Small Business Marketing Guide: Types of Traditional and Online Marketing


Many small business owners and young entrepreneurs are intimidated by marketing. There’s a good reason for this: marketing is expensive, time-consuming, and a waste of time. But when planned and executed correctly, marketing can also lead to more sales and revenue.

Whether you plan and execute traditional and online marketing strategies yourself, or pay consultants or vendors to help you, it’s important for you to understand the types of marketing available to you.

Today, we take a look at online and traditional marketing. We’ll look at relevant metrics to help you assess whether a specific marketing channel could work for you, and also highlight additional resources to help you get a better understanding of that channel.

Online Marketing

Online marketing relies on strategies that leverage the Internet and mobile devices. In many cases, the goal of online marketing (especially for small businesses), is to directly increase sales by targeting potential customers using different online channels.

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Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing focuses on promotion through search engines (Google, Bing). There are two distinct forms of search engine marketing: organic (search engine optimization or SEO) and paid (pay-per-click or PPC).

SEO focuses on optimizing the site to increase the site’s ranking in search engine results (SERPs) so that more customers will click on the results and visit the company’s site.

PPC focuses on buying ads to make a company’s link more visible in search enginers (especially when a company doesn’t have a very good organic rank). To learn more about SEO and PPC marketing, read 10 Practical Small Business SEO and SEM Marketing Tips.

Display Ads

You’ve probably seen thousands of banner ads and learned to ignore them. Your customers have also learned to ignore those ads. Studies show that people do not trust display ads. There’s a good reason for that: people have short attention spans and do not like to be interrupted.


Email Marketing

This type of marketing involves delivering content and promotional offers to customers through email. Effective email marketing requires good design and optimization. It also requires you to pay attention to how people consume email. For example, there are some very good guides on the best times and days to send emails for opens and click-throughs. But the data is not universally applicable to all businesses. Some businesses will find that sending email at times we wouldn’t normally consider – such as at night – is better.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing involves the creation of content designed to appeal to your prospective customers and building relationships with those customers (driven initially by great content) to keep them coming back for more. It also involves strategies for converting those potential customers into actual customers. Inbound marketing is multi-channel –  it’s designed to reach people wherever they want to interact with you and your business. Examples of inbound marketing include blogs, podcasts, ebooks, newsletters, whitepapers, and videos.

People’s dissatisfaction with advertising helps to explain why inbound marketing is gaining popularity. To learn a bit more about inbound marketing, read 10 Inbound Discoveries That Will Disrupt Marketing Forever.

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing attempts to leverage the power of social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and others) to promote a product or service.  These efforts can be paid (buying ads on those networks) or free (engaging and sharing great content).

Young entrepreneurs already know the power of social networks because they grew up with Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. But social media can be powerful for companies of all sizes, across many industries.

But be careful. Social media marketing can waste time because it’s not for all businesses and requires careful planning and execution. But, small businesses are spending more and more money on social media marketing. There’s a good reason – potential customers are more likely to buy a company’s products or services if they follow that company on Twitter or are a fan on Facebook.


For a good look at tools that can help your social media marketing efforts, read Best Social Media Tools For Your Small Business.

Content Marketing

You’ve probably been hearing a great deal about content marketing. In many ways, content marketing is similar to inbound marketing because both involve the creation of great content. But inbound marketing is a more rounded approach because it also includes the strategies for what companies should do after they share the content.


If you’re looking for tips on creating compelling, useful content that can help grow your business, I recommend you read How To Grow Your Business With Content Marketing.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is a type of referral marketing. It leverages others to help promote your company’s products and services. For example, we have an affiliate program at crowdSPRING that rewards others for sending business to us. Affiliate marketing is performance based marketing: the affiliates are rewarded for each visitor or customer they bring to a business.

Mobile Marketing

Mobile marketing involves reaching customers through mobile devices. Marketing to mobile devices can include text messages, multimedia messages (MMS), push notifications, in-game marketing, QR codes, and other strategies. Given the widespread adoption of mobile phones, the future of mobile marketing looks very bright. To learn more about mobile marketing, take a look at this slideshare presentation offering 50 stats on the future of mobile marketing.

Traditional Marketing

Traditional marketing relies on offline strategies, including direct sales, direct mail (postcards, brochures, letters, fliers), tradeshows, print advertising (magazines, newspapers, coupon books, billboards), referral (also known as word-of-mouth marketing), radio, and television. In most cases, the goal of traditional marketing is to create brand awareness. Although opinions about traditional marketing vary, a large number of marketers, especially in the B2B (business to business) space don’t believe that traditional marketing is effective. For example, in a recent survey, just 4% of respondents rated leads generated from print, radio and TV ads as high quality.


Direct sales

Direct sales involves the marketing and sale of products and services directly to consumers, but not from a fixed retail location. Often, direct sales are done at the prospective customers homes or at their jobs, but direct sales can also be done over the phone.

Direct mail

Direct mail marketing creates awareness of a product or service through postcards, letters, fliers, brochures and other printed pieces sent through the mail. This type of marketing is targeted to a specific group of people. For example, a local flower shop could send postcards to people living within 5 miles of its store. Direct mail marketing can be expensive: a business must pay for the design and printing costs to send the direct mail pieces, as well as the postage.


Tradeshows continue to be a popular marketing channel for many businesses. For example, in the B2B space, attendees at tradeshows are 34 percent more likely to make a purchase than people who hear about a product through other channels.


Print marketing creates awareness of a product or service through ads in a newspaper, magazine, the Yellow Pages, billboards, etc. Print marketing can be targets (such as a local Yellow Page ad) or can be broad (an ad in a national magazine or newspaper). Print marketing is expensive (see chart below). But while consumers today dislike ads, those who enjoy looking at ads prefer, by a wide margin, ads in print magazines.



Referral marketing (also known as word-of-mouth marketing), leverages your existing customers to advocate for your business. It typically costs little to execute (some businesses provide referral payments to customers who bring in other customers).


Although few small businesses rely on television and radio advertising to reach their target audience, some try (often without much success). At the tail end of the stock market bubble in 2000,, a young startup with a half-baked business model, spent millions of dollars on a Superbowl ad – featuring a sock puppet. The company folded shortly after the ad aired.

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