, small business marketing, inherently personalized and resourceful, shows remarkable adaptability. The survey reveals a buoyant mood among small business owners: 79% are confident in their marketing prowess while 77% applaud the effectiveness of their recent efforts.

This confidence is imperative as small business owners expand their marketing horizons despite economic challenges. Adapting to changes, seizing new opportunities and a detailed, actionable marketing plan will ensure your business not only survives but thrives.

Ready to join the ranks of confident, savvy marketers? Dive into this ultimate guide, drawn from the Small Business Marketing Report 2024: Presented by VistaPrint in partnership with Wix. Discover exclusive consumer behavior insights, top-tier practices, tips and insights that will empower you to craft a winning marketing strategy for your business. 

Everything you need to know about small business marketing

Understand your audience

Before you think about unfurling marketing banners or crafting a killer sales pitch, pause and ask yourself: who are you attempting to reach? 

Successful small business marketing begins with a crystal-clear understanding of its target audience. Not everyone is your customer. So, let’s break down how to find out who it is.

Small business marketing tip: showcasing your products at a local event

Source: Customers looking at products by Blow Me Candle

Define your target market

For small businesses, resources (time, money, and manpower) are often limited. Identifying your target market ensures that you’re not spreading these precious resources over an undefined, potentially uninterested audience. Instead, you’re honing in on the segment most likely to be interested in your offerings.

To define your target audience, you need to:

  1. Analyze your customer base: Who is already buying from you? Identifying common characteristics and interests of your existing customers is an excellent starting point. This can reveal the most profitable segments to target.
  2. Check out the competition: Who are your competitors targeting? Observing their successes and failures can help you identify opportunities. Maybe there’s a niche they’re overlooking, or perhaps their broad focus gives you a chance to specialize and appeal to a more defined section.
  3. Identify demographics and psychographics: Segment your potential customers by demographics (age, gender, income level, education etc.) and psychographics (personality, values, attitudes, interests, lifestyles). This data can be gathered through market research tools, surveys and social media insights and collated in a user persona.
“Consistency and authenticity are key to marketing—as is not to take anything too seriously. You can’t please everyone, and I’m okay with that!”

—Wix customer Daniel Dooreck, founder of Danny’s Mud Shop

Photo of small business owner of Danny’s Mud Shop

Source: Wix customer, Daniel Dooreck, founder of Danny’s Mud Shop

Conduct market research

Understanding the broader landscape—industry trends, competitor activity and economic conditions—can inform your strategy and help you anticipate shifts in consumer behavior.

There are two main types of market research: primary and secondary. 

  • Primary research involves getting your hands dirty—conducting surveys, interviews and maybe a focus group or two. It’s like mining for gold in your backyard; it’s raw, unfiltered insight directly from the source. 
  • Secondary research involves reviewing already published data like industry reports, customer surveys, academic papers and market analyses by reputable firms.

Create user personas

User personas are like sketches of your customers. They help you visualize the real people who buy your products now and in the future, making your marketing more targeted and personal. Instead of shouting into a void, you’re directly appealing to someone whose values, goals and beliefs you understand.

Start by compiling the demographic and psychographic information you’ve gathered. Create a narrative for each persona: Meet “Budgeting Betty,” a thrifty thirty-something who loves DIY projects and is always looking for the best deal. Or “Executive Eddie,” a sharp-suited professional who values efficiency and premium service. Collect and combine real data to ensure your persona is a true reflection of your archetype customer. 

Then, every time you create a marketing campaign, ask yourself: Would Betty or Eddie like this?

Small business marketing tip: communicate and chat with your key demographics

Source: Kora Abelard, owner of Orijin

Evaluate your current market position

Like checking navigation mid-journey, understanding your market position ensures that your business is on the right trajectory toward its goals. For small businesses, accurately evaluating your current market position is essential for:

  • Strategic decision-making: Insight into market position enables precise, informed decision-making across all aspects of your enterprise, from product development to effective marketing strategy. It helps to realize which aspects of your business model are functioning efficiently and where recalibration might be necessary.
  • Resource allocation: Understanding your current market position means you can channel investments into segments that promise the highest returns, ensuring optimal use of resources.
  • Competitive advantage: Position evaluation enables a deeper understanding of the competitive landscape, allowing you to identify unique opportunities and potentially secure a larger market share.
  • Risk management: Knowing your standing helps anticipate market shifts and prepare proactive strategies to mitigate potential risks.

With the reasons established, let’s delve into how to evaluate your market position effectively.

Source: James Yukawa, owner of Bolla

Conduct competitor research

Start by identifying who your competitors are. This includes direct competitors who offer the same products or services as you, as well as indirect competitors who may not offer the same thing but are vying for the same customers. 

Tools like Google searches, industry reports, and social media can help you gather intelligence on competitors’ offerings, marketing strategies, customer reviews and market presence. This research can highlight what competitors are doing well and where they are vulnerable, providing opportunities to gain a bigger market share.

Conduct a SWOT Analysis

Conducting a SWOT analysis provides a structured method to evaluate your business’s internal strengths and weaknesses alongside external opportunities and threats:

  • Strengths: What are your key assets? Consider superior products, exclusive technology or robust customer relationships.
  • Weaknesses: Identify areas of improvement, such as customer service or marketing capabilities.
  • Opportunities: Look for market trends or unexploited niches that align with your business strengths and could facilitate growth.
  • Threats: Consider external challenges like competitive pressures, regulatory changes or economic fluctuations that might impact your business.

Develop a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Your USP is what makes your business stand out from the competition. It’s the reason customers choose your products or services over others. Developing a USP requires a deep understanding of customer values and needs, as well as the specifics of how your offerings are uniquely positioned to meet them. This should be a clear, compelling statement that can be easily communicated in your marketing efforts.

While it might be difficult to compete against large corporations, small local businesses have something that chain stores don’t… The authenticity to become part of the community fabric. 

According to the Small Business Marketing Report 2024, the top 5 reasons consumers shop small are:

  • Location and convenience (49%)
  • Product quality (45%)
  • Price (43%)
  • Wanting to support local business (41%)
  • Having a positive impact on the local economy (38%)
The Small Business Marketing showed the top reasons consumers shop at small business are location, quality, price and positive impact

Source: via the Small Business Marketing Report 2024: Presented by VistaPrint in partnership with Wix

Use this to develop your USP, attract new customers and keep the old ones coming back! 

Set small business marketing goals

Now you’re aware of your current market position and know who you’re going to target with your marketing activities, it’s time to set your marketing goals. These goals serve as your compass, ensuring you stay on course and make the most of your resources. Without them, you risk wasting time and resources on strategies that may not align with your business objectives.

When it comes to setting digital marketing goals, follow the SMART criteria—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. For example, instead of a vague goal like “increase social media engagement,” aim for SMARTer goals such as “increase social media engagement by 20% within three months, measured by likes, comments, and shares.”

Small business report tip: know your unique selling point, like The Plant Chica

Source: Sandra Mejia, owner of The Plant Chica

While every business is unique, here are some common marketing goals small businesses might consider:

  • Brand awareness: Increase visibility and recognition of the brand to attract new customers.
  • Customer engagement: Encourage interaction with customers through social media, newsletters and community events.
  • Lead generation: Capture information about those interested in your products or services.
  • Lead conversion: Move prospective leads through the marketing funnel to paying customers.
  • Customer retention: Keep existing customers returning through loyalty programs and excellent service.
  • Revenue increase: Boost sales and overall profitability through strategic approaches like upselling or market expansion.
  • Return on Investment (ROI): Maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of marketing expenditures.
  • Thought leadership: Position the business as an authority in its field through insightful content and expert contributions.
  • Market share expansion: Outperform competitors and capture a larger slice of the market.
  • Digital optimization: Improve online visibility and engagement through better SEO, an engaging website and an active social media presence.

With a myriad of small business marketing goals to choose from, it’s necessary to prioritize wisely. Focus on goals that closely align with your business objectives and have the biggest impact on your bottom line. 

Build a strong brand for your small business

Effective branding is crucial for small businesses, serving as a key differentiator and beacon for attracting loyal customers.

According to the Small Business Marketing Report 2024 by VistaPrint in partnership with Wix, increasing brand awareness is the biggest growth opportunity for 23% of small business marketers. A distinct brand identity enhances brand awareness and recognition in a crowded market.

Strong branding builds credibility while fostering customer loyalty, essential for repeat business. It also sets you apart from competitors, highlighting what makes your business special.

“I feel more confident about my branding now than a year ago because everything flows together, is more cohesive and makes me stand out… I’ve reaped the benefits of investing in my branding last year and know how to take that further this year.”

—VistaPrint Ambassador, Ashley Addison, founder of AMarieACreates

Key elements of an established brand 

To build a strong brand style for your small business, develop and hone these branding elements:

Source: Angel Vu, owner of Blow Me Candle

Choose the right marketing mix for your small business

In today’s digital era, it’s no surprise that small businesses are heavily investing in digital marketing strategies. Yet, the full story reveals a more nuanced approach. Our report showed that in 2023, 78% of small businesses broadened their horizons by experimenting with new marketing tactics, striving for a balanced mix of digital and traditional marketing.

These stats from small business owners in the Small Business Marketing Report 2024 prove it’s time to bridge the gap between traditional and digital marketing:

  • 40% invested more in digital marketing tactics in 2023 (and will again in 2024)
  • 32% invested more in traditional marketing tactics in 2023 (and 30% will be in 2024) 
  • 28% invested about 50/50 on both traditional and digital marketing tactics in 2023 (and 30% will split their investment in 2024)
Our small business marketing report told us that the right marketing mix is key to growing your business

Source: via the Small Business Marketing Report 2024: Presented by VistaPrint in partnership with Wix

Top marketing tactics that attract consumers to small businesses

Our report indicates the top marketing tactics that help consumers discover small businesses are:

  • Social media (54%): Social platforms continue to be the most influential tool for customer engagement.
  • Search engines (44%): Strong SEO is crucial for visibility in the digital landscape.
  • Flyers (34%): Flyers remain a cost-effective method for local outreach.
  • Direct mail (29%): Personalized direct mail can create a sense of value and connection.
  • Print advertisements (26%): Traditional print ads still play a role in a comprehensive marketing strategy.
  • Television and radio commercials (25%): These can reach a broad audience and are especially effective in local markets.
  • Posters and banners (23%): Visual marketing through signage catches the eye at events and in public spaces.

The specific reasons consumers have visited a local small business:

  • Recommendation from a friend or family member (58%)
  • Walking past the storefront (57%)
  • Seeing a social media post (42%)
  • Receiving direct mail/a flyer in the mailbox (38%)
  • Outdoor signage, posters and advertisements in the local area (37%)
  • Finding a website via online search (30%)
  • Attending a local event (28%)
  • Seeing an ad in a local print publication (27%)
Christine De Carvalho Art at an event

Source: Christine De Carvalho, owner of Christine De Carvalho Art

Selecting the right marketing mix involves understanding the unique dynamics of your market and the preferences of your target audience. By effectively combining digital and traditional marketing strategies, small businesses can create a robust, multifaceted approach that reaches consumers across multiple touchpoints, enhancing visibility, driving engagement and ensuring a broader reach.

Make the most of traditional marketing tools

Despite all the hype about AI and digital algorithms, the value of traditional marketing shouldn’t be disregarded. It’s still a critical player for small businesses, with a notable 71% valuing the tried-and-true traditional marketing tactics to connect with customers. Flyers (34%), direct mail (29%), print ads (26%) and posters or banners (23%) continue to be top tools for steering consumers toward small businesses.

“My marketing strategies rely heavily on social media, however, I do my best to diversify and invest time into wholesale clients that promote my work. As I grow, word of mouth increases, too! My main goal over the next few years is to try to create a sustainable business outside of social media.”

—Wix customer Daniel Dooreck, founder of Danny’s Mud Shop

The report also revealed a surprising curveball: Millennials have a surprising penchant for business cards, rating them more highly than any other demographic.

“By creating interesting and quality promotional business cards that all of our employees keep on hand, we are able to have a piece of our branding and relevant information passed out amongst the crowd.” 

—VistaPrint Ambassador Cam Frank of The SET Collective and Cam Curates

Jasmin Picariello of Letzi and Meta Jewelry at a local event

Source: Jasmin Picariello, owner of Letzi and Meta Jewelry

Tip

If Millennials are the demographic you target with your small business marketing, make sure to check out the latest business card design trends

These traditional tactics offer tangible experiences that many consumers still crave. There’s something about holding a flyer or receiving a piece of mail that digital interactions just can’t replicate. This preference for physical marketing underscores its critical role in forming deeper, more memorable connections with customers.

Ramp up your social media strategy

When looking at the role social media plays in helping small businesses connect with consumers, the Small Business Marketing Report 2024 revealed that:

  • 42% of consumers visited a local small business after seeing a social media post
  • People aged 18-54 credit social media as their top method for discovering local businesses
  • 66-69% of 18-34-year-olds learn about local businesses through social media (more than search engines)

So, if you want to promote your small business among Gen Z customers, make sure you master the art of social media marketing and start your Instagram and TikTok marketing journey! 

Foster loyalty and build relationships with your local community

Facing off against major retailers might seem daunting, but small businesses have a unique advantage—consumers’ growing desire to connect with their local communities. In an era when community involvement is increasingly valued, small businesses stand out by fostering loyalty and nurturing relationships locally.

“At a recent pop-up, I debuted some new branded VistaPrint merch that really captures the essence of Just Rosy. I received tons of messages from loyal shoppers who were so excited to have a new way to rep the brand! It’s a huge confidence boost to know that folks want to spread the word about my business.” 

Just Rosy founder and VistaPrint Ambassador, Rose Koerner

Source: Rose Koerner, owner of Just Rosy

According to the report’s data, 78% of consumers emphasize the importance of shopping small. Specifically, 41% prefer patronizing small over larger businesses to support local enterprises. Regular engagement with small businesses is notable, with 40% of consumers shopping small once or twice a month and 46% actively seeking out small businesses in their community. Gen Z leads the charge in local support, with 46% shopping at local small businesses once or twice a week—more frequently than any other age group.

A few marketing ideas for small businesses to build and foster relationships with their local community:

  • Participate in local events: Sponsor or participate in community events to increase visibility and engagement.
  • Collaborate with local businesses: Form partnerships for cross-promotions that benefit both businesses.
  • Offer discounts: Provide special discounts for local residents to encourage loyalty and repeat custom.
  • Engage on social media: Use platforms to highlight local events, interact with customers and support local businesses.
  • Contribute to local causes: Support local charities through donations, volunteering or fundraising events.
  • Host workshops or classes: Offer relevant educational sessions to attract community members.
  • Create a community space: Designate areas for community gatherings and local meetings.
  • Implement a loyalty program: Reward frequent customers with discounts or free products to encourage repeat business.

Build a robust lead generation strategy

Creating a solid lead generation strategy is crucial for attracting and converting potential customers effectively. According to the Small Business Marketing Report 2024, the following marketing tactics make consumers more likely to visit a small business.

Promotional discounts

Discounts can be a powerful incentive to draw consumers in. It’s a proven tactic, with 51% of small businesses already leveraging this approach to boost foot traffic and sales.

Tip

Offer timed promotions or seasonal discounts to keep things fresh and relevant.

Personal connections with the owner or staff

Consumers often appreciate a personal touch. Knowing the business owner or staff can create a sense of loyalty and trust.

Small business owner at a local event

Source: Catherine Rex, owner of Rex Design

Tip

Encourage your staff to engage with customers, and as an owner, make an effort to be present and approachable.

Loyalty offers

Loyalty programs incentivize repeat business by rewarding customers for their continued patronage. Develop a simple yet effective loyalty program that offers points, perks or discounts for regular customers.

“Customers love being able to receive a free item. I also use vibrant branded thank you cards to elevate the experience. ” 

—Machée Kelly, VistaPrint Ambassador and founder of Machée Creates

Source: Shannon Scates, owner of Unparalleled Art

Promotional products

Branded items like pens, tote bags or t-shirts can turn your customers into brand ambassadors. Our report showed that 29% of small businesses have already successfully adopted this tactic.

Tip

Choose promotional products that are useful and well-designed to encourage regular use, ensuring your brand remains top of mind.

“In the coming year, I am investing more in my marketing. This will look like more branded items to give to customers. I plan to make custom thank you cards to put in packaging and bags during market days.” 

—Jess Scianna, VistaPrint Ambassador and founder of Radically You

Regular communication

Keeping in touch with customers through flyers, direct mail or emails keeps your business on their radar and informs them of new offers and products.

Tip

Create a consistent but not overwhelming communication schedule that includes useful content or exclusive offers to enhance engagement.

For more lead generation strategies, check out our guide to attracting new customers

Make sure to adjust your lead generation strategy according to your target audience and their preferences and consumer behavior. According to the Small Business Marketing Report 2024, there’s a notable difference between the top methods for discovering local businesses by age.

Small business marketing report: best marketing initiative based on each age group

Source: via the Small Business Marketing Report 2024: Presented by VistaPrint in partnership with Wix

Monitor, analyze and adapt

Marketing for small businesses isn’t static; it’s a continuously evolving battleground and your strategies need to keep up with the shifting digital landscape. Successful marketing today may not work tomorrow due to fast-changing trends and consumer behaviors. 

Keeping up with and adapting to industry advancements and consumer trends is critical. Use tools like Google Analytics and social media insights to track your marketing efforts. Analyze performance data regularly to understand what’s effective and what’s not.

According to our Small Business Marketing Report 2024 conducted in partnership with Wix, 48% of small business owners plan to increase their marketing budget and experiment with new tactics this year, indicating a strong commitment to proactive marketing growth.

Constantly upskill

In 2023, a significant 63% of small business owners took steps to upskill in marketing, recognizing that a deeper understanding of its principles and tactics is key to growth. With an additional 13% planning to further enhance their marketing skills in 2024, the report outlines a proactive approach towards mastering the tools and techniques that have the power to transform their business outcomes.

“I most certainly feel more confident in my marketing as opposed to 12 months ago. I finally have a clear vision of my brand and have gotten the necessary marketing material to make that known to my customers. I now feel like I want to be seen rather than just discovered.”

—Diane Arechiga, Maia Sol Designs, Vista Collective member

Knowledge not only empowers but also builds confidence. Thanks in part to their upskilling efforts, 63% of small business owners report feeling more confident in their marketing prowess than they did a year ago. 

The key takeaway for small businesses is clear: invest in continuous learning and upskilling to stay relevant, competitive and confident in your marketing strategies. Commitment to education and improvement is what turns small businesses into well-oiled marketing machines, ready to tackle the challenges of today and seize the opportunities of tomorrow. In the world of small business marketing, confidence—backed up by a thorough understanding of the market—is everything. For further reading on small business marketing types and ideas, check out a similar post on Wix.