Cheap Marketing Tricks That Work

Small start-up businesses don’t usually have the resources to launch huge advertising blitzes in multiple media formats. In fact, even if you are already in business, chances are you don’t have an extensive cash allocation earmarked for promotion. There’s also a good chance that you’ve tried many different advertising approaches and vehicles and haven’t hit on a really successful campaign yet. You aren’t alone!

Advertising is extremely expensive. Even large national companies with their massive budgets often find it difficult to develop successful advertising campaigns. With an growing number of companies advertising through every imaginable communication avenue, it is becoming increasingly harder to attract the attention of consumers.

Guerilla Marketing: The Non-Advertising Approach to Promotion

With all the advertising clutter out there, often the best bet to getting attention for your business isn’t advertising at all, but other kinds of promotion—more of a guerilla marketing approach. These non-advertising marketing approaches generally require less money to implement and are often more effective. The only catch is that they require time and creativity to develop.


You don’t have to distribute coupons in print advertising or in big direct-mail campaigns. You can hand them out on the street corner, at trade shows, in emails, on your website, or just about anyplace else. You can send a few to your best customers, or you can include “next purchase” coupons in customer orders.

Coupons can be “quick and dirty” to design and print because their selling point is price, not image. To ensure your chances of getting an additional sale or establishing an ongoing relationship with your customers, make your coupon offer exceedingly generous.


People love contests. They even love to see other people win! Just witness the phenomenal success of game shows on television. If you choose to develop a promotional contest, infuse it with fun, make it silly, and don’t forget to really talk it up. If your contest is wacky and crazy enough, you should be able to get good media coverage. Remember, this is essentially free advertising!


People love to receive something for free, even if they have to pay a premium price for a more expensive item to get the freebie. Don’t ask why! It may not make sense, but it doesn’t have to, as long as you make money. Although this technique has been used most successfully in the beauty and cosmetics industry, it can be used in almost any business endeavor. It isn’t unheard of to see deals such as a free computer desktop with the purchase of a higher-priced notebook computer, or even a free subcompact car with the purchase of a full-price luxury sedan!

Frequent Buyers

Frequent-buyer programs can be very powerful tools for building loyal clientele for both retail and service businesses. The more common approach is to give customers a card that is marked after each purchase and results in a free or reduced-price product or service after a specified number of regular-priced purchases. For example, ten haircuts may net one free haircut. Another approach is to give regular customers a discount on purchases upon presentation of their “Frequent Buyer” discount card.

Independent retailers trying to survive the onslaught of superstores that offer their customers super-low prices often implement frequent-buyer programs. A few businesses charge a small fee for their frequent-buyer cards. Others tie freebies or discount levels to purchase volume. For example, after spending $100 at a computer store, you might receive a free subscription to their newsletter or 5 percent off your next purchase of $25 or more. After spending $250, you might receive a free storage disk or 10 percent off your next purchase of $25 or more.

Exclusive Offerings

Offering exclusive purchases or previews of new merchandise to existing customers is a great way to inspire a feeling of excitement and loyalty. To enhance participation, you may wish to offer a discount. If the exclusive offering is in itself extremely attractive, the discount can be small.


Hosting a special event in your business establishment, such as a celebrity appearance or a charity fundraiser, is a terrific way to introduce people to your business or maintain contact with existing customers. It will also create an aura of excitement and goodwill. You may even obtain media coverage!


You don’t have to be a movie producer or own an international fast-food chain to cross-promote your product with another business. You might consider offering free tickets to the local theater with each purchase of a particular item or price level. Another great business-to-business cross-promotion might be to offer free tickets to a ballgame to any business willing to invest 15 minutes of time just to listen to your sales pitch.


Ever notice the ads for car washes on taxi roofs? Car washes don’t pay cash for these advertisements! They get the exposure in exchange for cleaning the taxis periodically. If you are absolutely sold on developing an advertising campaign, remember that smaller media outfits will sometimes accept products in lieu of payment.


You’re probably wondering how you can make money if you give away product! Well, it can be a lot easier and less expensive than advertising. In fact, giveaways have their place in just about any type of business.

Selling business-to-business, you can generate goodwill with the people you choose—your best customers or a select roster of potential clientele—by occasionally giving them a small gift when you call on them. The giveaway should not be so expensive that a feeling of bribery is conveyed, but nice enough that it doesn’t end up trashed the minute you leave.

For consumer service businesses, you may want to offer your product for free trial periods, or offer free estimates if you are in a service-oriented business.
Retail businesses may hand out balloons or other novelty items to build traffic or retain customer interest.

I think of a sandwich shop that built a huge business quickly by heavily promoting free sandwich giveaways on their opening day.

New Customer Offers

Attracting new customers is one of the most difficult marketing challenges to achieve even with powerful advertising or a dedicated sales force. That’s why different businesses—from national greeting card manufacturers to local oil delivery services—offer incentive pricing, freebies, or extra advertising allowances for new customers. Even lawyers customarily offer a free first consultation.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • There are cheap and effective alternatives to expensive advertising.
  • Just because they’re cheap doesn’t mean they won’t take some serious thought.
  • People don’t need to get a deal—they need to feel like they’re getting a deal.
  • There are endless promotional alternatives to consider.

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About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs. Bob also founded BusinessTown, the go-to learning platform for starting and running a business.