Small Business Marketing during COVID-19

If you've found this post as you're thinking about how to handle a COVID-19 world, you might also be interested in my free ebook, Winning the Uncertainty: A Playbook for Strategy in Times of Survival, or my blog post on Winning the Uncertainty.

“Marketing is not the art of finding clever ways to dispose of what you make. Marketing is the art of creating genuine customer value. It is the art of helping your customer become better off.”
 - Philip Kotler   


Marketing is how your company finds, engages, and nurtures prospects.  Those “top of funnel” activities are how you engage your market – what problems you help solve, how you solve them – and what approaches you use to engage with a large number of people.  While sales rely on 1:1 engagement, marketing is about 1: many engagement.


Much of business is like science – there’s a right way to do it most of the time.  Marketing isn’t like that – there’s some science to it, but it’s primarily an art.  What works for one company may or may not work for another – what works for a company in one market may or may not work for another!  This is quite a challenge for business owners – compounded by the fact that marketing has so many “creative types” who do not apply disciplined business thinking to their work.



Many small businesses are quite successful with a sales-driven approach to generating revenue.  This relies on individual contact – things like cold calling and networking at the top of the funnel.  But if the company wants to grow, that system will eventually break down.  In its place, the business needs to build a marketing-driven approach to generating revenue.


The best way to think about marketing is to consider it a machine (whereas sales is more “hand-crafted”).  And like any machine, it takes time to build, and you have to know what you’re doing to create it.



The benefits of marketing-driven revenue are several:

  • Sales will be more predictable.  Machine-driven sales are not as prone to be undermined by people getting busy and having other priorities.

  • Sales will be more reliable.  You’ll know the formula for getting sales, and so you will be able to use that formula to generate sales when you need them.

  • Sales will be more profitable.  A healthy pipeline leads to more control of your margins.

  • Growth before the marketing machine is in place is a crapshoot at best and a disaster-in-waiting at worst.  The foundation of growth is predictable, reliable, profitable revenue.  If you grow before you have that…beware.



There are 3 basic elements to generating revenue:

  • Generating leads – this involves finding prospects who have the needs that you can address

  • Nurturing leads – this involves engaging and educating prospects to support their buying process

  • Converting leads – this involves structuring the sale so that they buy


Although those elements are simple, marketing can be confusing because there is so many different aspects of it.  Here’s a simple overview of the big pieces of marketing:

  • Marketing Strategy – there are many markets and many customers, with many needs and situations.  Marketing strategy outlines the high-level approach by defining…

    • Target market and customer:  whom you want to buy from you

    • Value proposition:  how you make your customer’s life better

    • Product definition:  what you’re selling (especially any “extras”)

    • Positioning:  how your product differs from alternatives

    • Pricing:  the pricing structure (e.g., subscription v freemium v single-buy)

    • Channels:  how you will get your promotional messaging and your product to your customers

  • Systems/Technology – a “tech stack,” whether simple or complicated, is necessary for marketing.  There are marketing automation systems like SharpSpring (better for entry-level) and Hubspot (better for more complex situations) that offer a centralized system, and there are many (many many) individual systems that you can use to address specific needs.  The basic system functionality you need:

    • Email:  communicate with your list of contacts and see who is engaging

    • Landing Pages:  easily set up pages to target a specific audience or offer

    • Lead Nurturing:  set up “workflows” to educate prospects about their needs and your products

    • Blogs:  a place for you to offer articles on a regular basis

    • Social Media:  a way to easily manage your social media posts

    • Lead Scoring:  a way to identify prospects who are showing buying behaviors

    • Customer Relationship Management (CRM):  a repository for customer information (note:  this is more of a sales system, but is often closely tied to the marketing system)

    • Analytics:  you’ll want engagement data (how well did that article or email work?), identification data (who is interested in what we offered?), and lead behavior data (what is that person interested in?)

  • People – although marketing departments often start with just a single person, there are several roles needed when a company commits to generating marketing-driven revenue:

    • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO):  Defines the strategy and provides marketing insight to assess the data and choose the right tactics to use

    • Marketing Director:  Oversees marketing campaigns and projects

    • Marketing Manager:  Carries out marketing campaigns and projects

    • Marketing Administrator:  Carries out tasks associated with campaigns and projects

    • Specialist:  someone with expertise and experience in a specific area of marketing

    • Agency:  a group of specialists who cover multiple areas of marketing

  • Campaigns/Tactics – campaigns are “recipes” of marketing tactics designed to get a specific outcome.  For example, if you want to generate new leads, your campaign could include a combination of social media ads, paid search, PR, and online content offers.  Or your campaign could include paid search, trade show exhibiting, direct mail, and follow-up emails.  Or a dozen other combinations of marketing tactics.  Which is what marketing so challenging, and why it is more art than science.  And why another important element of marketing today is…

  • Experiments – nobody knows The Answer for what will work at this time for your business in your markets with your offer.  We can speculate.  And some hypotheses will be better than others.  There are likely recipes that will be more successful, but it will likely take a lot of experimenting to discover them.  This is an important skill in marketing today.

  • Project Management – it used to be that you needed to know marketing to manage marketing campaigns.  Now, you can gather experts-for-rent and use off-the-shelf tools to get a lot of marketing tactics done.  But someone has to play traffic cop with all of that work, so project management is an important skill in marketing today.



Because marketing is so complex, it is rife with risks and roadblocks, including:

  • It’s hard to cut through the noise.  We all experience it – a constant barrage of communication and messages.  It’s just hard to break through the noise.  Anyone who is telling you otherwise, is, well…

  • Marketers are professionals at bending the truth.  It can be challenging to get a straight answer from marketing people, and even more so marketing agencies.  Marketers are trained to twist or shade the truth – and that proclivity can stretch beyond the work they do for you…to the work they sell to you.  What are marketers best at marketing?  Themselves.

  • Marketing channels are constantly changing.  A tactic that worked well last year could be played out this year.  A channel that hasn’t worked last year could become favorable this year.  The media landscape and prospect behavior is constantly changing.

  • There are soooo many options.  There are so many marketing tactics to consider – mailers, online remarketing, ebooks, Twitter, and dozens more. 





Marketing generates a return on investment in several ways:

  • Better leads – when your marketing machine is working, your leads will be a better fit for your offerings…and they’ll be more ready to buy

  • More consistent leads – an effective marketing program will generate leads more consistently than piecemeal (or sales-driven) efforts

  • Growth – marketing is the engine of business growth once a company gets past 10-20 people

  • Business value – the saleable value of your business is tied to your ability to systematically generate revenue and serve clients.  Having a “marketing machine” will increase the value of your business.

© 2020 by Phimation Strategy Group | Ann Arbor, Michigan | USA                                                                               734.717.4955