Even small businesses can afford to compete against the big boys
By James Travis Turner
Most of the buzz words in digital marketing didn’t exist 10 years ago. It presents the question of how smaller businesses can create “engaging multi-screen campaigns,” and “gain integrated insights from all the data gathered online,” while managing the day-to-day of their businesses.
These questions must be answered, as sticking to traditional forms of marketing will come at the cost of communicating in channels your customers ignore. At the same time, pursuing other forms of marketing requires investing in the unknown for most small business owners.
With minimal investment, digital marketing technology can enable even small businesses to compete online against corporations.
The Internet, which has transformed over the past decade, plays an important role in consumers’ lives. We use the Internet to share our most memorable moments, connect with friends and family and tell our own personalized stories. This interactivity creates increased engagement, which is the first characteristic of digital marketing that allows small and medium business (SMBs) to compete.
While the traditional marketing tools -— a mixture of fliers, billboards, commercials and other materials — have historically been effective, new tools directly interact with consumers. The most common tools used online include blogs and social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Not only are these tools more interactive, but also consumers are using them more than ever. The Nielsen Co. reports Americans spend a quarter of their time online, using dynamic social networks and blogs. This is up from 16 percent in previous years.
In addition, many SMBs already enjoy the luxury of having a close relationship with their consumers. When you combine this level of online engagement with the personal connection smaller businesses enjoy, it’s possible to present a compelling story larger companies envy.
Online content produces hundreds of data points that can be analyzed and used to drive business results. At Microsoft, a company that’s making use of this, support staff monitor social media sites to cross-reference social chatter with technical support incidents to provide proactive services across their product line.
Traditionally, social media was used to inform and engage consumers, but it has developed into a listening tool that benchmarks customer satisfaction. Tools such as Sprout Social unlock this capability for SMBs. These tools allow businesses to drive their customer satisfaction and audit their progress, while listening to feedback in real time.
The previous example shows how customer satisfaction can be impacted, but integrated insight can affect operations, sales and overall consumer behavior as well. These insights cannot be measured as effectively using traditional forms of marketing, but by using digital marketing tools, real-time data can be leveraged to drive results and impact revenue.
As SMBs uncover opportunities to integrate data gathered from these marketing tools, insights will allow them to fill the gap that exists between them and larger corporations.
The final characteristic of digital marketing that allows SMBs to compete with large businesses is the cost to deploy digital marketing technology. Marketing often becomes an afterthought as budgets focus on products and/or company operations.
With both of these factors weighing heavily on decision-makers, competing with national brands may appear to be a daunting task when, in fact, the most common tools, mentioned previously, are low cost or free.
For example, Waterford Institute of Technology Libraries (WIT) adopted these tools to increase its exposure and the services it offers. Library officials discovered these initiatives do not require a significant financial investment and can be implemented using their current resources. Investments in digital marketing will not only limit the financial risk of the business, they can also be easily quantified to calculate the exact return on investment.
Small businesses that deploy digital marketing tools can realize a new level of customer engagement and use integrated insights to help close the gap between larger organizations while requiring minimal investment. Adopting these tools will allow them to retain their current mindshare while presenting their brand to new customers.
Michael E. Porter, a leading company strategist and professor at Harvard Business School, once said, “The key question is not whether to deploy Internet technology – companies have no choice if they want to stay competitive – but how to deploy it.”
South Bend, Ind., native James Travis Turner works in Microsoft’s Advertising and Online Division where he now oversees advertiser satisfaction and revenue within emerging brands. Follow his blog at www.jamestravisturner.com.