Find the best way to promote your business

Find the best way to promote your business

Online or face to face, there are more ways than ever to communicate with customers. These fall into five main categories:

  • advertising
  • sales promotions
  • direct marketing
  • personal selling
  • public relations.

But which one suits your business, your budget, and your goals? Here’s how to work it out, plus tips on planning effective and engaging promotions.

Promotion types and how to choose

Different types of promotions (also called marketing communications) have different objectives. But, they are all part of how you interact with customers and promote your brand and your products or services.

To share the right messages, at the right time and through the right channel, think carefully about which type of promotion suits your goal, budget and audience. You will likely use different types at different times, eg direct marketing for customer interaction, sales promotion for a short-term bump in sales.

To choose, it helps to weigh up your options based on the 4Cs of marketing:

  1. Communication: consider if you want to reach a large audience vs deliver a personal message, level of interaction.
  2. Credibility: level of trustworthiness, how seriously the audience takes your message.
  3. Costs: overall costs and cost for each customer gained.
  4. Control: can you target specific audiences? Can you alter the promotion if something changes?


Advertising involves creating adverts and making sure people see them.

To reach broader audiences, consider:

  • Billboards or poster campaigns. Think carefully about location to get a return on the money you spend.
  • TV or radio ads, timed around programmes likely to be popular with potential customers.
  • Web adverts.

To reach specific audiences, consider:

  • Social media adverts, which can be targeted to reach people most likely to buy from you.
  • Newspaper or magazine adverts placed on pages potential customers will likely read, eg gym advert on sports or lifestyle pages.

Adverts can lead to an increase in sales, but it may be harder to see a direct link.

How it scores on 4Cs

Rates highly for communicating with a large audience, low for credibility, medium for control. Costs vary depending on the channel, eg online vs TV.

Advertising to online customers

Sales promotions

Sales promotions are short-term offers like discounts or coupons to attract selected groups of potential customers.

For example, Manu’s Mowing could:

  • exhibit at a home and garden show, offering new customers half-price lawn mowing vouchers
  • deliver discount vouchers to certain neighbourhoods.

Other options include handing out vouchers at in-store demonstrations, eg food tastings in a supermarket, or giving away branded items such as pens and calendars. Useful items can remind customers of your business every time they use them.

Sales promotions usually lead to a short-term increase in sales. Think about how to build longer-lasting relationships with people who buy special offers.

How it scores on 4Cs

Rates medium for communicating with a large audience, medium for credibility and costs, high for control.

Case study

Case study

Manu plans a sales promotion

Manu, the owner of gardening business Manu’s Mowing, learns it’s easier to keep existing customers than find new ones.

Manu decides to target people who last booked at least six months ago. Manu starts with customers who have previously given good feedback, because he thinks they’re the most likely to respond.

Manu emails these customers a 25% discount if they book within a week. To get the discount, customers answer a short multi-choice questionnaire about why they haven’t booked for a while. The results will help Manu improve his services.

When running a promotion, it’s important to check:

  • promotion costs vs change in earnings
  • if it achieves its goal, eg prompting past customers to book again.

So, at the end of the month, Manu checks how many people used the discount code and how his earnings compare to previous months. This shows the promotion boosted sales, earning more than it cost to offer the discount. And the questionnaire helped Manu understand his customers better.

Manu emails each returned customer a couple of weeks later to say thank you. He also encourages them to book regular appointments.

Direct marketing

Direct marketing means selecting people to directly offer a product or service, using a personalised approach over channels like phone, post or email. You then build a relationship or make a sale, depending on how they respond.

For example, Manu’s Mowing might email customers who haven’t booked in six months to offer an appointment within the next week. To personalise the message, Manu could give each person a tip based on what he knows about their garden.

How it scores on 4Cs

Rates high for communicating personal messages and interaction, medium for credibility and costs, high for control.

Personal selling

Personal selling involves you, or someone else in your business, meeting potential customers in person, eg at a trade show or during face-to-face visits. The aim is to build relationships as well as make sales. It’s a good way to:

  • collect real-time feedback on your product or service
  • check if your product or service is fit for the market
  • learn what specific customers need or want.

Because it’s expensive, personal selling is best for:

  • high-value products or services
  • customers likely to spend more or who value customisation.

Building a relationship makes customers more loyal, so personal selling can lead to long-term increases in sales. For example, a winemaker or honey producer might host tastings at supermarkets. People can try out new products and learn about the business. Some may buy on the spot, others may buy in the future.

How it scores on 4Cs

Rates high for communicating personal messages and interaction, medium for credibility and control, high for costs.

Public relations

Public relations (PR) covers managing your business’s image. PR includes being featured positively in the news and handling any bad publicity in messaging that helps rebuild trust in your brand.

Free media coverage can be great promotion for your business. It’s best to use this method when you have an interesting or unusual story to tell. For example, a courier business partnering with a food recovery charity could contact the media to tell their story.

How it scores on 4Cs

Rates medium for communicating with a large audience, high for credibility, and low for costs and control.

Once your promotion catches people’s attention, work on turning new customers into repeat customers.

Once your promotion catches people’s attention, work on turning new customers into repeat customers.

Develop effective marketing communication in 6 steps

It pays to plan, no matter which type of promotion you use.

Start by working out your “why”, the goal or purpose of trying to attract people’s attention. Then you can make sure each step helps achieve that goal, and helps you get the most from the time you invest.

Before your promotion goes live, check for errors or tone-deaf messaging. It’s always a good idea to get someone else to look over it. A checklist might also help.

Use our template to follow these steps and create your own piece of communication.

Template: Six steps to create effective marketing communication [DOCX, 58 KB]

Step 1: Why do it

Work out your goal, including what you want people to do

Most of the time, your goal is getting people to buy from you.

Examples of other goals include wanting people to:

  • visit your store or website
  • take advantage of a special offer
  • follow your business on social media.

Some people might want more information or encouragement before buying. So, your goal might involve influencing how people think of your product or service, eg showcasing what makes it stand out from competitors’ offerings.

Step 2: Who you want to attract

Identify the target audience

Knowing who you are communicating with helps you decide what to say, how to say it and where to say it.

For example, to target people who use social media, a café might post appetising photos with popular hashtags. But when advertising in a magazine popular with tourists, it might use an endorsement like “voted best brownies in town” with its address and opening hours.

Think about whether your target audience tends to buy on a whim or carefully researches options.

Also, think about whether a rational, emotional, or moral message is most likely to appeal:

  • Rational messages demonstrate a product or service will provide benefits through its features, design, quality, cost or value. For example, a florist could emphasise the freshness of their flowers.
  • Emotional messages encourage customers to buy through humour, making them feel good, or making them feel proud about their choice. For example, a craft brewer could give beers punny names.
  • Moral messages connect to people’s sense of what is right. For example, an organic farm could focus on its commitment to animal welfare.

What your customers want and how they think

Step 3: Which promotion type

Choose the type of marketing communication that best fits your goal

Think about the 4Cs (communication, credibility, cost, control) to weigh up which is best for your goal, audience and budget.

Marketing communications fall into five main categories:

  • advertising, eg billboards or social media campaign
  • sales promotions, eg discount offer
  • direct marketing, eg personalised emails
  • personal selling, eg trade show
  • public relations, eg positive media coverage.

Promotion types and how to choose

Step 4: How you communicate

Design and create the message

Your message needs to:

  • gain the customer’s attention
  • hold their interest (see step 2 for more)
  • emphasise your strongest selling point
  • help achieve your goal, eg make a sale.

It also needs to suit the promotion type (see step 3) and the channel used (see step 5).

Think about whether your message needs to appeal to people who buy on a whim or like to do their research. Here are a few ideas:

“Our service is the cheapest in town” vs “If you find a cheaper price, we’ll match it”.

“Our review ratings are the best” vs “Customers rate us highly for lawnmowing — check out our reviews”.

Decide on your strongest selling point. Experts recommend putting this at the start of your message.

Also, think about the messenger, also called the message source. How will customers decide to trust what’s said in your promotion? For example, a business new to market with one well-known client might use a quote from that person.

Use insights to sell the right thing in the right place

Step 5: Where and when

Choose the right place (channel) and the right time

Channels fit into two groups:

  • Personal communication channels where people communicate directly with each other, eg face-to-face, telephone calls and conversations on social media.
  • Non-personal communication channels that carry messages without personal contact or feedback, eg TV, magazine, radio, newspaper and billboard adverts.

Choose a communications channel that fits your goal and your budget. For example, conversations on social media are cheap and give you direct personal contact. But, you’ll need to set aside plenty of time to focus on one customer at a time.

Consider timing carefully. Examples include:

  • scheduling radio or TV adverts around programmes popular with your target customers
  • posting social media updates when your target customers are most likely to be online.

Step 6: What next

Collect feedback and measure success

Feedback helps you understand how well your promotion worked. Ask your target audience:

  • whether they remember your promotion
  • how many times they saw it
  • how they felt about it
  • whether it’s changed how they feel about your business, product or service.

Measure what your audience does after seeing the message, then adjust it if necessary to make it even more effective. If you promote and/or sell online, use analytics tools to measure what your audience does. For example, you can track:

  • how many people see your online advert (if the number is low, try a different channel)
  • how many click through to your website (if this number is low, think of ways to make the message more effective)
  • how many go on to buy from you (if customers don’t complete the process, check where they drop out and make these steps easier or more appealing).

If you don’t have an online channel, you can measure the effect of your message in different ways. For example, you can see if the foot traffic in a store increases after you send your message, and whether more people ask about the product featured in it.

Getting digital helps you talk with customers

The internet and social media bring new opportunities for marketing your business. Digital promotion allows you to personalise and target your message to make it more effective and better value.

It’s worth considering two powerful new techniques:

  • Remarketing identifies customers who browse your website and start buying, but do not complete the purchase. Remarketing services send them reminder ads after they leave your website.
  • Micro-targeting, offered by companies like Google and Facebook, allows you to use data to target potential customers more accurately.

For small businesses, targeted advertising is often more affordable and effective than advertising to a large audience. For example, a new café might use micro-targeting to only promote to people who live or work within walking distance.

Social media offers a wide range of opportunities. Different platforms appeal to different groups of people, and suit different messages. You might choose a platform that’s popular with younger customers, or one where you can work with influencers to reach an audience with shared interests. For example, LinkedIn is ideal for reaching professional audiences. Instagram or Pinterest suit businesses with visual appeal, eg florists or eateries.

Using digital promotion allows you to easily measure the effectiveness of a campaign. This helps you:

  • try several methods
  • find out which works best
  • track what people do in response.

Digital tools can make you more efficient. For example, automated email marketing allows you to stay connected to customers even when they’re not actively engaging with your brand. It might also nudge undecided customers to buy your product or service.

Check if your digital marketing hits the mark for your business.

Check if your digital marketing hits the mark for your business.

Our assessment tool casts light on how you use social media planning, email marketing and advertising online.

Self-assessment: Digital marketing

References to specific businesses

At times refers to specific businesses to make our resources more effective and easier to understand. We do this on the advice of our independent expert partners, including the New Zealand Business Performance Panel. However, we do not endorse any third-party private-sector businesses.

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