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.
Okay — maybe rubbish is a little harsh. But if you’re not getting the results you need from your inbound marketing strategy, then you could be making some common errors. Do any of these apply to you?
Sending the same sort of marketing to your entire customer base may well give you a few leads every time, but will more often than not end up annoying people for whom it has no relevance. Segment your customer base as far as you’re able, so marketing materials can be strategically targeted — the number of leads should increase and the quality of them certainly will.
Instead of hanging around and waiting for people to find you either through a search engine or your social media profiles, go and seek them out. Find out where your customers meet online and develop a presence there. Let people know who you are, what you do and how you can solve their problems.
Do your competitors tend to blitz the market at certain times of the week/month/year? If you’re a smaller company with less marketing resources then it can be difficult to get noticed in the tumult. Break the mould, and focus your inbound marketing at times when your competitors are quieter and you can be heard.
There could be all kinds of reasons for this — are you writing in a style unattractive to your target market? Is your content unimaginative or disconnected from what the company actually does? Are you failing to adequately explain to people how your product can help them?
Good tips include: looking for new content angles; encouraging colleagues from across the business to provide content; Inviting external guest bloggers to contribute; brainstorming ideas; and planning in advance.
Where is all this content you produce being placed? On your company blog? Or as downloadable white papers that are rarely opened? You need to ensure you have a well-developed social media presence. When you blog, you need to post or Tweet a link; when you announce news, aim for as many Likes, Shares and Retweets as you can.
Inbound marketing can only be successful, when everyone in the business is on board. It requires a company-wide culture change that can be unsettling for the old guard. But a willingness to open up about your company’s operations is now expected by consumers searching for authenticity in brands.
If you don’t embrace change, it could look like you’ve got something to hide.
Sophie Gradon is search marketing executive at Silverbean.
Facebook is the slightly less refined older brother of Twitter. They share a few of the same ideas, but with Facebook you can delve deeper into the conversation with your contemporaries and clients.
Here are some tips for using Facebook as a business tool: