The year ahead may bring new challenges to small businesses. The key is being prepared and taking a proactive approach to marketing your company.
There are marketing challenges that continue to persist for small businesses. One is ensuring that their marketing efforts are cost-effective and also generating results.
“Too often, businesses (large and small) implement tactics because they seem like a good idea, because an opportunity emerges or because it’s what their competitors are doing — and not because their research has indicated that, based on their goals, objectives and target audiences, these objectives are the ones likely to produce the best results,” explains Linda Pophal, owner and consultant with Strategic Communications, LLC who is also a lecturer in the Communication/Journalism and Marketing/Management departments at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. “Along with this, they often fail to put into place methods for evaluating the effectiveness of their marketing efforts.”
Technology brings with it a new array of challenges. “One of the biggest challenges I see is the increase in complexity and time requirements to gain traction on search. The algorithms support authority and trust more and more which is making it increasingly difficult for smaller sites and businesses to compete,” notes Internet marketer Dave Davies, CEO of Beanstalk Internet Marketing. “This is not to say they can’t, simply that it takes authority building and that requires a significant investment in social media and content creation, time many small business owners simply don’t have.”
Pophal agrees using the Internet as a marketing tool can be dizzying. Just how can you determine how to most effectively leverage the use of a myriad of online and electronic options to connect with their audiences? “These options — like online advertising, social media, mobile, etc.–can represent very cost-effective ways to get marketing messages out. Yet, their continuing proliferation can be overwhelming – particularly for small businesses,” she adds. “Which to choose? Again, it goes back to thoroughly understanding their goals, objectives and the attributes and habits of their target audiences.”
But the Internet also offers many marketing opportunities. “The targeting opportunities online are getting better every day. The ability to target online advertising, even on Google, to very specific groupings of people is improving and stands to improve further in the very near future,” says Davies. “This will allow all businesses to better manage their budgets and improve the effectiveness of their advertising through customization to each group.”
There are marketing trends emerging that could help small businesses. “Find ways to leverage both on- and offline techniques to maximize impact. Some ‘old’ techniques like traditional direct mail are seeing a resurgence of sorts as online mailboxes become fuller and traditional ‘snail mail boxes’ remain relatively empty,” says Pophal.
Speaking of the phone, take advantage of the world’s love of mobile technology. “Mobile is growing significantly; using mobile advertising effectively is about more than simply sharing an existing web site in a mobile format. There are opportunities for small businesses to explore such as mobile advertising, apps, etc.,” explains Pophal.
Don’t forget the visuals. “Small businesses will continue to compete with big brands for the digital limelight, but a greater majority will begin to recognize the need for creating a steady regiment of video/graphic-centric content,” advises Vin Ferrer, social media strategist, Graphic D-Signs, Inc. Attention spans are still shortening among the consumer populace, and short videos are continuing to garner attention.”
Use videos to promote your company and product. “Jump head-first into video-based content creation for social media. Use Snapchat, use Vine, buy a GoPro. Try and create high-definition visual content with a Mac or with Apple software,” says Ferrer.
Consider getting professional help to maximize your impact on social media platforms. “Hire one of the many social media marketers in the rapidly growing industry and integrate social media more deeply into your business as a great way to create advocates and new customers,” offers Ferrer. “Treating online followers and users exactly like in-person customers is a growing opportunity, especially for small businesses since they can offer a more personal touch. Marketing is moving quickly towards the experiential – creating memorable feelings through personal touches, so leveraging that is huge.”
Don’t forget to keep abreast of the developments on the various social media networks. For example, Gmail now has a tabbed inbox, grouping together ‘promotion’, ‘social’ and ‘primary’. Because of this, says small business owner Leor Lapid, co-founder of Dorm Room Movers, “email marketing open rates will decline. This new feature can prevent promotional and social media emails from reaching the main inbox.” But Lapid adds, you can make emails more personalized, which will give you a better chance to be placed in the primary inbox, allowing you to connect better with the recipient.
Facebook has also made some changes. “Facebook retargeting will allow marketers to reconnect with visitors after they have left their website and are spending time on the popular social network,” says Lapid. “And Google’s new Universal Analytics will allow marketers to better understand their marketing results by tracking user’s interactions across multiple devices. The new reports also show more simply which marketing activities are responsible for the conversions.” The new feature allows you to even compare ROI through various and customizable attribution models such as first click or last click attribution and others.”
Bottom line. Don’t forget the basics of marketing. “Effective marketing is still about clarifying measurable goals and objectives, clearly defining a target audience, learning as much as possible about that target audience and then creating messages and selecting communication vehicles designed to connect with and compel that audience to some desired action. It is as simple — and as complex — as that,” reminds Pophal.