Although anytime can be a good time to switch up your marketing strategy, the start of the new calendar is one that resonates with us quite a bit. With that in mind, we talked to 10 small business owners to learn about what they're changing in their marketing this year. No matter what time of the year you read this, we hope these insights can help inspire you with new ways to connect with your customers.
1. Prioritizing One-on-One Interactions
Alison Hazinski, the owner and designer behind stationery and gifts brand One and Only Paper, has found that one-on-one customer interaction is the strongest channel for business growth, so she’ll be prioritizing those opportunities.
She plans to look for ways to improve the customer experience, as well as commit to more pop-up markets, where she’s found that the direct interaction has helped her business grow. Still, Hazinski recognizes that online interactions are a necessity, so she’s also looking for ways to bring this approach into the digital world.
My art feels very personal to me, and I've found that bringing customers into that experience helps them build their own connections to the products I create. - Alison Hazinski, owner of One and Only Paper
On social media, Hazinski describes her approach as "treating my customers like my friends." This means framing social media content as though if she's keeping her real friends up to date on her business. In addition to one-on-one interaction in person at pop-up markets, Hazinski direct messages with her customers on social media as often as possible. She answers questions, thanks them for their orders, and asks their opinion on products. In her own words, "I really want my customers to feel like they are part of this journey with me."
I've found direct interaction has really helped my business grow. - Alison Hazinski, owner of One and Only Paper
2. Serving Customers at a Deeper Level
Tami Blake of indie skincare company Free + True says connecting with customers this year for her is all about looking for ways to serve them deeply, not just telling them about great products. “The beauty industry is very saturated,” she explains. “In 2022, we are leaning heavily into our core brand values to serve our customers on a more personal level.”
Across all channels, we want to educate our customers and add value to their lives. - Tami Blake, founder and CEO of Free + True Skincare
A big piece of that will be creating educational content on skincare-adjacent topics—like wellness, holistic esthetics, and self-discovery—allowing Free + True to provide broader value to customers’ lives. “Whether it’s a simple facial massage tutorial, ingredient education, or a quick healthy recipe, we want to provide our customers with more than just clean, effective skincare,” Blake explains.
The team will also be rolling out a robust retail education and sampling program and nurturing long-term paid partnerships with new brand ambassadors to make sure they’re sharing this value with as many potential customers as possible.
3. Finding Influencers Who Align With Your Business
Sheena Russel, the founder and CEO of Made With Local, says the company is shifting the majority of its marketing spend toward partnerships with Instagram influencers over ad strategies, here's why: “Many of the influencers we work with on Instagram are women and non-binary entrepreneurs. By supporting their work, our marketing dollars are supporting their families and small businesses,” she explains. “It’s a lot more work, but that human connection feels way more values-aligned than dumping tens of thousands of dollars a month into ad strategies.”
For us, it’s not about controlling reach or getting the biggest bang for our buck—it’s about our values and ensuring they are aligned in everything we do. - Sheena Russel, founder and CEO of Made With Local
It helps that this influencer-based marketing strategy has already seriously paid off for the company. “Years ago, we invested in two key influencer partnerships in the Calgary, Alberta area that continue to this day. Calgary is our number two market, and we’re quite confident that’s because of these long-standing relationships,” Russel shares.
4. Building Meaningful Relationships
Daniel Choi is building a new kind of social networking app to connect artists and art-lovers, called Choice Art. This year, he’s also rethinking everything he’s known before about building a successful marketing strategy.
“Over the last decade, I've produced commercials, I've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ad campaigns, and I've reached millions through emails and social media,” he explains. “Looking ahead to this new year, most of those approaches just feel out of touch with the real, day-to-day experience that people are living.”
It's been a tough few years for everyone. We're tired. We're stressed. We know too much about the Greek alphabet. Most importantly (with respect to marketing): we're distracted. To cut through this distraction layer, marketing needs to be more personal than ever. - Daniel Choi, co-founder of Choice Art
Choi believes that in times of uncertainty, we tend to tighten our circles of connections. His marketing strategy this year is all about building meaningful relationships and trust online through direct lines of communication. “By aligning our marketing strategy with our personal philosophy, we’re able to go deeper with our community and build authentic connections that truly serve artists’ needs,” he says.
Our marketing strategy is focused on individual relationships—with community leaders, with art organizations, and with every user on the platform. - Daniel Choi, co-founder of Choice Art
5. Investing in Values-Based Marketing
In addition to many of the other strategies mentioned here, like creating educational content and building influencer relationships, Michelle Arnau, CEO of Rowan, thinks marketing today is all about investing in your company’s (and customers’) values.
“We are placing the bet that retail and in-person events will be a welcome reprise in 2022 and are leaning into values-based retail partnerships to expand our relevancy and relatability in the pet parent’s life,” Arnau explains, sharing that the company has already started working with Neighborhood Goods, Carbon Beauty, and The Verticale to connect with the right shoppers.
We believe the most efficient way to drive awareness is with relevant retail partnerships, but it’s critical that those partnerships reflect your values as this might be the first interaction someone has with your brand. - Michelle Arnau, co-founder and CEO of Rowan
Rowan is also investing heavily into nonprofit partnerships. “This is rare for early-stage businesses (as cash is at a premium), but we believe it is the right investment,” Arnau shares. “My co-founder and I have many years of experience building innovative brands in the CPG world, and we have learned the importance of investing behind our values.”
6. Getting Personal With Video
This year, the teenage brothers behind Frères Branchiaux Candle Co. are ready to put some energy behind video. “Our customers and core audience love to interact with us, so we would love to immerse them in the behind the scenes of our warehouse and our daily lives,” they explain, sharing that they have already seen significant response from the videos and reels they have pulled together.
We are hoping to infuse creativity mixed with originality to show the outside world who we really are beyond the Instagram pictures and press photos. - Brothers Ryan, Austin, and Austin Gill, founders of Frères Branchiaux Candle Co.
By investing even more into this approach, they hope to increase brand awareness, gain new customers, and build a loyal following of folks who are excited to support their journey.
7. Connecting with Community Online
Like many fitness companies, the team behind Dance Church—a dance-focused movement class for all led by professional dancers—was used to building in-person communities pre-pandemic. “Half of the value people get from Dance Church is in the class. The other half is the feeling of connection with the community,” CEO Clara Siegel and founder Kate Wallich explain. Now, they’re focused on finding that same feeling online.
We are creating welcoming spaces and bringing joy, in-person and online, and everything we do to support and engage our community helps them get more from us. - Clara Siegel (CEO) and Kate Wallich (founder and chief creative officer) of Dance Church
Many of their dancers naturally shifted to Instagram followers at the start of the pandemic, and it organically became a way for the Dance Church community to connect. People loved sharing videos of themselves dancing around their houses with dogs, babies, and loved ones, and Dance Church loved resharing and celebrating them.
This year, they want to continue supporting this community feeling while also taking steps to expand their reach. “We’ve created new roles for our teachers that include community engagement and have showcased employees and community members,” Siegel and Wallich share, and they’ve also started to invest in some ad spend. “We want to keep this focused and balanced, with a lot more of our efforts going to the organic engagement.”
8. Rewarding Word of Mouth Marketing
Boutique owner Emily Grey says this year is all about helping Flourish Market fans help spread the word, investing in incentives to encourage them to do so. She shares, “Since I founded my business in 2015, we have been 100% built on word of mouth marketing. In 2022, we plan to double down on these efforts, equipping our customers with easy buttons to share about us—and rewarding them for doing so.”
Our main focus will be getting our current customer base to bring in their friends to our brick and mortar store. - Emily Grey, founder of The Flourish Market
In practice, that looks like using an online rewards program to track referrals to the Flourish website, letting customers book free, in-store parties, and continuing to offer a high-touch shopping experience that has customers excited to tell all their friends.
The marketing strategy they’ll be letting go of this year? Online ads. Grey explains, “We cannot compete with the ad spend and sales offered by larger companies. Instead of trying to keep up, we’re going to focus on what continues to set us apart as a business.”
While I know that social media ads perform well for other businesses, as a retailer with smaller margins on our products, using our marketing budget on ads will not give us a favorable return on monetary or time investment. - Emily Grey, founder of The Flourish Market
9. Creating Immersive and Educational Content
Julie Levin, a medical herbalist and the founder of skincare brand Leaf People, knows that her customers might not be familiar with the ingredients she carefully chooses for her products. That’s why this year, her marketing is focused on going deep in customer education.
This includes deep dives into product ingredients, uses, benefits, and basic instructions, along with side-by-side product comparisons, so customers can more easily choose what is best for them and their needs. Levin explains, “We think this will help customers connect to the product line, understand why we choose specific ingredients for the individual formulas, and demystify our more complex products.”
The idea [this year] is to create more content that engages customers and makes them feel connected to (and a part of) the brand. - Julie Levin, founder of Leaf People
In particular, Levin hopes to leverage more video content to boost engagement and keep customers on the website longer. “When this happens, they’re not only further exploring our products, but becoming more invested in the brand as a whole,” she shares.
We were inspired to incorporate video content because it catches the attention of multiple senses and draws the customer in. - Julie Levin, founder of Leaf People
10. Going Deep on Data
Julie Schechter, co-founder and CEO of gift box company Small Packages, says this year is all about using data to get to know customers better so the team can tailor their marketing and connect with them more deeply. “That hyper-specific messaging will make that relationship feel intentional and intelligent, which is crucial for a brand (like us) that's built on trust,” Schechter explains.
We’re not focused on bringing someone in to get one sale, but rather on building a trustworthy relationship with our customer, so they come back again and again.” - Julie Schechter, co-founder and CEO of Small Packages
Specifically, the Small Packages team plans to combine direct surveys and third-party data to build more comprehensive customer personas, and then use that information to tailor their messaging and product offerings.
All of that will lead to the type of customer interaction Schechter is aiming for: “We want to build ongoing relationships with our customers, so that instead of thinking of us for one-off gifting needs, they think of us as the first place they look when they're wanting to take care of someone they love.”