How can small businesses make better use of technology to improve their marketing strategies?If you’re part of a Canadian small business, you know that growing, sustaining and improving your business takes a continuous creative effort. With all eyes on the bottom line, it must be done while ensuring you get the best bang for your limited buck. This is especially true when it comes to your marketing efforts.

Creating a strong brand is important because it means your customers can get a sense of your business’s identity through your marketing collateral, including brochures, pamphlets, in-store signage and presentation materials. The good news is that cost-conscious small businesses are creating sophisticated promotional materials in-house without the benefit of big budgets.

With in-house colour printing, you can create small runs of customized colour brochures and flyers for specific clients or situations and avoid wasting stacks of outdated materials. With the right tools, it’s easy and inexpensive to produce your own professional-quality marketing collateral.

Earlier this year, HP Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) launched a nationwide contest encouraging Canadian businesses to share their in-house marketing success stories and explain how technology has helped them better market their businesses. With more than 900 contest entries received, one thing is certain: small businesses are making innovative use of technology to market their businesses.

The winner of the HP Canada contest was M&R Machines Ltd., a family owned and operated farm equipment repair company with 15 employees. Based in Weyburn, Sask., M&R uses colour inkjet and colour laser printers, a digital scanner and a digital camera to better serve the local farming community, neighbouring provinces and the northern United States. The company uses technology to create custom, professional-looking catalogues, business cards, signage as well as full-scale engineered drawings for customers. Lethbridge, Alta.-based Tompkins Jewellers was named the second place winner for its inventive use of technology to help create a unified feel in all its marketing collateral.

As often happens with small businesses, company posters can take on several different sizes and colours while business cards and letterhead may have a different feel entirely, and this is a problem. But all it takes to correct is a digital camera, scanner and printer to create professional-looking collateral that really sets the tone for a small business, making the business appear larger than it actually is.

Image One MRI of Kelowna, B.C., which received an honourable mention, found that designing its own flyers and posters and printing them in-house gave the company more creative control.

“We create e-presentations for our doctors and community groups to teach them about MRIs,” said Mike Large, company president, in his submission. “We create logo stickers for weekly prize baskets for a local Ladies Golf Night. We also use our technology to help support local non-profit youth sports groups by managing several Web sites.”

Every business can benefit from taking control over marketing collateral. Informational brochures, video displays and point-of sale information help both customers and sales staff to select the appropriate product or service. Creating your own letterhead and using it for all your correspondence with customers will promote consistent use and recognition of your branding.

For example, Olympia Restaurant, in Lindsay, Ont., prints its own menus on card stock. This allows staff to update the menu on the fly, depending on the availability of fresh game and produce, and without financial strain.

Professional-looking marketing collateral has become more than a nice-to-have option for small businesses. It has become a must-have, if you want stay competitive with larger organizations that probably have more dollars to devote to their marketing budgets. With a bit of technology, some training and a spot of inspiration Canadian SMBs are already reaping some of the benefits of do-it-yourself marketing.

Jean-Paul Desmarais is business marketing manager, Imaging and Printing Group at Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Co.

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