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9 Subtle Marketing Moves to Try for Your Small Business

Sometimes going about it just a tad more soft and subtly might be the best idea. So, with that said, why? Better yet, how? 

When small businesses want to get noticed, they turn to social media and content marketing, which makes complete sense. After all, people are consuming content now more than ever before. Regardless, you’re having to compete with all content, and technically, everyone is your competition when it comes to catching attention. On top of that, people hate being sold. Just take a look at TikTok Shop; people are so sick of being sold there. So, that’s why sometimes going about it just a tad more soft and subtly might be the best idea. So, with that said, why? Better yet, how? 

Why Subtle Marketing?

So, you have to keep in mind that marketing messages bombard everyone at every turn, and people are increasingly weary of aggressive advertising. Seriously, no one likes being sold to, especially with how often it’s happening right now. This is where the beauty of subtle marketing comes into play. 

There’s an art to it, actually. By gently integrating your brand into everyday experiences—like placing a clever sticker in an unexpected spot or offering a useful branded item—subtle marketing respects the consumer’s space and offers a refreshing alternative. The whole point isn’t to scream attention—which is exactly what marketing is usually about. It’s soft and subtle and builds gradual trust and familiarity. 

How Can You Achieve Subtle Marketing?

So, how exactly can you do this? Again, it’s not in-your-face like traditional marketing is. There’s an art to it, where it’s soft, so soft to the point where people might not even notice it. Now, that within itself sounds weird because the whole point is to guarantee notice. But the thing is, even with regular marketing, you’re not fully guaranteed awareness. So that’s why sometimes, going about it just a little softer and more subtle could actually work more to your benefit. 

Branded Merchandise People Actually Use

So, you know when boutiques, even luxury ones like Tiffany and Co. or Dior, give out those cute printed shopper bags to their customers? Well, you noticed them, but they’re not in your face, so that is technically subtle marketing. But it doesn’t really need to end there; for example, if you have a tote bag that you carry around with your logo (needs to be aesthetically pleasing), then this alone can catch some attention when you’re out (walking, shopping, public transport, you name it), and it can entice people to look it up. 

It’s actually something that bookstores use, like Shakespear and Co. in Paris and Daunt Books in London; even Dille en Kamille in the Netherlands uses this tactic, too. It’s subtle, yet fashionable. This is just enough to make people recognise the brand and even make them want to look it up (such as getting a cute bag for themselves).

But what about giving out freebies? Everyone loves free stuff, but the real magic happens when the freebies are useful. Think beyond pens and keychains. Branded tote bags, water bottles, or even tech items like USB drives can be a great choice. If you run a bookstore, a branded bookmark can be a nice touch. The idea is to offer something that will be used repeatedly, keeping your brand under the radar but consistently visible.

Wear Your Own Brand Proudly

So this goes with what was mentioned above about using a tote bag with your logo on it, but you could still take it a step further if you wanted to. As a small business owner, you are one of the most powerful ambassadors for your brand. So, why not wear clothing with your business logo when you’re out and about? 

Whether it’s a tastefully embroidered logo on a polo shirt or a smart accessory like a pin or a cap, it’s a conversation starter. It’s not just apparel; consider using a laptop skin or a phone case with your brand on it. But of course, this needs to be aesthetically pleasing, or you’re not going to entice anyone. This is not to say that logomania is bad or good, but people are attracted to the aesthetics of a logo. 

Create Some Free Resources and Helpful Content

Position your business as a helpful friend rather than a salesperson. So, why not create free resources that subtly include your branding.? For instance, if you’re a graphic design firm, offer free downloadable templates with a small logo on the corner. You can also write helpful blog posts or create how-to videos that address common problems or interests related to your industry. People absolutely eat these up, and it’s one of the best ways to gain trust from others, too. 

Utilise Royalty-Free Image Platforms

If you go on websites like Unsplash or Pexels, you’re going to notice that large brands like LinkedIn and Microsft, but even plenty of small brands are putting up images on there free to use.  These could be beautiful shots of your products or themed photos that reflect your brand ethos. 

These images can then be used by bloggers, news sites, or anyone creating digital content, spreading your brand far and wide, subtly embedded in various content pieces. Plus, when people are scrolling, they instantly see your business branding there, which within itself could be enough because they may Google your business. 

Smart Social Media Interactions

Instead of just promoting products on social media, engage in conversations naturally and subtly weave in your products or services where they add value. For example, if someone is asking for recommendations on a thread and your business provides a solution, chime in politely with your suggestion and a brief mention of your business.

Guerrilla Marketing Tactics

So, this one can be a swing and a miss, but who cares? Technically, it’s the same for subtle marketing, too. This involves thinking outside the box and using creativity to captivate an audience. It could be something as simple as chalk art near your business location or leaving interesting bookmarks in library books (with permission, of course). These strategies create a buzz and naturally bring your business into conversations.

Partner Up with Local Businesses

You just can’t go wrong with this one whatsoever. So, it’s definitely going to be a good idea to just try and collaborate with non-competing businesses in your area to create bundled offers or co-host events. This way, you get access to each other’s customer bases in a non-threatening, mutually beneficial way. For example, a coffee shop and a bookstore might team up to offer a “Read and Refresh” package or host a joint book club.

Sponsor Community Events

So, this one is also a more local focus, and when it comes to subtle marketing, it’s usually more effective if it’s more of a local focus anyway. Sponsoring local events can be a great way to get your business name out there without the hard sell. You can sponsor anything from a local sports team to a charity run, which often includes your business logo on promotional materials and event signage. This type of marketing builds goodwill and shows your commitment to the community.

Consider a Car Decal

Some companies will use their car as a way to go about branding, so it’s something you could do, too. So, you could go all out if you wanted to, such as customising your car. But, of course, that’s not subtle at all. Instead, you can look into adding little back-window decals or even a bumper sticker to your car. Just your logo can be enough. However, keep in mind that petty folks who are driving might leave you a bad review on Google My Business if you get them mad, such as cutting them off during traffic. This one definitely needs to proceed with caution. 

Keeping it Classy

Subtle marketing is all about finesse. It’s the art of marketing without really “marketing.” So, with that said, just by integrating your business into everyday scenarios in understated, clever ways, you can build awareness and grow your customer base organically. Seriously, you just need to remember that the goal is to make people feel as though they discovered your brand on their own, which can create a stronger, more lasting connection.

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