Marketing your small business can be a difficult road to navigate – and the recent upswing in digital marketing avenues has muddied the water for a lot of SMB owners. Here’s how to get it right.
It’s no great shock to most small business owners that getting your marketing activities right – and making the most of every opportunity – is vitally important to the success of your business.
And in years gone by, buy the more traditional aspects of marketing your goods and services was a fairly static playing field, medicine with limited choices and a significant barrier to entry, web due to the cost of trying to go head to head with the big players in your market, on a far more limited budget.
However, times have changed – and marketing in the digital era has opened up lots of doors for small business owners to get their message out to potential customers and clients. We spoke with two of the most knowledgeable people in digital marketing today and got their advice to help you get your marketing strategy right, and working well for you.
What are the avenues?
There are a number of channels to explore when thinking about digital marketing, according to Jodie Sangster, CEO of the Association for data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA).
“Broadly speaking,” Jodie says, “it encompasses online and mobile, and includes categories such as display/banner advertising, email marketing, search engine optimization marketing, and social media which encompasses various platforms including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.”
“Any small business that wants to promote itself (and that’s everyone!) can benefit from digital marketing,” Jodie says. “Importantly, digital marketing connects you with online consumers. More and more, consumers are using the internet or their mobiles to research and buy products and services, so you really want to be there. It’s not optional.”
Of course, not all channels are going to be useful for every business – so it’s important to be able to identify which channel suits you. Aden Forrest, Managing Director, Marketo Australia, agrees.
“For many, email remains the most effective means of communication, Aden says. “Increasingly, though, social is dominating the landscape. It reflects how people want to have control of their communications. People want to have control over who they talk to, which means marketers have to earn the right to be in people’s lives, not blast their way in through expensive advertising campaigns.”
“Many also see mobile as the gold mine for marketers,” Aden continues. “There are certain advantages with being able to communicate with people, perhaps when they are a stone’s throw from your store, but it has to be treated with caution. These are personal devices and people feel intruded on if they receive what they see as unsolicited messages using up their valuable screen real estate.”
But there’s no point simply opening up your laptop and blasting away randomly across social media platforms – the smart move is to make sure that you have a useful strategy in place.
“You can stick a newsletter subscription form on your website, get your web developer to link that to a database, then start communicating by email,” Aden says. “Or you can open a Twitter account and start sending tweets. Or create a Facebook page where you highlight special offers, product news, and some fun stuff about your business.”
“The issue is, these are all isolated approaches,” he continues. “Anyone is a good place to start, but at some point, you’ll want to draw all these approaches together and start to understand which customers are working with you across multiple channels. That’s when you need to start looking at a marketing platform like Marketo that can manage communications across all aspects of digital.”
Get Ready, Set Up, and Go!
“Setting up a digital marketing strategy is a detailed process that demands you look at your business processes from end to end,” Jodie says. “At ADMA, we are undergoing digital transformation ourselves and looking at how digital will impact on all of our touchpoints: education, events, content, and the website.
“It starts by reviewing your mission, strategic plan, and business goals,” She continues. “You need to do this to see how a digital strategy would align to these basic values and where you want to go. Once you have some ideas in place about how you want to grow and use digital, you need to think about what digital and social tools would be most useful and how the channels intersect. You need to keep checking back to see if you’re on track.”
Help is at hand
If that all sounds a bit complicated, fear not – there are companies and organizations that specialize in this style of marketing that you can turn to for help.
“Most people start with web designers, or use companies that can help create and send emails,” Aden says. “They are a good starting point for companies with little experience in digital marketing. The important thing to remember is, it’s not all about design. Great creativity is always important in marketing, but you need to start using analytics to measure what you’re doing.”
“For example, testing one web page against another to see which has the best impact on user behavior,” Aden continues. ”Splitting your email list into two and trying different headlines on each, to see which performs best. Companies can help you get to grips with this, but I reckon it’s always best to develop these skills in-house, so the organization learns.”
“Then you’ll be ready to move to the next stage, where a marketing automation platform drives your communications and delivers more business,” Aden says. “It’s hard to reach that stage without someone in your business going through the learning process but, if you don’t do it, you can be sure one of your competitors will.”
Additionally, there’s always the option of going directly to a digital agency, with its own team of experts, and let them do the heavy lifting for you.
“ADMA is a not-for-profit association with a small budget and big aspirations,” Jodie Sangster says. “We’re working with Zuni, a leading Australian digital agency, to get our strategy up and running. We’ve chosen them because they work through all aspects of the digital strategy with us thereby educating our team whist delivering on strategic outcomes.”
But… it sounds expensive.
As with all forms of marketing, there is a cost involved – either in terms of a cash outlay to an agency, or simply where hours that you could be spending doing the actual work of your company are sunk into running your own campaigns.
But there are cost benefits associated with undertaking a digital marketing strategy. “Digital marketing can level the playing field,” Jodie says. “If you have a good digital marketing strategy supported by a great website and a seamless customer journey from end to end, you will drive traffic and engagement.”
“You can develop an online marketing strategy for very little outlay and you might be able to replace the more costly traditional channels such as television or radio,” Jodie says. “You can get real-time results quicker with a few clicks on the mouse to see how many people are visiting your site and quickly see conversion rates, rather than waiting for a paper to arrive. Online is also easier to measure, unlike more traditional outlets.”
Aden Forrest agrees and has his own advice to follow when you’re getting started.
“Start small and build up as you start to see the benefits grow,” Aden says. “Google AdWords is an obvious place to start because you can see the return in terms of webpage hits. Then follow the customer journey – what do they do when they’ve been on your site? How much is it costing to get someone to sign-up for a newsletter? In parallel, there’s a lot of activity that will cost you nothing but time – building a LinkedIn and Facebook page, starting a Twitter stream, feeding content to Instagram.”
Don’t make mistakes
One of the major barriers to entry for many small business owners who aren’t sure about digital marketing is the horror stories we’ve all seen when social media and digital strategies go horribly wrong. Our experts have identified a few of the major issues, and how to avoid them.
“There are two common traps,” Aden Forrest says. “First, lousy creative. If your website doesn’t look great people will quickly form a bad opinion of you. Just as dangerous, though, is assuming the creative is everything. The notion of ‘build it and they’ll come’ was never sensible.”
“You need to create interest and develop a firm understanding of what’s working and what’s not,” he continues. You can’t do that without looking at the numbers – email open rates, click-thru rates, visits to key pages on your website, time spent on your site, Facebook followers, post likes, blog comments. There’s no shortage of information available. Your marketing will fail if you ignore the data.”
Jodie Sangster from ADMA sees small businesses struggling with other aspects of digital marketing.
“Many people jump into digital marketing without a proper strategy, objectives, or plan in place,” Jodie says. “They haven’t thought about what they want to achieve, how channels intersect, or how they’re going to deliver the results they’re aspiring to reach.”
“In addition, people get impatient,” she says. “They often expect immediate results like thousands of visitors to their website or thousands of likes on Facebook. But it takes time and patience to get results, so you need to factor this into your strategy. Small business owners often have issues with social media, thinking it’s a silver bullet that solves problems. It requires a skillset, a strategy, and a real understanding of how each platform works. And it’s not a thing you switch on and off at a whim. Once you start feeding the social media beast, you need to continuously feed it or people tune out, so it must be adequately resourced.”
“Finally, I think many people pay too much for website design,” Jodie says. “A small business doesn’t have to drop thousands on a website. There are many more cost-effective ways to create compelling and functional websites today.”
Learn, and Succeed
This is, of course, top-level advice – there’s far more to digital marketing than we can adequately cover in these pages. And both Jodie and Aden agree that the more you learn about social media and digital marketing, the better your strategy will be, and the bigger results you’ll achieve.
“If you don’t understand digital marketing, read up on it,” Aden says. “Or hire someone who does. If that doesn’t seem like a viable suggestion at this stage, look for a marketing company that can help you develop a strategy, not just design a website.”
“It’s worth the effort,” he says. “The digital landscape has leveled the playing field, if not tilted it in favor of smaller businesses. You can get closer to the customer than the big players. The only issue is, how do you handle the level of communication when you have a limited number of staff. The answer is automation – but you’ve got to get your strategy right first.”
Jodie Sangster points out that there are a number of avenues through which to learn what you need to know – and it doesn’t necessarily mean hours of study or passing the problem off to someone else to deal with.
“If you want to get up to speed on digital, ADMA offers two, two-day courses: digital marketing and digital marketing strategy,” Jodie says. “There is also the more intensive program we offer with Zuni, which covers everything from the digital strategy framework to the implementation plan. Have a look at our education programs at www.adma.com.au/learn/short-courses/digital-marketing/”