Many small businesses are notorious for shunning digital marketing. Yet the technology industry and Shark Tank program have showed us that its possible for a business to grow from obscure to memorable mention status or even greatness within a very short period of time. Think of Uber, The Red Dress Boutique, Coffee Meets Bagels or Airbnb and you will realize that you never saw or heard their advertisements on traditional media.
These business creeped up on most people to receive respectable attention. In the case of Uber and Airbnb, they have become major players in their space. These businesses did many things right but as for marketing, the trick surely involved good use of digital marketing. Remember when Uber delivered cuddly kittens for snuggling time? The promotion went viral and they reaped big on social media. That’s the power of social media which is part of the wider digital marketing.
With digital marketing, marketers are getting closer to solving John Wanamaker’s famous conundrum when he said “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”. It is becoming much easier to measure return on investment on your marketing dollars. An added bonus is that most digital marketing channels make it easy to have a two-way interaction with the customer. It is possible for businesses to listen and gauge customer behavior in real time.
It’s well known that more eyeballs are moving to digital devices like PCs, tablets, mobile phones, game consoles, TV casting gadgets and set top boxes like Chromecast and Apple TV. Soon with the internet of things, common appliances in homes and offices will become devices through which digital content can be delivered to users. Digital marketing will continue to be entrenched as a very effective way to engage and interact with customers.
So why are small businesses not using digital marketing despite the enormous benefits they stand to reap? Could it be that digital marketing is the reserve of larger firms? I beg to disagree. By talking to some entrepreneurs I know and who run the typical mom-and-pop businesses, I came up with three broad reasons why businesses may not be deploying digital marketing and what can be done about it.
- Lack of knowledge, time and resources
Most small businesses sorely rely on the owners to run everything. Many owners have no idea what digital marketing is all about. Others have some idea but they lack the knowledge of how to go about it. Then there are those who know what they need to do but they lack time to do it or resources to hire someone else to do it. I know of a business in the early childhood learning space who invested in a website but it has remained dormant since launch. They are missing out big on utilizing this asset for lead generation because the owners have no idea how to go about it.
- Word of mouth works wonders for us and “things are just fine”
I recently asked a used car dealer if he ever considered getting a website for his business which has curved a niche with a specific segment of society. He sat up straight in his chair, looked at me and told me this with such finality. “You know we are very busy. We get so many referrals and we are always busy. Our customers don’t need to go to a website, they come here and choose their cars”. Word of mouth is still by far the most effective marketing channel so he was right on that.
T But this dealer is missing out on engaging his potential customers from whatever location they may be especially outside of his business hours. He is also missing out on reaching a wider audience who are researching about buying a car. If a new savvy competitor enters this niche and targets the same customers with an array of options, they could make quite an impression and cut into this dealer’s market share.
- Digital marketing doesn’t work
This is the category of the once bitten twice shy entrepreneurs. Digital marketing promised them heaven and delivered painful expenses. One of my friends is an accomplished professional, a smart guy but not a marketer. He was pitched by a smooth-talking sales person from a small agency about investing in an app, website plus SEO, email tool, and other services. He paid a monthly fee for these
The app was poorly done and hard to find in the app stores on IOS and Android. Many of his customers never bothered to use the app because it didn’t offer any advantages to them. For fun I signed up for the email newsletter and it’s been months and I never received a welcome email or any other communication. The website poorly ranks on search engines and has never been updated. To him, digital marketing just hasn’t delivered.
So what can small businesses owners do to fix this?
- Teach yourself basics of digital marketing
There are several free online resources for learning digital marketing that can help founders get started. One good resources is the US government’s Small Business Administration (SBA). Here you will learn all aspects of running a small business including some tips on digital marketing
You can watch reputable channels on YouTube or enroll in a subscription based service like LinkedIn’s Lynda.com or Online marketing institute. For more academic online learning, you can enroll for courses through the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) providers. Some of the notable ones are edX, Udemy and Coursera. If you prefer traditional way of study and have time you could enroll for classes at your local community college or University. For Seattle residents, the University of Washington has the Certificate in Digital Marketing program taken in a classroom setting on weekends.
- Invest in channels that meet your industry needs and stage in your growth
Start with a few things that you can do really well and can deliver immediate results. Social media is a must have for almost all businesses. A Facebook business page is a good way to start. If your business is in a category like weddings, art, fashion, or entertainment where great visuals like photos and videos have a very high engagement rate, you may consider Instagram, Pinterest or even YouTube.
Next would be an email marketing. Once you attract leads through social media and offline events, seek their permission to collect their email addresses so you can send them carefully prepared and relevant emails. You can email them about new inventory, news, events, promotions, reminders, thank you notes and any other important communication. Some of the providers for email services are MailChimp, emma or ConstantContact.
But perhaps one of the most important asset you need for digital marketing is a good website. Online this is the equivalent of your brick and mortar store. This is where you have full control about how you tell your story. It is where you direct your leads from social media, email marketing and any other online initiatives. Unlike social media which is referred to as earned media, your website is your owned media where you have more control. It is where you tell your story and have more acreage of space to showcase your business offerings and have your visitors interact deeper with you including making purchases. Get someone good to build you a website according to your business needs. Another alternative is to pay a reasonable monthly fee and get your website up and running from Squarespace, Wix or WordPress among others.
- Get results-oriented professional help
If your business grows, you may reach a point where you will need more advanced digital marketing tactics. These include but are not limited to Pay Per Click (PPC) also called paid Search, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Remarketing, Display, e-commerce or mobile marketing. Even if you have invested enough time in learning these, you may still find it helpful to get professional help. A good professional will help you set your goals, set up the systems, execute your campaigns and provide you with accurate reports showing performance and return on investment.
Remember my friend who signed up on a service that didn’t deliver for him? The problem was that the “expert” did not put in consideration his client’s needs. No goals were set and as such no process was put in place to work towards achieving results. It was like selling someone a fancy sports car yet they didn’t know how to drive. Before you sign up for any digital marketing service, listen carefully to know if your provider is only interested in selling you cool stuff or they are keen on ensuring they deliver you RESULTS.