6 Growth Marketing Strategies For Small Businesses

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Recently I've noticed that I have a few followers on Instagram that have started their own business, so I wanted to write about some of the marketing techniques that I have come across in my day job as marketer for startups that are perfect for helping businesses grow, with examples of how successful companies have used these strategies in the past.

Referral Marketing

Referral marketing is a strategy whereby you turn your customers into your biggest promoters. It’s slightly different to the more recognisable influencer marketing tactic because it doesn’t rely on your customer having a large audience, they just need to pass knowledge to their circle of friends and family.

This can be super effective as people are inherently much more likely to trust their friends than some of the more flashy, conversion led marketing campaigns we typically see.

This marketing strategy can also happen pretty organically. If your product improves people's lives or is of high enough quality, then your customers will naturally refer your product to their inner circle, meaning it is one of the most organic feeling forms of marketing there is.

The best example of a good referral marketing campaign comes from Dropbox.

If you are unfamiliar with Dropbox, it’s an online storage platform that allows you to store files in your own personal cloud and absolutely saved my life when my flash drive stopped working about two weeks ago. I highly recommend backing up your important files on Dropbox (which is funnily enough is a perfect example of referral marketing).

Basically the way Dropbox makes money is by charging for storage space, so they offered users an extra 500MB for themselves and their friend, if that friend signed up for Dropbox. Super simple concept with very low costs for Dropbox, but the results were fantastic. Sign ups increased by 60% and over 200,000 companies began using the software as standard after this campaign.

Consider your customers as more than a singular revenue stream and focus on providing an effective and high quality product, and your customers can do your marketing work for you!

The Little Bighorn

Ever wanted to reach a specific target market but are finding it difficult to gain significant traction? Try the Little Bighorn strategy.

The basic premise of the Little Bighorn is that you are going to create demand in your target market by targeting adjacent markets. Once your target market sees all the markets and demographics on their periphery using your product or service, they will be more compelled to use it themselves. This works super well for websites and subscription services but no company has utilised this strategy quite like Facebook.

Some of you may know that I absolutely love the film The Social Network and in it, they discuss the Little Bighorn strategy that Facebook founders used to overcome specific university social networks, and explain the strategy better than I ever could, so check out that clip by award winning writers, rather than listen to me drone on and on.

The Waiting List

Ever stood in a nightclub queue for an hour but when you get inside it’s not that busy? That’s a deliberate tactic by nightclubs to make their establishments look more popular than they actually are, and plays off the same psychological phenomena as The Waiting List marketing strategy.

Exclusivity can help make a thing cool, so The Waiting List strategy is where you don’t let your customer buy/sign-up immediately, instead you add them to a waiting list that you then slowly work your way through.

It’s not a strategy that’s great if you need revenue or traffic quickly, but a lot of these strategies require a bit of patience and pay off big in the end. By making people wait, you will generate excitement and anticipation around your product or service, whilst also gaining a nice amount of brand awareness as it’s a memorable tactic in todays fast paced, everything-now environment.

The stock trading app Robinhood (as unpopular as they are right now, and rightfully so 🚀) utilised the waiting list strategy to perfection (and even through some gamification in as well, we’ll cover that later).

Pre-launch, you could sign up for the app and would be added to the waiting list, with a message that showed you how many people were ahead of you in the list. You even had the opportunity to jump up the list by sharing the app with your friends, thereby increasing their userbase and keeping users interested. This tactic worked amazingly and Robinhood had 350,000 users sign up pre-launch!

Exclusive Betas

Another way to grow your business pre-launch or even post-launch if you are working on new versions or products is to generate exclusivity by granting a certain section of your customer base exclusive beta access to your new products.

This is a really common tactic in the games industry, where developers will allow prominent tech writers and game review sites access to games before the general public. This has a whole host of benefits for their marketing as you get free publicity from the people with access to the exclusive beta, and it drives a sense of anticipation for the full launch.

It also allows you to iron out any bugs or issues with your product before the hard launch (despite a technical beta test and a marketing beta test being slightly different). One thing to be careful with is making sure that you don’t make the beta better than the actual product or try to hide something in the beta version that could be a problem in the hard launch. Check out CD Projekt Red’s launch of Cyberpunk 2077 to see how that can blow up in your face.

There’s a great list of companies who have successfully used exclusive beta marketing on chanty.com, that also highlights how these companies selected the beta testers they wanted to use, with some even using it as an opportunity to steal some users away from their competitors pre-launch!

Brand Crossovers

If there is anything that Alien vs Predator has taught us it's that people love crossovers.

Usually brands pretty much operate within their own space, and the only time they overlap with other brands is when they are directly competing. Social media has changed that however, as within the Twittersphere brands are more connected than ever, and that opens up the opportunity for some really exciting collaborations that can drum up some viral attention and really help boost both brand’s awareness.

There’s actually two specific examples I wanted to talk about and the first is because it highlights that sometimes, when a cause is great enough, brands need to put their competition aside and work together to help drive awareness with an unlikely team-up.

Such was the case in Argentina when sworn enemies Burger King and McDonald’s collaborated to raise money for childhood cancer. McDonald’s announced that for every burger sold one specific day, all proceeds would go to charities helping tackle cancer, and Burger announced their “Day Without A Whopper” in which they halted sales for the day and actively pushed customers to buy from McDonald’s instead.

When it comes to charity, there’s no room for profit margins or brand awareness drives, so consider teaming up with a rival or a charity to help use your business for good!

The other, less intense brand crossover I wanted to talk about was Nike’s collaboration with Sharpie. Nike released a batch of Air Force 1s that came with their own Sharpie that you could customise them with.

This strange brand collision created an immense amount of buzz and organic sharing within their customer base, and help both brands with their brand awareness.

Allowing your customers to customise your product is a bold move, but one that can really go down well with lots of social engagement driven due to customers sharing their unique creations.


Gamification involves taking human’s innate competitiveness and channelling that into activities based around your product or service.

A classic example of this is holding raffles and giveaways that are increasingly common on Instagram these days.

Gamification is usually combined with a reward to incentivise customers to “play the game”.

This ties back to the Robinhood example earlier.

The more that people on the waiting list shared Robinhood's product with their network, the higher up the waiting list they went, showing them tangible progress. Try turning your service or product into something users are incentivised to engage with, and they can do a lot of the marketing for you.

Nike are fantastic at this when it comes to their running club.

Nike+ Run Club is an app that allows users to join a community of runners, chart their progress and compare their times and workouts with friends. This encourages users to keep coming back to the app and allows Nike to promote some of their other products to them as well.

Make sure your product is something people want to engage with and share, and incentivise them to get their friends involved with a playful competitive edge, and you can see some serious growth quickly.

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