• 800-232-LOWE (5693)
  • info@lowe.org
  • 58220 Decatur Road, Cassopolis, MI 49031

Smart, Simple Direct-Marketing Ideas

“Smart, Simple Direct-Marketing Ideas”

We’ve brainstormed a long list of basic marketing techniques to better attract your customer. Some of them don’t even cost any money.


According to Enterprise Statistics from the 1992 U.S. Economic Censuses, there are about two million businesses in the United States that have annual sales totaling over $1 million. These firms introduce new products and services every day, and entrepreneurs must work hard to differentiate their offerings from those of everyone else. On such a crowded playing field, marketing is the key to success. Read on for ideas that can help you start a marketing campaign.

In this Quick-Read you will find:

  • Tried and true marketing and public relations channels.
  • New and innovative marketing/PR techniques.


Prospering in an increasingly crowded marketplace requires special effort. Your ability to distinguish yourself from competitors is critical to your success. After you have done your market research and have your customer profile in place, consider the following:

Tried and True

  1. Advertise in media that reaches your target audience.
  2. Develop brochures and other collateral materials that emphasize your differences that are meaningful to customers.
  3. Keep your name in the media through press releases. Browse others’ press kits (often displayed in press rooms at trade shows) for effective styles and messages, or hire a communications professional. More ideas can be found in the competition’s ads and other P.R. items placed in local newspapers and business and trade journals.
  4. Launch a Web site, making sure it is informative and easy to use. Be prepared to update the site regularly.
  5. Become active in professional organizations serving your customers, not your peers.
  6. "Sweeten" your product/service through initial discount pricing or a special offer, such as two-for-one on the first order.

New and Innovative

  1. Create a memorable slogan. Test ideas on customer focus groups before selecting one.
  2. If you carry others’ products, try to establish a "brand" identity for your own business, as Best Buy and Home Depot have done (see Real-Life Example).
  3. Hand out a distinctive business card. Use a nonstandard size or shape, such as a fold-over with a perforated flap that becomes a discount coupon. Employ the rarely used back of the card for useful information such as a map or brief product/service description.
  4. Team up with compatible, but not directly competitive, businesses for cross-promotions such as co-op advertising, "bundled" offerings and shared point-of-purchase space. For example, a candy manufacturer might team up with a card company and flower service for a Valentine’s Day cross-promotion.
  5. Punch up a guarantee by offering one step beyond what your competition provides. For example, if they provide a one-year guarantee, offer two years, or perhaps a product replacement with a gift certificate toward the next order. Research shows that the increased attention and trust generated by a standout guarantee almost always outweighs the cost of fulfillment.
  6. Use customer testimonials, with permission.
  7. Participate in online news groups frequented by your customers; or better yet, offer to host an objective chat-site forum. For example, a fine pen distributor moderates a weekly chat session of collectors on his Web site. Be objective, encouraging free discussion about anyone, including competitors. The credibility is worth it.
  8. Write a letter to the editor of key publications that reach your customers. Respond in a relevant fashion to articles dealing with your business with a lead such as, "As the owner of a business that…" and end with your name, company and location. Keep it brief and tightly worded. It’s free, and you may be surprised how many readers will track you down.
  9. Co-produce an inexpensive video with communications students from a local university or community college. It may not win Emmys, but you can get a credible tape for a fraction of professional studios’ prices. Provide copies of the video to television and cable stations in your market area; if they run a story related to your line of business, they’ll be likely to use the copy, and you’ll get free publicity.
  10. Create a crossword puzzle or word-search game using terms relevant to your business and your customers. Try helpful Internet resources http://www.crauswords.com/ and http://puzzlemaker.discoveryeducation.com/.
  11. Conduct low-pressure educational seminars for customers and prospects (see the Real Life Example below). Build an expert reputation by offering to write at no charge an informative — but non-selling — column in a publication read by your customers.
  12. For important individual prospects, assemble a custom portfolio including relevant product literature and prices, press clippings and other information pertaining to their industry.
  13. Offer a package of your services or products at a special price.
  14. Relax payment terms, or offer a discount for quick payment.
  15. Include a premium or a free item or service after a set number of purchases.
  16. Have your sales force pitch to companies that use competitors, not by trashing the incumbent supplier, but by asking why the customer likes that vendor and what they might change if they could. Then respond with ways your company can meet needs not being addressed by the current supplier. Likewise, stay above any mud slinging that competitors might direct toward you. Customers prefer positive problem solving rather than negative rival baiting.
  17. Try an unconventional sales approach, such as inviting prospects to, "Just cut me off at any time if you need to take care of something." You’ll stand out as a refreshing contrast to sales people who often can’t be shut up.
  18. If you’re smaller than your competitors, emphasize the personal attention you can give to customers.
  19. Stress any family ownership and business operation. Customers respond more positively to a company that puts family honor on the line with each transaction.


The nation’s largest single-location canoe and kayak retailer is not in Seattle, San Francisco, or any major outdoor-sports market. It is Rutabaga of Madison, Wisc., population 200,000. Gordy Sussman founded Rutabaga in 1974, and four years later picked up the pace with his Canoecopia, an annual weekend event that is now the largest paddle-sports exposition in the world. Though Rutabaga offers boats for sale, the focus is on education and entertainment. Dozens of manufacturers and outdoor speakers cover topics ranging from starting kids in paddling to negotiating Himalayan whitewater.

By elevating Canoecopia from a sales promo into a fun, informational exposition, Rutabaga draws about 20,000 visitors to the event now held at a large convention center — and over half are from outside of Wisconsin. A large share of the store’s multimillion dollar annual sales come from the three days of Canoecopia, and the event has given Rutabaga a national "brand" identity among canoe and kayak enthusiasts.

DO IT [top]

  1. Meet with your executive team to form a list of what positively distinguishes your company in terms of customer benefits. Also talk to your best customers to determine what makes your products or services stand out.
  2. Come up with a marketing/P.R. action plan to advertise your strong points. See the Quick-Read "Doing A SWOT Analysis for Your Company" for tips to help identify strengths.
  3. Consider the ideas in this Quick-Read; many cost little or nothing and can be launched quickly. Set a schedule that includes trying some ideas immediately and rolls others out over a prescribed time.
  4. Reconvene with your top management at least quarterly to evaluate the results of your efforts, and to review any new company developments that could be leveraged into further points of difference in your customer communications.
  5. Don’t stop! Companies like Coca Cola know that a strong image has to be constantly reinforced. Try to deliver a positive message of some type to your customers and prospects every day.



Guerilla Marketing by Jay Levinson, 3rd edition (Houghton Mifflin, 1998).

The Marketing Game: How the World’s Best Companies Play to Win by Eric Shulz (Adams Media Corporation, 1999).

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill (Simon & Schuster, 1999).

Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends, and Friends Into Customers by Seth Godin and Don Peppers (Simon & Schuster, 1999). Godin contends that traditional advertising messages are so profuse that another such message is unlikely to be heard; he proposes interactive e-mail marketing as an alternative.

Six Steps to Free Publicity: For Corporate Publicists or Solo Professionals, Including…Publishers, Consultants, Conference Planners, Politicians, Inventors, Artists, Psychotherapists, and Anyone Else Looking to Attract Media Attention to Their Business or Cause, revised edition, by Marcia Yudkin (Career Press, 2003).

2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success: The Pros Tell You Their Time-Proven Secrets by Denny Hatch and Don Jackson (NTC Business Books, 1999).

Twenty-five Ways to Improve Sales and Profit Without Spending an Extra Dime on Advertising by Richard Johnson (Crisp, 1999).

Dan Janal’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet: Getting People to Visit, Buy and Become Customers for Life by Daniel S. Janal (Wiley, 2000).

301 Do-It-Yourself Marketing Ideas: From America’s Most Innovative Small Companies (Inc. Business Resources, 1997).

Internet Sites

Say It Better!

Creative Marketing Solutions

Guerrilla Marketing

The Cluetrain Manifesto

Article Contributors

Writer: John Duggleby