The Future of Digital Marketing: Five Trends to Leverage a Small Business Opportunity

Jameson General Store was a historical treasure in the small North Carolina Community. Jim Jameson, the owner, had been part of the family legacy over 100 years old. The company had seen bad times, including The Great Depression. However, their hard work and customer loyalty had sustained the company’s success.

Even when a neighboring community got its Walmart’s Marketplace Store, their customers remained loyal. Jim did not believe in utilizing online advertising and social media platforms. He believed that these activities were only a fad. Yet, their customers gradually started shopping online because Jameson General Store was limited in its product offerings.

In fact, most of the business that Jameson Store lost was not to local competitors, but online sellers. Jim was adamant about resisting the temptation about shopping online. Yet, when he saw his own 10-year-old grandson purchase a difficult item to locate in the area online at significant costs, Jim had to ponder his current marketing strategy with the changing landscape in the nation.

Today’s customers can purchase a variety of items online with minimum effort. Given this scenario, brick and mortar companies are fighting to stay alive with the fierce internet competition. According to a 2017 survey conducted by Square and Mercury Analytics looking at 1,164 U.S. business owners, the following observations were made:

  • 96% of Americans with internet access have made an online purchase in their life, 80% in the past month alone.
  • 51% of Americans prefer to shop online.
  • 67% of Millennials and 56% of Gen Xers prefer to shop online rather than in-store.
  • Millennials and Gen Xers spend nearly 50% as much time shopping online each week (six hours) than their older counterparts (four hours).
  • 51% of seniors have shopped on marketplaces, 66% at large retailer sites, 30% on web stores or independent boutiques, and 44% at category-specific online stores.

Marketing professionals understand the importance of the internet and how to effectively leverage this power. According to Socialmedia.com, 90% of marketers use social media for their businesses. Sadly, many small businesses do not recognize this fact. Many businesses had opted to bury their heads in the sand in hopes that this ‘internet thing’ will go away. It hadn’t!

In fact, e-Commerce is growing more than 23% annually; however, 46% of American small businesses do not have a website according to Square and Mercury Analytics research. This article focuses on how small businesses can leverage digital marketing to achieve greater success and enhance their market opportunities.

Digital marketing should be a tool that every serious small business should utilize. Digital marketing goes by many names such as e-commerce marketing, online marketing, and internet marketing. Digital marketing can be defined as “the marketing of products or services using digital channels to reach consumers.” The key objective is to promote brands the usage of the internet.

Digital marketing extends beyond internet marketing to include channels that do not require the use of the internet. Some digital marketing channels include websites, social media platforms, email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), blogging, podcasts, and online advertising to name a few. Beyond technology gimmicks, businesses should know their customers and their core competencies. Digital marketing is not a silver bullet. Digital marketing is a tool for the savvy business professional.

Catherine Juan, Donnie Greiling, and Catherine Buerkle, authors of Internet Marketing: Start to Finish, suggest that effective digital marketing requires plenty of careful planning. They add, “The heart of getting real traction out of your internet marketing program is to tie marketing and sales data together, with metrics. Track what you’re doing, track the impact, and track the resulting sales.” Looking at the landscape of technology and internet innovation, small businesses should think strategically about the following five digital marketing trends:

Artificial Intelligence – Some people develop elaborate doom-day scenarios of machines to control the world. However, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a way of life in marketing. AI can be defined as ‘the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.’ Voice Activation technology like Amazon’s Echo is bringing AI into public attention. By 2020, customers will manage 85% of their purchases without interacting with a person.

Internet Searching – Buyers are more knowledgeable than ever with access to the internet. In fact, 81% of shoppers conduct online research before making big purchases. Thus, exploring how to utilize search engine optimization and getting your business at the top of searches is an invaluable step.

Mobile Communications – Most Americans have grown accustomed to instant gratification and easy access to technology. Mobile and tablet e-commerce will reach $293B by 2018. Smartphone and tablets are part of this wave of innovation. Mobile will account for 72% of the U.S. digital ad spend by 2019. Marketers recognize that mobile marketing is an untapped business tool.

Social Media – Social media platforms, like Facebook, allows buyers to connect with each other virtually. 65% of business-to-business companies have acquired customers through LinkedIn ads. Marketers realize this value.

Web Content – Good content will attract customers. In fact, customers are more likely to purchase from sellers with good, relevant videos/photos on their website. 52% of marketing professionals globally name the video as the type of content with the best ROI.

Faced with the tenants of competition, small businesses need to utilize digital marketing. Some small businesses may be hesitant to explore digital marketing due to their lack of trust and understanding of the internet. Philip Kotler and Kevin Keller, authors of Marketing Management, note “Top firms are comfortable using technology to improve the way they do business with their business-to-business customers.”

This article demonstrated that today’s small businesses can utilize digital marketing to enhance their market opportunities. Hopefully, gaining this knowledge will help business owners so that they will not continue to bury their heads in the sand. The internet is here to stay. Pray that you are listening to this message.

© 2017 by DD Green

Web Conferencing: A Vital Tool For Most Small Businesses

Are you a small business proprietor considering whether to implement web conferencing solutions in your line of work? Then consider this: a study released in 2006 has shown that small and mid-size companies consider web conferences more vital than in-person meetings for driving revenue and conducting business. The small businesses found that web conferences produced a more immediate impact on sales and marketing than traditional face-to-face meetings.

The study was conducted by Wainhouse Research and sponsored by Citrix Online, a leading provider of easy-to-use on-demand solutions for web conferencing, such as Citrix GoToMeeting and Citrix GoToWebinar. It included over 1,500 respondents, about 75% of whom worked at companies that had fewer than 500 employees.

According to Alan Greenberg, senior analyst and partner at Wainhouse Research, “The majority of companies polled indicated they are increasing their use of Web conferencing, and are enjoying a high to very high return in value. Though companies of all sizes use Web conferencing to drive business processes, SMBs are much more aggressive in using online presentations and demonstrations to drive marketing and close sales by facilitating meetings with customers and prospects.”

The small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs) reported that they used web conferencing to hold business meetings more often than any other method–more than in-person meetings or phone calls. For these SMBs, web conferencing was considered as the favored means for driving revenue and conducting business. According to the SMBs, they valued web conferencing for its benefits of efficiency and reach. Web conferencing allowed them the capacity to quickly scale sales and marketing, and to connect with international audiences on demand. In the survey of the respondents, a number of them emphasized that they considered web conferencing to be so vital to business that they found it impossible to conduct business-as-usual without the technology.

The study produced the following observations about what SMBs thought about web conferencing:

“Outbound” web conferencing solutions that involve customers and prospects were deemed as most important by SMBs.

75% of the SMBs stated that the ability to connect with more people and save travel costs and time are the main reasons to use web conferencing. 59% of the SMBs say that web conferencing allows for more productive meetings.

55% of SMBs said that in addition to the other ways that it is expected to improve their business, web conferencing lets them solve problems they could not solve before. 44% of large businesses echoed this response.

69% of all respondents, large and small, said that they use web conferencing to hold meetings that could not be held in any other way due to cost constraints, timing and other issues.

Your Business Advisory Board

Every business owner benefits from the wise counsel of a select group of experts, who offer a differential diagnosis that brings fresh air and information into the room and drags us out of the echo chamber of our auto-pilot habits and ingrained perspectives.

Fortunately, life equips us with an advisory board, whether or not we recognize it as such. Unfortunately, most of the advice we receive is bad, starting with what know-it-all cousin Howie and meddlesome Aunt Sheila have to say (those two will have you broke in six months!).

No, our real advisory board must be carefully curated. One must know whose advice in general should be heeded and whose should be ignored. The advisory board that we create can be informal. It is not necessary to charter a formal board unless the business demands it. We should consult our advisory board regularly, to find out what is new on the horizon, figure out how to solve problems faster, brainstorm intriguing new ideas and overall learn how to work not just hard, but smart.

Clients

As numerous experts repeatedly recommend, listen to your clients and receive a wealth of information. Customers give the outside-in, other side of the desk view and what they value most is sometimes surprising. You cannot always fathom what customer priorities will be and you won’t know until you let them tell you.

Customers are vital members of our advisory board. They represent the marketplace and when the market speaks, business owners must listen. Ask for customer feedback in the form of evaluations, surveys, or plain old Q & A over coffee. Ask what they like about your products and services; ask what would enhance the experience of doing business with you; ask business clients about upcoming trends and challenges in their organizations and figure out what you can monetize.

Employees

If you have employees, seek out their insights and advice on how your business protocols might be improved. Employees are in the trenches and often know better than the owner about how the business is perceived by customers. Employees are uniquely positioned to give very valuable feedback. Owners and managers should be smart enough to listen.

Likewise our accountant, attorney and other professional service providers, through the unique prism of their specialty, may offer useful advice that can have a positive impact on the business. A wise business owner creates an environment where employees and customers know that their opinions and advice are welcomed, respected and at least occasionally implemented.

Competitors

Do speak with experienced people within your industry, including competitors. Many will be happy to share a few pearls of wisdom with you, especially if they operate in another geographic locale. Marketing tips and other promotional strategies can be good topics to discuss, as could the types of services that resonate most with clients these days.

Roundtables

Additionally, you may find it useful to have also a structured advisory board experience and for this I recommend membership in a peer group, also known as a CEO forum or roundtable. Groups consist of perhaps a dozen business owners in non-competing industries. They are often segmented by number of employees and annual revenues and usually meet monthly for about 2 hours. The idea is to assemble a group of business owners who share a similar profile and who therefore have the perspective to offer relevant advice and support to fellow members.

When properly facilitated, group members function as each other’s board of directors. There is guidance and support on decision-making. Members celebrate successes. New ways to view and resolve business challenges are put forth. Opportunities may be discovered, goal setting is encouraged and members hold one another accountable for progress and achievements. Peer roundtables can provide a welcome source of support and inspiration and do much to overcome the isolation that many business owners experience.

Thanks for reading,

Kim