UNITED STATES—Running an online business gives you access to a wealth of potential customers. But, this comes at the cost of increased competition, making strategies for attracting attention vital. This applies for consumer products, services like a media subscription, or B2B services like consulting or SaaS.

Before you can explore the different methods of marketing your business, you need to identify your target audience. If your business has been operating for a while, this can include the demographics of your existing customers. If you’ve only just started, you’ll need to work out the demographics and attributes of your most likely customers. Consider the products/services you’re offering, and what problems they aim to solve. Once you’ve found your target audience, you can start planning ways to reach them.

Consider Free Trials, Samples, and Giveaways

It may seem counter-productive to give products or services away for free, but this can be an excellent way of getting your business’ name out there.

What you can give away for free will depend on your business model. For example, streaming platforms and online newspapers often offer free trial periods, where access to all content is free for a set amount of time (usually a day, a week, or a month). Many online slot machine sites give new players a certain number of free spins, no deposit required. This gives players an opportunity to try out games like Wheel of Fortune without paying — some of whom are likely to enjoy playing the games enough to pay for more spins in the future.

The same goes for businesses offering physical products, such as online stores. Offering free samples of food, drink, or cosmetics can be an enjoyable experience for a consumer and encourage them to purchase in the future. You can even give away larger, more valuable products if it makes financial sense to do so — think of when Amazon gave away Alexa-enabled devices at no charge!

Giving away products/services for free can bring attention, valuable feedback, or the contact details of potential customers — most free trials and samples require people to provide this information.

The Importance of Social Media, Email, and Content Marketing

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Once you have the contact information of potential customers, you can use this for future marketing efforts. But it’s important to remember to follow data protection and processing regulations in your area. This may include giving customers the option to have their information deleted, only storing information for a certain time period, and/or only using information for valid purposes. For example, businesses in California must abide by the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act).

Online marketing strategies often use channels like company websites, social media profiles, and email. While these are great for outbound communication, many businesses use websites, blogs, and social media pages for “inbound marketing” — which thrives on traffic.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of helping your site appear high up on SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). There are many aspects of SEO, with one of the most important ones being the site’s use of keywords. This can mean optimizing text such as product descriptions and company information, or even creating a blog with articles planned around specific keywords. Search engines also don’t want to suggest web pages with a bad user experience so page speed, internal linking and mobile optimization play a key role in guiding both the user and the search engine. This just scratches the surface of SEO and there are many other dynamic factors worth researching if you want to increase the visibility of your site.

Once your page has good SEO, you could even encourage existing customers to create and share their own content, such as reviews or testimonials related to your products/services. These can be in the form of contests, which can be linked to prizes and giveaways!

All of these methods are considered “organic” marketing, but there may also be room for its opposite — “paid” marketing. This includes pay-per-click (PPC) advertising on Google Ads or similar platforms, which is a hugely popular marketing tool for businesses in many industries. If you don’t have the budget to team up with a marketing agency yet, you can start small by learning about ad campaigns and making smaller investments in paid ads.

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Social media platforms like Facebook also allow you to choose which user demographics your ads are shown to — you can choose parameters such as age, gender, location, occupation, and interests. This is another area where having a clearly defined target audience will be beneficial. You should then tailor your content specifically to this audience, making sure it’s entertaining and/or informative for them. This can even determine which channels you use to deliver content. For example, if your target audience is professionals, LinkedIn blogs can be worthwhile, but TikTok videos may be more fruitful if your audience is younger.

Can Partnerships and Virtual Events Bring Attention to Your Business?

Partnerships are a particularly popular marketing method. You can partner with other businesses or influencers in your industry on collaborative contests, giveaways, or online content. This enables both your business and your partners to expand their reach to new audiences. To find partners, why not try attending industry events and joining relevant groups or associations? These events and groups may be in-person or in online spaces — anywhere where business owners can network and make contacts.

You could even consider hosting your own virtual events or webinars related to your industry. For example, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company could host a webinar giving a tutorial on how to use their products to overcome a common problem. The visual and/or interactive aspect of these webinars can provide potential customers with greater insight than traditional advertising, enabling real-time, two-way communication.

There are plenty of other types of virtual events too. Online quizzes can be surprisingly easy to create, and offer audiences the chance to participate and even win prizes. Companies like Microsoft have even hosted “hackathons” where contestants aimed to hack into systems in order to win cash prizes. Virtual concerts, DJ sets, and movie nights have also been hugely successful for many companies. If in doubt, consider the industry your business is a part of, your specific products/services, and your own skills. What can you display or showcase that entertains or informs?

How to Keep Customers Coming Back

Often, the most promising potential customers are previous customers. Once you have attracted customers to your business, retaining these customers can be much more efficient and cost-effective than reaching out to new audiences. To retain customers, you need to offer products/services that provide measurable value and stand out from those of your competitors.

There is no standard formula for providing excellent value and customer service — the specifics will vary depending on your industry and niche. For eCommerce stores, this could involve providing generous returns policies. For SaaS companies, this could mean providing useful, timely technical support to customers. Always try to exceed expectations — this is the best way to find return customers. Ultimately, your products/services must live up to the hype!