Small businesses are always looking for ways to elevate their profile. It’s not easy these days. Budgets are tight. Consumer loyalty may not be as strong as it once was.

But there are ways that you can generate buzz on a budget and still stand out. One of the big keys is looking forward and being creative. Too often, small businesses, especially those in small to medium markets, are pitched the same old, tired solutions by mass media.

Social responsibility is a small business marketing tool that remains largely untapped in small and medium markets in Norfolk County, Haldimand County, Oxford  County, Niagara Region, Brantford, Ontario and beyond.

Here are three ways your small business can easily leverage social responsibility as a marketing tool to stand out from the crowd:

1. Set an example. There are many ways you can take socially responsible steps. Let’s stick with two simple ways. Bullfrog Power is a simple, inexpensive way to show a commitment to 100% green electricity. Plus, Bullfrog Power supplies you with marketing tools to communicate your commitment. Bullfrog Power’s extensive marketing efforts means you can automatically leverage their image and profile. Another affordable step is joining 1% For The Planet, the same organization that iconic Canadian brand, Mountain Equipment Co-op, uses. You simply donate 1% of your yearly sales to the environmental organization of your choice (from an approved list of organizations, many of which are Canadian). One Percent for the Planet is an acclaimed nonprofit organization that is “enabling businesses to take a lead role in being environmental stewards and to set an example for the rest of the business community. These companies embrace the notion that the sustainability of the natural environment is fundamental to the sustainability of business.”

2. Embrace cause marketing.
This is something that, again, is underutilized in smaller markets. Cause marketing is about choosing a cause you believe in in your community. Never wing it when choosing a cause. Choose wisely. Be genuine. Never underestimate cynicism from the public. It takes two to develop a plan that generates sustainable buzz and exposure: Your small business and the cause recipient you choose. Too often, this form of marketing consists of gaining wide exposure only when a business writes a cheque. And, even that consists of just a single photo in a newspaper that may or may not have been seen by your intended audience. Don’t allow your commitment to helping the community be reduced to nothing more than yet another ‘donation photo’ published in local media. Routine, people-standing-in-a-line donation photos have become so boring and common that readers tend to ignore or just glance at them.

3. Adopt recycling initiatives that generate traffic. Here’s a tale of two hardware stores. One store happily accepts old cans of paint and sends them off to be recycled. Another store, across town, sells paint but doesn’t allow its cans to be dropped off for recycling when you’re finished. Guess where this store’s customers are going to recycle old paint cans? Yep. To the competition. Ask yourself this question: Is there any product sold by your business that requires special recycling? In other words, something that people can’t just put in their blue box. Can you help make recycling that product possible? Think about how you can bring traffic into your store by helping consumers be greener. Consumers frequently get frustrated when they want to be green, but don’t have a local solution. They will embrace you. And word of mouth spreads quickly.