Top Small Business Marketing Trends for 2009

top 10 small business marketing trendsMarketing in 2008 became decidedly social — and 2009 will see the social elements of marketing accelerate. Social media went from being on the cutting edge, to approaching the mainstream. When I say “social” I mean marketing driven by word-of-mouth relationships.

As you go through each of the following small business marketing trends, you’ll see how powerful the social component is for getting and keeping your ideal customer. Just remember, your customers control your brand, so act accordingly.

1. AUTHENTICITY– In 2009, the focus is on “authenticity” and letting the real people behind your company be visible and show through — no more hiding behind a faceless website filled with the word “We.” Instead, it’s “I.” Consumers and B2B buyers expect to know who they are dealing with before hiring your company.

In the event of a problem with your products, consumers want a real person to reach out to, whether it’s AngelaAtHP or ComcastCares on Twitter, or the Web designer you want to hire who actively participates in Facebook and Plurk. Business people are connecting one-to-one through social media sites and this activity will continue.

How to take advantage of this trend:

  • Set up a social media presence in your real name on sites like, and interact with customers and prospects, mixing in personal information as well as business information. Examples: @ShaneGoldberg (Shane Goldberg, founder of Extreme Member),  @TimBerry (Tim Berry, President of Palo Alto Software), and @pixily (Prasad Thammineni, CEO of Pixily).
  • Set up profiles and groups on Facebook and start recruiting customers to join.
  • Create at least one blog to keep customers educated either about your industry or your products and services.

2. DO IT YOURSELF MARKETING – A study by the Yellow Pages Association of America found that more than half of all small businesses say that getting and keeping customers is a challenge, yet nearly two-thirds say they will NOT get any outside help in marketing. The costs of traditional advertising is going up with newspaper ad rates growing 18%, while the effectiveness of traditional marketing is coming down with newspaper readership coming down. In 1992 it took three touches to reach your buyer — and today it takes more than eight!

How to take advantage of this trend:

  • Do some market research. Use free online survey tools like SurveyMonkey or QuestionPro to find out what’s really important to your customers.
  • Invest in direct marketing. Take the time to build your customer lists and start sending direct messages to your customers whenever possible. Use the information you learned from your surveys to target your message. If you can’t afford direct snail mail, then do email marketing, which is cheaper.
  • Post videos and slide shows on your web site and/or blog. Video a demonstration or collect testimonials from customers. Google likes video content, increasing your chances of being found online. By posting slide shows on your site and on SlideShare, you can reach two audiences – those on social sites like Slideshare and those that come to your site directly. And you make your existing presentations and documents do double duty by posting them online.

3. TECH-DRIVEN WORD OF MOUTH MARKETING – 68% of your customers will leave you because they don’t see the difference between you and the other guy. This is why word-of-mouth-marketing will become even more popular in 2009. Loyal customers tell their friends and family WHY to choose you. With so much advertising around us. small businesses will have to penetrate deep “firewalls” of resistance to get to their ideal customers.

How to take advantage of this trend:

  • Put a forum section on your web site and run ongoing Q&As with your customers. This will give you the REAL reasons that they choose you.
  • Start a referral or affiliate program. It’s as simple as approaching those businesses who serve your customers BEFORE they get to you. A good example is car dealers can refer insurance agents. Clothing retailers can recommend dry cleaners. Look ahead of you in the supply chain and behind you in the supply chain and start referring and collecting referrals.
  • Measure your Net Promoter Score. Fred Reicheld wrote a book called “The Ultimate Question” that discovered that this single greatest predictor of profitability was the answer to the question “How likely are you to refer [this company] to friends and family?”

4. ECO AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY – “Green” has gone mainstream. It’s not just a trendy thing to say anymore. In 2009, letting your customers know that your product or service is eco-and socially responsible is literally a feature you want to communicate. A BBDO (Ad Agency) study recently showed that younger consumers made purchasing decisions based on how what “difference you made in the world.” Whether you’re into this trend or not — many consumers have put this on their criteria list.

How to take advantage of this trend:

  • Promote whatever community programs or ecologically friendly projects or practices that you have. Don’t think that any effort at environmental-friendly activity is too small. If you are replacing all your light bulbs in your offices to the new fluorescent — then say so. If you are recycling paper — say so.
  • If you’re a local business that does business locally — show your customers how you re-cycle and grow the money they spend with you back into the community.

5. BOOTSTRAPPING AND SIMPLICITY – We’ve been moving away from excess for a few years now. But in 2009, being resourceful and bootstrapping is officially cool. This year brings a terrific opportunity to cut out products and services that have little value. Simplifying your offerings gives you the opportunity to differentiate yourself and maintain (if not increase) your price points for products or services that you do best.

How to take advantage of this trend:

  • Run a report of your products and services sold to each customer and check out the margins. Highlight the low-margin offerings and see if you can move your customers to a more profitable alternative.
  • Look at your bills and statements and ask yourself the question ‘In what ways does this expense get and keep my ideal customers?’ If you don’t come up with a good answer — it may be time to cut that expense out.

6. MARKETING TO THE “BUY BUTTON” – Neuromarketing is the study of how our brains respond to messages. Neuromarketing is becoming the standard baseline for copywriting and advertising. Learning how your customers’ “buy button” works will save you time effort and money.

How to take advantage of this trend:

  • Read the books Buyology and Neuromarketing to understand exactly how your brain is influenced to choose one product over another.
  • Find ways to attach positive emotions to your product or service.
  • Show your customer that you trust THEM by making a trial period available or quickly approving credit.

7. PAID MEMBERSHIPS — Membership sites are a new trend that make the Internet a terrific money-making opportunity for all kinds of entrepreneurs. Combine the trend of creating a niche, and a membership site, and you will have yourself a winning formula in 2009.

Offering memberships is not restricted to the Internet alone. Restaurants have used memberships successfully to even out cash flow and consistently bring in customers. Financial service providers have used memberships to educate their clients and provide special events and services.

How to take advantage of this trend:

  • Think of ways to offer a regular benefit to members: product or service of the month, research, e-books, designs and templates. If you have a niche, you have the makings of a membership opportunity.
  • Can you call your customers members? What could you offer them on a regular basis as a benefit of membership?
  • Some examples of membership sites: Artella Words and Art, Artistic Thread Works, The Biz Web Coach.

8. MOBILITY — Accessing the Internet via mobile device or smart phone is a given. The sites that are mobile friendly will be the sites of choice for consumers looking for information on the go. Another common occurrence is receiving updates on your order or any information that you request via text message.

How to take advantage of this trend:

  • Check out these services for sending text messages to customers from the Web:,
  • Talk to your technical expert to see what it would take to convert your web site or blog to be viewed easily on the web.

9. WISDOM OF CROWDS — Your customers will want more say in how you improve your product or service. Internet tools like UserVoice, Get Satisfaction and IdeaScale will gain more popularity in 2009 and will be common platforms for gathering customer feedback and ideas on product improvements. Using these feedback tools helps to build customer community and loyalty.

How to take advantage of this trend:

  • Sign up for a free version of UserVoice, GetSatisfaction or IdeaScale and put a Feedback widget on your web site or blog. Tell your customers to contribute ideas.
  • Be sure to monitor (or have your employees monitor) the feedback on such sites and participate in it. Then as you implement suggestions – communicate that to your customers.

10. PERSONAL BRANDING- Personal Branding will become more important than a killer resume or bio. Your personal brand is your public identity. It’s what you are known for within and outside your network. It has never been more important to differentiate yourself and focus on what sets you apart from the crowd.

Good personal brands give people an immediate sense of knowing you and the experience your business offers. What do these names conjure up for you? Donald Trump, Oprah, Richard Branson? Each of these individuals have focused on a defining idea or element of who they are that is immediately recognizable. For example “You’re Fired” would not be Oprah and “Live your best life” would not be Donald Trump

How to take advantage of this trend:

  • Make sure you are using a photo on the web. It doesn’t need to be professional, in fact, a candid and authentically-you shot is best. Use the same pictures everywhere until your brand is established. @GuyKawasaki has his standard picture – but he also changes it around now and then. @JenniferLaycock from SearchEngine Guide uses her company’s puppy logo as her brand.
  • Register your name as your domain name. Also register extensions of your name on popular social media sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Slideshare, and others. This serves a defensive purpose, too, as it prevent squatters from profiting off of your personal brand.


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Ivana Taylor About the Author: Ivana Taylor is CEO of Third Force, a strategic firm that helps small businesses get and keep their ideal customer.  She’s the co-author of the book “Excel for Marketing Managers” and proprietor of DIYMarketers, a subscription site for in-house marketers.  Her blog is Strategy Stew.


Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."

45 Reactions
  1. Nice article Ivana. You hit on a lot of good topics. It always amazes me how few smaller businesses take customer opinions into account. I like your suggestion of putting a feedback widget directly on your site. I didn’t know that services like Get Satisfaction existed. It looks like it could be really helpful, but I’m wondering if they have ways to stop spammers from making their own comments.

  2. Ivana, your point #5 is right on, especially this:

    “Look at your bills and statements and ask yourself the question ‘In what ways does this expense get and keep my ideal customers?’ If you don’t come up with a good answer — it may be time to cut that expense out.”

    This is an important exercise — and doubly so during tight economic times.

    We all get into the habit of doing certain marketing activities, but their effectiveness changes over time. And our businesses change over time. What worked last year may not be working as well this year.

    — Anita

  3. Prasad Thammineni - @pixily_CEO


    Thank you for mentioning my efforts on Twitter. My initial reaction to Twitter was that it was a passing fad. I reluctantly registered because my employees wanted me to. But when Pixily customers started following me on Twitter, I realized the power of Twitter. Now I am an active user of Twitter and I spend at least few minutes everyday on it. I have made contact with Pixily champions, reporters, and more. Most importantly, Twitter gives Pixily customers direct access to me. This has helped us improve customer satisfaction and address concerns as they occur.

    Prasad Thammineni (

  4. Excellent advice. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Ivana:
    A great look forward. I’m especially excited about “Personal Branding” — HP can certainly help with DIY branding and marketing materials available via the HP Creative Studio that you can customize and print yourself.
    Check out all the free templates at:

    I also wanted to say thanks for mentioning HP’s efforts to connect directly with customers via Twitter, blogs such as Small Business Trends, or via our own HP Small Business Wiki.

    In addition to HP’s Total Care Program and HP Chat (which are accessible via, HP also recently launched the HP Consumer Support Forums to help our customers connect and collaborate with each other — whether that’s to share tips or to solve product-related issues or simply to talk about new products and ask questions.

    You can find the new HP Consumer Support Forums here:


  6. Ivana, great way of putting together a trends list.

    I also like number 5 especially about reviewing the margins. One other point to perhaps add is that it is also worth looking at ways to cut your product or service costs as this can easily add margin, sometimes with minimal effort.

    One question I have is that you mentioned that it now takes at least 8 touches with a buyer. Is there any difference between products and services and the types of products and services?

  7. Ivana: I especially like #1 Authenticity & #10 Personal Branding as an integrated whole. I will continue to work on my personal EGO brand, reflecting back to my blog and other work-life activities. In the long run, I will compile all my stuff in one place, like my own start & homepage that could evolve into a sticky portal site for my readers, friends and business associates and contacts. My will undergo a make-over and I will test out a new web site tool called Scrapplet. Maybe I should set up a retro image of an under construction sign?! 😉 For all this to come together, I have to implement my own version of a “getting things done” system. Don’t you think that this kind of self-help business material will be a trend for this year? I have seen plenty of GTD blogs on Alltop.


    You’re right on with this post on so many levels. Especially with #1. In my 9 years in the advertising industry, it’s the customers I’ve got the best relationship with that are the most loyal and have even called back when ready for my expertise and services once again. Had one call back who hasn’t advertised with me for over 2 years and his call will be worth $200K in revenue to me this year.

  9. Re your trend about eco-responsibility, we found that putting “Save a tree – don’t print” in green font at the bottom of our customer service emails brought us a much bigger response than we imagined. A number of customers have mentioned it approvingly. Our community newspaper wrote about it on their blog.

  10. Certainly the right information for these difficult times and trends covering many points of general interest in small business.

  11. Certainly very useful information at these difficult times covering many essential points of general interest. Thanks.

  12. This is an excellent resource for businesses who are looking to thrive in 2009! In addition to providing paperless office solutions to help with Eco Responsibility, Miles Technologies can help with Mobility by providing Remote Office Solutions and Handheld Devices complete with custom web-based applications that are accessible using both Palm Pilot and Handheld PCs.

  13. Beckett Gilchrist

    Thanks for the tips and I think you are right on exactly.

    I run a small business networking firm that manages social networking and driving traffic for our client to free up their time to sell.

    It’s effective and affordable.

  14. These are great tools to use.
    I remember Gary Vaynerchuk saying that the power is lost with radio and tv, the real movement starts from blogs, and how people spread the word.

  15. Great tips! I think number 4 and 5 are best ones. Thanks for sharing it

  16. Excellent article and some great tips. I am just about to start marketing an online local business directory and what you have written is great advice that I can use and pass on. Thanks.

  17. Great tips! Thanks for sharing this!

  18. Great article. This is a great summary of where things are going.

  19. Thanks for sharing, these are excellent tips. The 2009 Marketing Outlook survey conducted by Zoomerang and released by StrongMail Systems, Inc. revealed that despite economic concerns, businesses will continue to invest in key marketing programs in the coming year.
    Nearly all businesses (81%) will either use the information available to them via customer databases, analytics tools or other resources to send more relevant emails to customers and prospects in 2009, or are currently considering tools to help them do so. Additionally, a significant number of organizations plan to experiment with new programs in 2009 to raise visibility and increase sales, like offering free-trials, promoting product giveaways and integrating social media strategies.

  20. Very interesting and useful tips in your article.Hopefully I will start putting some of them into action

  21. Internet Marketing

    has anyone read that book mentioned in #6? Interested in this.


  22. I think having a forum on your own website can be very valuable but you have to be extremely careful with social media. No product/service is perfect and those imperfections will be explained in detail on the internet – much to your chagrin. People love to blog and post comments when they are upset.

  23. Racheal A. Mack

    Great article! Being a former media marketing associate, I know how important it will be to help small businesses learn how to advertise and market themselves using low- to no cost strategies, I’m going to write a book on this.

  24. Gorilla marketing in today’s economy is everything.
    If your interested in web optimization for your site, there is a free site for uploading video ads for your business, they also have image uploads if you are not yet up to videos. The more sites you can link to the greater your market will be. They have a free link exchange as well.

  25. Thanks for the great info. I am curious what source the following statistic came from: “In 1992 it took three touches to reach your buyer — and today it takes more than eight!”

  26. Bryan Moore Creative Design

    Good points. I like what Andrea said as well about distinguishing yourself from the “other guy”. These articles are great because not only do they explain what marketing trends are among other topics, but also how to implement them.

  27. Talk about hitting the nail on the head! You have certainly driven home all of the points that we’ve been educating one of our clients about. Unfortunately, you can lead a horse to water, but…he gave us fodder for our blogger content. Thank you so much for this! Darn Good Advice, which in our opinion makes it a no-brainer.
    David Anton

  28. Lesia Chantler

    I’m a little bit confused here. Is it just me?