I read the 2014 Lloyds Bank Business Digital Index with interest. Its findings broadly corroborate our own research conducted at the London Business Show into SMEs’ attitudes to online marketing — although the Browser Media survey found that most small firms do in fact have websites, compared to the 50% in the Lloyds study.
However, both reports found that SMEs generally have a laissez-faire attitude to digital marketing. Many small businesses build their website and sit back and wait for clients to arrive, instead of actively promoting themselves online.
It’s not that SMEs think their website is working for them — many admit to being unhappy with their Google rankings and online presence — but they aren’t investing in marketing to improve the situation.
I initially thought this was a financial issue and still believe that’s a big part of the problem. Any small business will tell you they have to cut their cloth according to their means and can’t invest in everything on their wish list.
However, I also think there may be a certain “Britishness” behind these attitudes as well. Many small businesses start up because the owner has already worked in a particular field or has a particular personal interest. Either way, the business tends to focus on a small group of prospects at first; and, let’s face it, promoting yourself is just not a very British thing to do.
Our research also found that those companies that were using an external agency for digital marketing were happier with the results than those who were undertaking this in-house. This may be partly because the external agencies have more expertise but it is also much easier to market someone else than market yourself.
We also looked at SMEs’ understanding of various marketing disciplines: most had heard of social media marketing and email marketing but few were aware of content or inbound marketing (although more were familiar with the related field of SEO).
In fact, small businesses can really make an impact with content and inbound marketing as they’ve usually got a lot of niche expertise. Building up a loyal customer base by providing useful content is an excellent way to create a long-term business.
If you’re a small business, don’t make the mistake that other SMEs may be making of sitting back and admiring your shiny new website — use content as an online megaphone and spread the word about your business to the digital universe. If recent survey findings are anything to go by, you’ll already be one step ahead of the competition.
Ali Cort is the PR director at digital marketing agency, Browser Media.
A digital brand is the collective impression of all that is online about a person or a business, including your own, and it is important in establishing and building customer trust and loyalty. Increasingly, businesses are using popular social networking sites such as Twitter to encompass their digital brand.
Unfortunately, many businesses rush to set up Twitter accounts without recognising that a digital brand communicates your quality, professionalism and standing, and that everything posted on Twitter (or online elsewhere) will contribute to your brand.
Furthermore, companies are letting their employees, who may be untrained and unaware of brand values, manage these accounts on a day-to-day basis. As a business, you should be aware of this, and make an effort to protect yourself on Twitter.
Just one misplaced Tweet by an employee could have a negative impact on your company. Earlier this year Vodafone was forced to issue an apology to thousands of followers on Twitter after one of its customer service staff broadcast an obscene message. Despite Vodafone deleting the message from its Twitterfeed, users of the service saved a copy of the Tweet and sent it across the internet.
The episode damaged Vodafone’s digital brand, and the company was forced to apologise to hundreds of individual followers.
The Vodafone case highlights the importance of choosing carefully which employees manage your businesses Twitter account. Those entrusted with the responsibility should be well aware of the tone, language and brand values you wish the business to express through its Tweets.
It’s not just existing employees that can bring damage to your business’s digital brand through Twitter misuse. Individuals associated with your company in any way, such as ex-employees, can bring harm through disparaging remarks made on their personal Twitter accounts.
Don’t shy away from Twitter, embrace it, but have a solid strategy in place. Make sure your business is proactive, and you can deliberately build a positive digital brand that is protected against Twitter, and which extends your ability to achieve awareness and create lasting customer loyalty.
Howard Scott is digital marketing director at agency, Sequence Digital.