Marketing Basics for Small Businesses

For some small businesses, marketing is all about promotion. It’s the emails you send, the flyers you mail or the pens you give away with your name on them. But if that’s all you’re doing, you’re missing out. Successful marketers use all elements of the marketing mix. Here’s a crash course in the marketing mix and how it shapes your marketing strategy.

Elements of the Marketing Mix

The marketing mix is the building block of your marketing strategy. You may have heard it referred to as the “Four Ps”—product, price, promotion and place. Here’s a quick description of each and how it fits into your marketing plan.


  • What is it? This is what you’re offering to your target market. It might be a tangible good, like a menu item. Or it can be a service, like take-out or delivery. Often, it’s both. It can also be an idea. For example, a home security business might offer “peace of mind.”
  • How is it used? It’s not just what you offer but how you offer it. That involves packaging and branding. What will it look like? What will you call it? Will it come with any extras? For example, a health store may use only biodegradable sacks to pack up a customer’s purchase.


  • What is it? This is the value paid by the customer to purchase your offering. Typically it’s monetary. Price is influenced by factors like your costs, what the competition is doing or the availability of credit. It also involves any discounting you might offer.
  • How is it used? You can manipulate the perception of your product with price. Some businesses artificially lower the cost to gain market share, particularly when introducing a new product. Others price high to position the product as “high-end.”


  • What is it? This is how you communicate with your target market to influence their attitude or behavior. It can include advertising, sales promotion, publicity or personal selling. The goal is to engage customers with attention-getting messages that produce the desired result.
  • How is it used? This includes paid media (traditional advertising) and owned media (your website). Now, earned media is available. This means starting conversations with people, often using social media.  Some even call it the fifth “P”—people.


  • What is it? This is how and where you will make your product available to prospective buyers. The key is to make it available when and where the customer needs it. For example, offering disposable cameras in the gift shop of a local tourist attraction.
  • How is it used? You may choose to offer it in your own store, a retail outlet, out of your home, online or in a catalog. Will you sell it directly to customers or through an intermediary like a wholesaler?

Putting Them All Together

Marketing is part science, part art. The science is using the elements of the marketing mix. The art is how you put them together to gain a competitive advantage for your small business. Here’s an example that puts it all together:

Judy’s Java Joint targets young professionals who work at a nearby office building. It offers made-to-order coffee drinks along with selected pastries (product). The products are offered at a kiosk in the building lobby (place). But on Wednesday, Judy sells drinks from a cart that she takes from floor to floor (place). During her opening week, Judy reduced the cost of her more expensive drinks to get people to try them (price). She also gave away coffee coasters with her website address on it so people could get a coupon to use with their next purchase (promotion).

Small business owners can maximize their marketing strategy by putting all elements of the marketing mix to work. The challenge is to mix and match the elements to gain an advantage over your competitors. That’s where the creativity begins.

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