Technology has enabled so many more options for small business marketing. It can be exciting, but at the same time, overwhelming, for entrepreneurs to focus on their business and in it. With smaller budgets and staffs, small business owners don’t have a lot of flexibility to experiment with unproven digital marketing strategies, and there is very little room for mistakes.
However in today’s landscape, local consumers research small businesses online just as they do everything else, elevating the need for small business owners to embrace digital marketing to reach customers anytime, anywhere.
Regardless of whether a small business is working towards rapid growth, slow growth or no growth at all, the consumer is constantly changing the way they absorb information, and businesses need to be where consumers are.
According to Borrell Associates Digital Marketing Services Outlook from September of this year, spending on digital marketing services – a $500 billion market – grew 11% year over year, with 2 out of every 5 dollars spent by small business owners. It’s clear that entrepreneurs recognize the importance of embracing digital channels but how to do so may be less apparent.
As businesses prepare for 2015, I suggest following six steps to keep up with the evolving digital landscape:
1. Create a mobile-friendly website: Almost everyone today owns a smartphone. Yet you would you would be surprised by the number of businesses that have not optimized their web sites for mobile devices. Mobile responsive sites load faster, are easier to read and give users a better experience. Businesses that don’t take advantage of this are missing an opportunity to connect with customers.
2. Manage your online presence/listing: Consistency is important. Think of your online presence as your business card. Your digital, mobile and print presence should always be current and cohesive across a variety of search destinations, such as Google, Facebook, and YP. Many businesses have incorrect or missing information online, which makes it difficult for consumers to find them. Did you know that missing or inaccurate information costs businesses $10 billion every year? (Source: The State of Location Industry Paper)
3. Evaluate the competition: Analyze what your competitors are doing. How they market themselves through their ads, website and social media will give insight on what they consider important and how you differentiate yourself. As the saying goes, half the battle is showing up, and you need to understand the competitive landscape in order to attract new customers and retain existing ones. While you’re at, be sure to consider unlikely competitors. For example, do you sell wide range of products, like electronics, home appliances and furniture? If you take too narrow a view, you could lose business to a competitor you didn’t know you had.
4. Consider consumer retail trends: Evaluate the technologies that are driving consumers to your business and stay ahead of the curve by anticipating how consumer behavior may change. For example, the majority of all consumer purchases are either influenced by online research or actually occur online, according to Forrester. Think carefully about your buyers’ current path to purchase and focus on those channels that they are actively using.
5. Provide options for potential customers: The majority of purchases are planned; most people will not act immediately upon seeing an ad. Reach people when they are considering their next shopping trip by providing options such as call a store, find a location, or the ability to interact with an offer or coupon. It all comes down to using a softer sales method by presenting several options that don’t make the consumer feel pressured.
6. Understand the source of leads/new business: Lead tracking programs can show where customers are finding your business, and by leveraging that data, businesses can identify not only the quantity of leads but also the quality. For small businesses, mobile offers an incredible opportunity to understand a consumer beyond their physical location and actually analyze how they behave. It is becoming common today for consumers to look up a business on a smartphone and then either call directly from the same device, map a store location or visit a physical storefront – all leads that can be tracked.
Businesses today have a myriad of options across screens, devices and channels to reach consumers. Ultimately, success is defined by the ability to make a connection with the right consumer at the right time. Advertising is after all an investment, and if you want to grow your business, it’s an investment that will pay strong dividends when done properly.
About the Author: Jeff Federman works at YP (formerly YellowPages.com). He is Senior Vice President/General Manager in YP’s digital region, responsible for online and mobile advertising solutions for small businesses.