Small Business Can Get Equal Footing With Big Guys

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A few years ago, the playing field between big and small business looked a lot different. Big business traditionally had it made in terms of marketing. There was a time when small and midsize businesses operated at a disadvantage, primarily because of large corporations' deep pockets.


Today, smaller businesses are using a simple formula to market themselves like better-known brand names without having to spend enormous sums of money, yet they are yielding greater profits than ever before.


The restaurant business is an example of this shift. It used to be that when two restaurants were marketing to the same consumer, the national restaurant chain with a $3 million marketing budget would reach its audience more often, with more savvy techniques and through multiple marketing channels.


The chain might include a sophisticated Web site, where its menu was shown and an online ordering option was available. It might implement successive e-mail, direct mail marketing or coupon mailer advertisements. It may even do some television or radio advertising.


Meanwhile, the local family-owned restaurant down the street may have an annual marketing budget of $5,000 designated for a telephone directory advertisement and a local newspaper filler. The last thing this small business thought it could afford was a Web site. And it certainly had not considered the marketing benefits of e-mail.


Consequently, because of the variety of marketing channels and the frequency of the marketing impressions, consumers remembered and patronized the chain restaurant when they were ready to dine. Pretty soon the local restaurant was out of business.


The trio of variety plus frequency plus memory is key to marketing success, and the Internet has made that trio more easily attainable. According to recent studies, the number of small businesses that created a Web site for the purpose of establishing and promoting business increased by 123 percent from 1999 to 2000, while 54 percent of all businesses use e-mail communication as a customer service and sales inquiry tool. The report also notes that 55 percent of small businesses either have broken even or completely paid for the cost of their sites with an increase in business. By executing this formula using today's widely available technologies, small and midsize businesses can stay competitive without delving into deep pockets.


Variety. Cross-market to your customers. In addition to an annual advertisement in the Yellow Pages, consider direct mail, direct e-mail or an interactive Web site. Talking to your customers often is a key part of the equation for success. Do not forget to offer your customers varied ways to get in touch with you. Toll-free phone, e-mail and a Web site offer customers different channels to reach you in whatever way is most convenient for them.


In addition, new marketing opportunities abound for small and midsize businesses to level the playing field without big marketing budgets.


Many can now afford the price of admission to television advertising because of the influx of low-cost local cable channels. They can run full-page advertisements in prestigious magazines because of the affordability of regional editions. They can make a big splash in newspapers, thanks to zone editions. And they can carve a very profitable niche for themselves on the Internet -- with the power of free e-mail.


Frequency. Communicate often. Keep your business at the top of customers' minds by adding frequency to your variety of marketing methods. The more often your customers hear your company name, see it on a flier or read it in an e-mail, the better they will remember you.


Small and midsize businesses now have at their disposal a lethal arsenal of marketing weapons, many of which were not affordable a decade ago.


This allows you to mix and match marketing techniques to reach your customer base as often as possible. Desktop publishing has made it a breeze to create brochures, circulars, signs and multimedia presentations. New customer development services, like 500 PLUS, deliver one-stop shopping for phone, Internet and e-mail and at a price that speaks to small and midsize businesses.


500 PLUS is a company breaking into the market this fall with a service that packages a toll-free 500 number and matching Web site and e-mail addresses designed to put small and midsize businesses on equal footing with big businesses. At present, it is the only company that offers this service, along with other valuable marketing services such as lead generation reports when a prospect calls a subscriber's 500 number. This type of service is making it easy and affordable for businesses of all sizes to compete for customers through these varied technologies.


Through customer development services like 500 PLUS, customers can get "vanity" numbers and addresses such as 1-500-BEST-PIZZA, www.500bestpizza.com and jay@500bestpizza.com.


Suddenly, the local restaurant mentioned above can easily communicate with customers through new marketing channels (e-mail and Web) and gain more name recognition. This leads to the third and final ingredient for successful marketing -- memory.


Memory. One of the earliest ways that technology employed this concept was through toll-free vanity numbers. Remember 1-800-Flowers? The company is still around -- and you still remember it. When Prodigy changed its regular toll-free number to 1-800-Prodigy, it received 25 percent more calls. Vanity phone numbers are one of the tools to help consumers remember your company's name and get your business noticed.


Most of the 800 vanity numbers are taken, but if you have not secured one yet, you have other options. Toll-free 500 service will be the next wave in toll-free telephone.


500 PLUS will give thousands of businesses the chance to secure a number that spells their services or product names to stay top of mind with customers. After all, it is easier to remember 1-500-INSURANCE than 1-312-467-8726.


In today's information age, just having a memorable phone number is not enough. You have to extend that memorable name to the Internet with a Web site and e-mail addresses.


But for many consumers, the information age means information overload. Web surfers are expected to remember more Web site addresses, passwords, e-mail addresses and numbers than ever before. To avoid this, carry over the vanity toll-free number concept to the Internet -- make it consistent and memorable.


Marketing has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, and companies that do not embrace many of the new technologies are falling behind already. We have seen success from big businesses that have used the variety plus frequency plus memory formula, and with all the new technologies available, small- and medium-size businesses are coming on strong.


Concepts such as e-mail marketing, targeted newspapers and affordable toll-free 500 numbers that are easy to remember, along with companion Web sites that linger in the memory, are the kinds of changes that can make crucial differences in a company's bottom line.


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