Small business adoption of technology-based solutions rarely keeps pace with the expectations of vendors, analysts and pundits. When it comes adoption of digital marketing and social media tools, however, small business adoption is fast and furious.
Recently, we (Hurwitz & Associates) conducted a survey sponsored by email marketing vendor Campaigner. The survey investigates how North American small businesses with 1-20 employees are adapting their marketing plans and budgets to compete more effectively in the future. While we uncovered many interesting trends in the first report in a two-part series, Small Business Marketing Health Check (available here), one of the most eye-opening findings is that small businesses are rapidly shifting their marketing initiatives from traditional media to digital marketing media tools, including social media, such as blogs, forums, Twitter, Facebook, etc., email marketing, search engine marketing and webinars and podcasts (Figure 1). While traditional media, such as direct mail, tradeshows and newspaper advertising still have a part in many small businesses’ marketing playbook, they are being overshadowed by digital and social marketing alternatives.
Figure 1. Small Business Use of Marketing Tools
Why are small businesses, who usually take a long time to shift gears, so fast out of the gate in this case? In a nutshell, it’s because digital and social marketing solutions deliver on the cheaper, faster, easier and better promise that so many other technology-based solutions don’t deliver on. These marketing tools are often less expensive to use than such traditional marketing options as print advertising and direct mail—a small investment can help companies significantly boost marketing reach and return. Digital and social media marketing tools give small businesses more immediate visibility into whether they’re reaching their target audiences, and easier ways to track and measure payback on the time and money they’re investing than traditional media. You can also rapidly adjust and refine campaigns and outreach as needed.
So, with their appetite whetted, what will leading-edge small businesses be looking for next to take their digital and social media marketing game to the next level? Here are some of the areas that I think hold great opportunity for growth as small businesses appetite in this area increases:
- More targeted search optimization and management. Services that are tailored to help specific kinds of small businesses achieve very specific results from their search engine marketing campaigns. For instance, Lotusjump provides a service to help small businesses optimize organic search results for hundreds or thousands of keywords to generate more qualified leads. The automated service automates the process of building more qualified leads based on more specific “longtail” search terms. Yodle, meanwhile, focuses on SMBs with local services business harness existing demand, by helping them to create a Web site, develop an effective SEO campaign across the Web, and help make the phone ring when the business is found through a Web search.
- Solutions that help local businesses integrate online marketing and advertising campaigns across different outlets. Own a hair salon or a tree service business? If you do, everything is local, and services that help to reach the local market are what you care about. WebVisible, for instance, buys advertising space from multiple media providers and ad networks, and provides many types of online marketing solutions, including fully managed search advertising, banner/display advertising, call tracking solutions, custom landing pages, promotional URLs and more. Using the WebVisible platform, small businesses can target local advertising more effectively.
- Tools that enable you to manage all of your social networking profiles through one client. HootSuite offers a service today that lets you manage all of your Twitter profiles simultaneously, but I don’t think I’ve seen something would let you do manage across multiple sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
- Services that help integrate more structured digital marketing tools (Web sites, email and search engine optimization and marketing) with more ad hoc social media initiatives. Ideally, this integration could significantly boost the value of both types of activities. I haven’t spotted a good example of this yet, so let me know if you know of one.