In 2017, U.S. companies spent a combined $85.93 billion on digital marketing. Two years from now, nationwide digital marketing spending is expected to surpass $100 billion.

Still, only 9 percent of marketers believe their digital marketing is working, and it can be challenging for small business owners and entrepreneurs to build their marketing capacity and expertise. Fortunately, the members of the Young Entrepreneur Council have plenty of ideas about how to increase their marketing reach and return on investment.

1. Be more strategic about your marketing spend

It’s indisputable: Email marketing is still relevant and effective, but your customers’ inboxes get more crowded every day. What can you do to make sure your messages are getting to the right place and sparking the right action?

“Online marketing is extremely expensive in my industry,” says Michael Hsu of DeepSky. As a result, this year, he turned to retargeting and personalized direct mail. The personalized part is key.

Direct mail is notoriously expensive too, and it’s difficult to track return on investment. So Hsu improves his odds by targeting his outreach. “I’m segmenting my ideal customer demographic and reaching out to my potential customers,” says Hsu.

It’s important, but it’s an easy miss. The real value is when you can apply what you’ve learned through your online marketing efforts to reach the most valuable customers offline. You want to avoid wasting money on expensive direct mail to unqualified leads, while at the same time reaching the best leads through multiple channels.

Shawn Porat of Scorely concurs: “I’m looking for ways to create more targeted lists, so I can improve engagement and conversions. If you offer a variety of products or services, it’s best to segment your lists so everyone gets the most relevant information and promotions.”

Think about ways to keep your customers engaged. Don’t underestimate the damage it can do to your brand to send mass emails or direct mail to your entire contact list if you haven’t spent the time to think through what you want them to do (the call to action) and what matters to them.

2. Craft a message using what you know about your audience

The average American receives 120 work emails a day, 50 percent of which are spam or promotional. Martin Ekechukwu of WHTWRKS Inc. says it’s about timing and developing messaging that will resonate.

“The marketing communication space has become crowded,” says Ekechukwu. “Identifying the right space and time to build a relationship with the audience is key.”

Ekechukwu says that this year, his focus is on building a more culturally relevant communication strategy to change consumer behavior.

3. Build genuine relationships with your customers and partners

Sean Ogle of Location Rebel wants to build better relationships with his customers.

“This year, I’m really focusing on building the right relationships,” says Ogle. “A big part of that is honing a good (not spammy) outreach campaign that actually focuses on providing real value to reach a new customer base.”

He intends to reach this new customer base by building relationships with potential partners as well. New partners can direct their customers to Location Rebel and vice versa, benefitting both companies with minimal extra work.

4. Get involved in your community

Your presence in your local community can also have a big influence on your ability to attract and retain customers. This year, Ben Davis of The Gents Place is working to improve grassroots marketing in his new locations.

“We spend a lot of resources to be the very best in digital, but we can’t forget about local community involvement,” says Davis.

Getting involved with other local businesses and philanthropic efforts “allows each location to be locally relevant in their market,” says Davis. For large businesses opening new locations, getting involved with the community makes your business approachable for local customers. You want to be the new business that people tell their friends about—word of mouth referrals can be extremely valuable, especially for earlier stage businesses.

5. Adapt your content marketing strategy

According to DemandMetric, content marketing costs 62 percent less than traditional marketing and generates three times as many leads. As a result, 93 percent of business-to-business (B2B) marketers use content marketing.

Content marketing has been effective for B2B marketers as well. From the Content Marketing Institute, 51 percent of them will increase their content marketing budget over the next year. Only 3 percent plan on decreasing their budget.

Because so many people are switching to content marketing, the volume is no longer the way to go. Ruben Gamez says that’s why his company, Docsketch, focuses on quality over quantity when content marketing.

“Nowadays, it’s better to focus on fewer pieces of content and spend more time marketing those,” says Gamez. “We’re actually going to treat each content piece like a product that we measure, iterate, and constantly improve.”

6. Use video to increase engagement

Content marketing is more than just words or blog posts. Video content is increasingly relevant and effective. Andrew Namminga of Andesign understands the shift in media consumption and will play right into it this year by focusing on producing more video content.

“Videos are a great way to captivate a viewer while making it feel organic and delivering your key points,” says Namminga. They are short and to-the-point, perfect for consumers “plagued with short attention spans.”

The average written content marketing piece is 1,142 words, but consumers only spend 37 seconds on the page reading. Videos can help provide more information in less time, appealing to those in a rush or with a short attention span. They also keep consumers on the page longer, which is more likely to create higher engagement numbers.

7.  Incorporate influencer marketing tactics

Serenity Gibbons, like many other business owners around the country, is realizing the power of influencer marketing. She’s working to to find influencers with the same values as her company Calendar to “enhance our brand image and attract more talent to our organization.”

But it’s not just about finding external influencers that are willing to stand behind your product. Kristy Knichel of Knichel Logistics is positioning herself as an influencer by starting a blog. She wants to become known as a thought leader in the transportation industry. “By consistently getting good content online, we are hoping to improve our search rankings while answering questions as true thought leaders,” says Knichel.

Top-level content can get you on the first page of a Google search, which is a high priority for Knichel in a “super-competitive industry.”

8. Connect the dots with automation

Brennan White wants his business, Cortex, to be fully automated by the end of 2018. By fully automated, he means “nothing that can be automated remains manual.”

White sees this as the best method to ensure all marketing spending is achieving maximum ROI. “That involves automating content creation, curation, and deployment; advertising creation and testing; and email campaigns,” he says.

His automation of content marketing focuses on the best prospects who will engage with Cortex, all while saving time and energy.

9. Continuously improve user experience

Traditional marketing tactics won’t be effective unless your product or service really meets your customers’ needs. Instead of focusing on secondary marketing tactics to differentiate from every other marketer, Andy Karuza of FenSens is letting his product market itself.

“We are always improving our product and app’s UI/UX because we know satisfied customers who know how to use our app will use it more often and are more likely to refer it to their friends,” says Karuza.


In a crowded marketing space, using these nine marketing tactics can help you distinguish your company and generate more leads. The YEC members employ their individual tactics as part of a bigger marketing plan—they don’t use all of the tactics at once.

Make sure the tactic you choose to employ benefits your overarching business goal, too. For example, your goal could be “add 3,000 new customers by the end of the year.” You wouldn’t want to focus on retaining customers for this goal. Instead, you might focus on reaching as many new leads through content or influencer marketing.

Depending on what you want your business to achieve, create a marketing plan and determine which of these tactics fits best.

AvatarNate Mann

Nate Mann recently finished his second year at the University of Oregon. He is pursuing a major in journalism, along with minors in business administration and computer science. He is currently a content marketing intern for Palo Alto Software. Outside of school and work, Nate is an avid basketball fan and writes about the Portland Trail Blazers for Rip City Project. He is also a data reporting intern for the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication.