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Ride the Sold Train

No matter your budget, you can create retail marketing that screams "Hey, check me out!"

Looking for the best way to market your retail business? From cybercafes to local dry cleaners, this month the spotlight is on building retail traffic and sales. The goal is choosing the most effective marketing opportunities within your budget. Because advertising costs are based on the number of people who will be exposed to your message, your media dollars will go further in a smaller city or town than in one of the top 10 largest markets.

But no matter where you're based, you can select from a host of marketing options, including directory ads, television, radio, newspaper, Web marketing, PR and events, marriage mail and outdoor media. Depending on your budget, here are some ideas for how to spend your marketing dollars:

$100,000 to $150,00 budget: A well-rounded marketing mix will always generate the best results. For example, imagine you're the owner of three cybercafes where customers can surf the Internet while enjoying cafe lattes, light meals and desserts. A radio campaign would be an important part of your mix. To make your ad stand out, you'd choose the stations that best reached your customer base and purchase the first spot in the commercial blocks. You could also book promotional activities, such as after-work parties with station DJs at your cafes. Ads on taxi tops or bus shelters (www.clearchanneloutdoor.com), in addition to "marriage mail"-your coupon mailed in an envelope with those of other advertisers-would allow you to target workers and residents near each cafe. And advertising in an "alternative weekly" newspaper, such as the Washington City Paper in Washington, DC, or Atlanta's Creative Loafing, could be a lower cost option than the major daily (find one at www.casscom.com). To round out your marketing program, a fund-raising drive to put computers in inner-city schools would generate positive PR.

Now, say you own a business that allows more visual presentation, such as a plant nursery and garden center. Instead of radio advertising, you could place seasonal television campaigns on local cable and independent stations, with an emphasis on programming that reaches gardening buffs, and use billboards to drive traffic (www.infoutdoor.com). A 10-foot-by-30-foot billboard in Phoenix, for instance, costs just $900 per month. And you could offer workshops by plant experts and promote them in a customer newsletter.

$50,000 to $100,000 budget: Are you located in a small to midsized market, and do you sell products with strong visual appeal? You can use cable television-an affordable, high-reach consumer marketing vehicle. It would make a big impact for a retail craft gallery, for example, with newspaper advertising, online marketing and special in-store events.

Retailers in higher-cost media markets and those selling products aimed at specific consumer segments can use more focused media. For instance, an electronics store could place ads in magazines or weeklies that reach a tech-savvy group. And instead of marketing on television or radio, a children's clothing boutique might advertise consistently in a parenting publication at a much lower cost. For a well-rounded campaign, you could add PR such as charitable events related to children's issues and a customer-reward program.

$10,000 to $50,000 budget: Even when funds are limited, directory ads alone aren't enough to build a campaign. Here, low-cost tools, such as marriage mail and customer relationship marketing programs, take on greater importance. A dry cleaner could test special offers by sending marriage mail from Val-Pak to nearby households. A gift shop owner might build a customer database and mail discount offers to frequent shoppers to give them a reason to come back.

And it pays to search for media opportunities. The owner of a deli, for example, might donate sandwiches to the local National Public Radio station in exchange for on-air mentions. It doesn't cost a lot to reach your best customers-it just takes some creative thinking.

Quick Pick
As a business owner, you know the value of free press coverage-it can save you hundreds, sometimes thousands, in advertising dollars. For help with getting the word out, log on to Getpress.com. Here, seasoned writers and media professionals provide users with a variety of PR materials and services, such as press releases and tips for developing a targeted media list. When you can't afford to hire an expensive agency, Getpress.com gets the job done-for prices starting at $385. -Steve Cooper
Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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This article was originally published in the July 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Ride the Sold Train.

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