Tricks of the marketing trade

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Four ways small companies can compete during sales events

Practical considerations mean that not every business can make a killing during sales season or special sales events like Black Friday. The nature of these sales limit serious gains to all but those with the ability and cash-flow to stock masses of products and offer attention-grabbing prices.

Whether catering to physical customers, or online visitors, smaller businesses often struggle to attract significant consumer interest to their offerings. The big players are just too dominant, can afford to run serious loss-leaders and their advertising seems almost omnipresent when compared to what smaller businesses can afford.

All is not lost, though. With a little cunning and a dash of luck, small businesses can go toe-to-toe with the biggest of companies and walk away with success of their own. Here are four pointers:

Go with the flow

While small businesses are unlikely to be able to match the pure money-making might of their larger competitors, they can still make a proportionally respectable gain. The key here isn't to try and match what larger companies can achieve with their resources; go with the flow instead.

By coordinating efforts to almost piggy-back those of larger companies, smaller businesses can target consumers that are unsatisfied with, or uninterested in, the offerings of their more powerful competition. Depending on the products and services that big firms offer, smaller companies may instead be able to provide an alternative. The David in this analogy doesn't have to beat Goliath on equal terms, he simply needs to focus on what he does best – or even what Goliath does worst.

Can't compete? Collaborate or complement

Another angle would be to promote services that work alongside those of larger, more successful competitors. A domestic delivery and/or installation service could step up advertising in the run-up to a department store’s sale, in order to capture more business from consumers intending to stock up. By supporting the efforts of larger retailers, these services are taking some business for themselves, without having to enter the same ring. Everyone wins.

As well as offering supportive services, promoting complementary goods is also a great idea. If a big retailer is offering deals on their range of televisions, smaller businesses can discount the DVDs or video games that consumers could enjoy on them. By capitalising on the frugal mood of consumers in the midst of sales fever, and avoiding competing directly with the mark downs that larger retailers offer, you can maximise the enjoyment consumers have from their new purchases – while boosting your own profit margins.

Make targeting a key part of your strategy

Key to making the strategies above work is targeting. Larger retailers have the clout to be ranking highly for popular sales-related keywords or seasonal terms like ‘January Sales’ and ‘Black Friday’. They can also get more adverts in front of consumers. This makes targeting specific consumers and keywords paramount. You can capitalise on the work already done by the big players, without angering them by undercutting the products and services that they're promoting.

Make note of the areas that large businesses are focusing their marketing pushes on, and put your marketing muscle behind theirs, promoting your own services as a complementary addition. By slip-streaming your marketing behind those with bigger budgets and more resources, you can make your efforts go further, ultimately increasing profit. Larger companies may even see an increase in their conversions as a result of this synergy, so they won't complain!

Compete in a race that you have a better chance of winning!

Some analysts have claimed there’s a lack of focus on smaller businesses during large sales events. This led to a noticeable push by concerned parties to redress the balance, with events such as 'Small Business Saturday' aimed at breaking the stranglehold that larger retailers have on consumers’ wallets.

The key marketing takeaway for small businesses in this instance is to focus on the key locations that they serve. Larger companies will pay most attention to the seasonal event itself and the goods on sale, so they're less likely to capitalise on individual local areas. With the right offers in place, consumers can be pulled away from the larger, more hectic sales shopping norm, and instead have a more relaxed experience elsewhere. In some cases, even if a smaller business can't offer the same level of discount as larger competition, the promise of smaller crowds, and a more convenient journey, can still attract consumers in their droves.

Nick Bush is an SEO specialist at Vertical Leap.

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