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One thing you don't want to learn from Apple

Sofie De Maertelaere
De Maertelaere
Marketing Strategist
Plant a Flag Brussels, Belgium
Copying the Nikes and Amazons of this world contains one of the major pitfalls for local businesses. It’s a widespread phenomenon and lies at the heart of why most SMEs are left with a financial indigestion.

As a small business owner, you’ve no doubt given some thought to marketing and advertising. You want sales and you want them now. And since time is scarce and you won’t spend it on reinventing the wheel, you start looking at what large successful competitors do and mimic their ads & strategy.

After all, they have already proven their success. Apple knows exactly how to tap into your emotions and Nike is on top of everyone’s mind when you're ready to buy.

It seems logical. However, copying the Nikes and Apples of this world contains one of the major pitfalls for SMEs. Here's why.

Big brands spray

Big brands embed their brand image in your mind. It’s called branding and focuses on creating brand awareness.

Beautiful visuals and strong campaigns are sprayed constantly to anyone and everyone, reminding potential clients about the company, its products, and services over a long period of time. The idea is simple: the more times you run ads from your brand, the more likely people will think of you when they are in the I-want-to-buy-stage.

This type of mass marketing is effective, but it’s definitely the most time-consuming and expensive way to market. To give you an idea: Amazon spent $5 billion on advertising in 2016, in 2017 they no longer wanted to share their expenses.

For SMEs this approach has come to be known as spray & pray marketing

You are not Amazon. Nor is Plant a Flag. Being an SME ourselves, we simply don’t have the budget, nor the time, for this type of ads. Moreover, the few times we would run our ad, it would most likely have the effect of a drop in the ocean. Can you see the tiny little wave? That’s why for small businesses, this approach has come to be known as “spray & pray marketing”. Amen.

Small brands go for direct response

So which strategy should you imply as an SME? Direct response marketing is the answer. It prompts well targeted potential customers with a definitive call to action. From asking a potential customer to join an email list to urging him to place an order.

Over the years I have helped some of the most forward-thinking SMEs deeply resonate with their audiences. The main goal: getting a direct response.

    The benefits of direct response marketing

    It generates leads

    Your marketing messages become lead generating tools rather than just name recognition tools.

    It’s trackable

    When someone responds, you know which ad and which media was responsible for generating the response. How’s that for a return on investment?

    It’s affordable

    You create immediate traffic. With the wide reach of online channels, direct response marketing is relatively cheap.

    How to call for action

    Grab their attention

    Everything starts with your subject line: make it short, attention-grabbing and aim it directly at your target audience. Let it be your first task, because it will determine whether or not anyone will actually read your message or click your ad.

    Make a special offer & demand a response

    Make a special offer in your main text and show your customer clearly what solution it’s offering. Set a time or quantity limit. You know people’s tendency to procrastinate. Create a sense of urgency. The time or quantity limit has to make them take action now.

    Tell your customer exactly what to do

    If your prospective customers need to enter their email address, tell them exactly where to type it. If they need to click on a link, make sure that the links or buttons can’t be missed.

    Give freebies

    Everybody loves free stuff. If you’re a wine seller, a great way to kick off the bbq season is to offer a 4+2 free promo. Attach a euro value to it, it allows customers to quantify what they’re actually getting.


    Make a series of follow-up ‘touches’ through different media. Not everyone will convert from the first moment, nurture your slow-to-mature prospects. They should continue hearing from you regularly.

    Cut the crap, purge the junk and your direct marketing efforts will pull through

    Ready to rumble?

    Keep your business on a strict direct marketing diet for at least 6 months. Cut the crap, purge the junk and your direct marketing efforts will pull through. Don’t let anything else slip through the net. Direct response marketing is the most affordable and effective way for your local business to reach your audience.

    Ready to turn ideas into reality? Reach out for a free brainstorm and let’s start converting your audience into raving fans!

    Cover illustration done internally. We’re always on the lookout for talented illustrators to brighten up our Labs articles. Just get in touch if you'd like to contribute!