Marketing for small businesses – Mark Ritson

Mark Ritson, Professor, Mini MBA Marketing
Read time: 5 minutes 🌱 10 pieces of practical advice that can help smaller brands to grow, according to Mark Ritson This week’s webinar was a record-breaker, with over a two thousand folks showing up to hear the words of Mr Mark Ritson. The chat feature went OFF. In fact, we couldn’t really keep up […]

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Read time: 5 minutes

🌱 10 pieces of practical advice that can help smaller brands to grow, according to Mark Ritson

This week’s webinar was a record-breaker, with over a two thousand folks showing up to hear the words of Mr Mark Ritson. The chat feature went OFF. In fact, we couldn’t really keep up with it. So many emojis, so many brilliant questions.

Thank you to all of you who showed up, and the biggest thank you to Mark for staying up until 2am Australia time to outline 10 things that smaller businesses can do to grow and thrive.

We’ve distilled down the key insights below, but for top enjoyment, we recommend watching the session yourself and hearing Mark in action. Be warned – the language is definitely NSFW!

🤔 The small brand myth

Mark explains that there is a myth that small brands have an advantage over big brands because they have agility and ninja-like abilities. The reality is, that there are many driving factors that make it much harder for smaller brands to survive and thrive. Things like:

  • The factors driving advertising profitability
  • Smaller market share + less loyalty than larger brands
  • Excess share of voice

So Mark shared 10 things that smaller brands can and should be focusing on to improve their marketing:

One. Constant Market Orientation 🚣‍♂️

Phil Kotler talks about finding an unserved market and then creating a product to serve it. But Mark doesn’t think this is the best advice for small businesses. Instead, he urges us to think of market orientation as a continual process. You might have a great idea, but the sooner and more often you can get out and talk to potential customers, bring those customers into the process, refine the idea, then prototype and test the idea, the better.

Two. Reverse the marketing process 🔙

Small businesses tend not to have much time or money for quantitative research, so Mark recommends an alternative model.

Instead of worrying about intense market research early in the process, Mark recommends building a market model that uses basic data and then using that for targeting. Then, when you know where you are going to focus, it’s time to engage in some targeted ethnography. That will give you valuable insights that can then inform how you set the positioning, objectives and tactics.

Three. Don’t sweat the quant numbers too much 😰

Targeted ethnography is just a fancy way of saying – go and speak to your customers. Smaller brands might not be able to spend the big bucks on using panel data and brand tracking, but they can go deep and spend time with the real people they want to buy their products. This kind of work creates a testing ground for learning what works and what doesn’t, and allows a small business to evolve in a way that a larger business just can’t do.

Four. Pick on the big guy ⚔️

How do you break into a market without significant resources to create share of voice?

Mark suggests you have 2 methods to utilise:
1. Position yourself directly to your target customer

2. Position against an alternative big brand aka ‘pick on the big guy’.

The combination of the two works well because you earn shadow salience, and you have the 2nd mover position advantage. This allows you to find a hole or a gap that the big brand player is missing.

Five. Poor person’s pricing 💰

Big companies have a lot of tools at their disposal that can help them to get their pricing right. For smaller companies, Mark recommends, taking the time to properly understand the power of price. If you want to understand the profitability of your small business, you need to make sense of how a single percentage point increase in price will have a more significant impact on profitability than selling more or reducing cost.

If you’re a B2B business, you want to try and aim for an average hit point of losing ⅓ of your pitches. If you’re winning everything, it’s a sign you’re pitching too low. Over time, if you build your brand properly and your product improves, you’ll be making far more profit, from far less production, from far fewer customers, because you’ve understood proper pricing dynamics.

Six. Have a strategy first ⛔

If you work for a small brand, strategy is way more important than if you work for a big brand. Strategy is about making selfish choices and Mark suggests that if you don’t give yourself time for strategy, you’ll spend all of your time in firefighting mode. Saying no is even more important than saying yes because if you spread yourself too thin it won’t work.

Seven. Long and short splits 🗝️

To make the most of your marketing efforts, invest in both short and long-term marketing strategies. You’ll want to split your marketing budget into 2 pots – a long pot for top of the funnel and awareness building activities, and a short pot for activations and bottom of the funnel stuff. The amount you put into each pot should change over time. Mark recommends that younger businesses should invest more in activation than brand building in the beginning.

With that said, we are currently in a recession, and Mark explains that in difficult economic times, maintaining your brand spend is very important and that brand building is a great way to stay present in the market. You can read Mark’s most recent Marketing Week article about this here.

Eight. A small branded house 🏠

In the world of brand architecture, there are 4 main positions on the brand relationship spectrum. On one end, you can have a singular branded house (IBM for example, contains all of their activity in a single brand), and on the other end – there are houses of brands (like LVMH), and then there are options in the middle.

Most entrepreneurs and small biz marketing people make the mistake of creating too many brands. You don’t want a house of little brands in the first 15 years of your company’s existence. You want as few brands as possible so you can focus your time, investment and energy.

Nine. Let the brand move 🌊

Once a year, Mark Ritson does some teaching for the Sephora accelerator programme. One of the things he covers in the programme is the idea of brand and vision movement in the early stages. Much like you might have dreams and visions for your child’s life, the reality is, that you really can just watch it unfold. Mark believes that a founders’ brand and vision needs to be allowed to move around a bit. In the early stages of growing a brand, be flexible and let it find its place.

Ten. Enjoy it 😊

Perhaps most importantly, Mark insists that we enjoy marketing small businesses. If it isn’t fun, then don’t do it anymore.

He left us with this quote from The Body Shop founder, Anita Roddick – 

“If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.”
​And those are your takeaways!

For more from Mark Ritson, find his previous talks and reviews of the Mini MBA here: