General Manager of Small Business at Dun & Bradstreet, overseeing the company’s small to mid-size business portfolio.
The internet has become an indispensable tool for almost any consumer making a decision. Today’s internet users spend a daily average of nearly three hours on the internet, using it for communication, entertainment, research and information. In 2020, global retail e-commerce sales surpassed 4.2 billion U.S. dollars. One of the biggest fallacies I hear from small business owners is that they don’t need to worry about engaging with their customers digitally. So, what does this combination mean for small business owners and entrepreneurs?
First, if you’re selling something online, then it’s likely your target audience is online at some point during any given day. And second, even if you are not selling your product or service online, then you likely could still count on your target audience being on the internet at some point during any given day.
What does this mean for your small business?
As a previous small business owner, I knew that being agile and updating my digital skill set and go-to-market strategies were a must, given the pace at which marketing technology was changing. In fact, in our 2020 survey of small business owners, 60% stated they had to pivot to a stronger online presence and offering because of the pandemic, and 24% shared they knew that acquiring new and emerging digital technologies would be required in 2021 and they intended to investigate how to advance in the digital space. There are likely hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs trying to leverage digital marketing and other key business strategies in this age of digital transformation, which can make the competition for audience attention fierce.
What might not be as obvious for small business owners and entrepreneurs is how to effectively implement and manage a digital marketing strategy that will reach their target audience at the right place and the right time with the right message. Marketing experts usually give guidance on deploying social media marketing, email marketing and digital display. That’s sound advice; these channels are all effective. Yet, there is much more to consider when it comes to digital marketing, and not all small business owners have the same marketing knowledge base to work from. But there are also many self-service tools available that allow novice, small business owners to take advantage of some very powerful tools. How can you get started?
Meet the customer where they are.
I always say as a small business owner that it is important to meet the customer “where they are.” There are five generations of customers out there, and they vary greatly as to how they make decisions. While social media is one of the most popular ways to use the internet, when it comes to digital marketing, it’s important to be selective for the sake of clarity and effectiveness.
Some social media platforms appeal to one demographic while other social channels appeal to an entirely different age or group, and still others effectively bridge the gaps and meet the needs of numerous groups simultaneously. In other words, not all social media channels are right for every business model because every business is trying to reach a different group of people. I have heard dozens of success stories from the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, when small business owners who had never used social media tried it for the first time and are now actively engaging with new and existing customers to this day.
Tailor your marketing efforts.
Other marketing channels — digital display advertising and SEO, for example — are intended to catch everybody’s attention by casting a wider net; however, you can absolutely tailor them to meet specific needs. They are also only two of multiple marketing avenues that can require significant time and financial investments to implement effectively. And don’t forget about a mobile strategy. At Dun & Bradstreet, we see more than 30% of our over 1.5 million small business subscribers log in through mobile platforms on a daily basis.
Lean on digital marketing tools.
Because there are so many digital marketing tactics to learn, each with its own strategy that requires a set budget and effort, it often can make more sense for an entrepreneur to keep their focus on the business. Turning to an agency isn’t always affordable, either. For owners who know enough to self-direct with a digital marketing tool, a good option can be to lean on a tool that reduces time spent learning all the nuances and can fully automate critical pieces of the effort, such as audience targeting. This approach simplifies the digital marketing playing field while still deploying an effective, targeted digital marketing strategy across multiple channels. I learned this firsthand as a landscaper; I found I was able to significantly increase my sales pipeline through targeted digital campaigns toward driving marketing to the specific ideal customer persona and demographic.
As technology advances, artificial intelligence and machine learning are now being leveraged to understand what target audiences are doing online and how to turn their behaviors into insights that deploy messaging on sites “where they are.” Such technology takes the guesswork out of choosing a social platform that your target audience is using and determining which websites they’re visiting.
In today’s world, it’s no longer a question of whether digital marketing is necessary. The question is how you will make the internet work for and with you and your business to effectively reach your target audience. Whether you are a landscaper or a retail store owner or a sole proprietor, digital marketing is critical in today’s environment.
If you don’t have the time or the desire to learn all the digital marketing platforms available and an agency seems out of reach, then consider taking advantage of the ability to self-direct your campaigns, messaging and budget. Your audience is out there waiting for you to reach them.