Helping Small Businesses Manage Marketing in the Digital Age

The November 2015 AZIMA event invited Cory Elliot, VP of research at Borrell Associates, to share some useful and interesting research about small- to medium-sized-business owners and their perceptions of current marketing trends. For those who missed his presentation, here’s a recap with all the highlights.

Borrell Associates conducted a survey among SMB owners at 110 of its partnering entities in Q1 of 2015. This survey asked about spending on marketing now and in the future, as well as which tactics these business owners were most interested in using. The results pointed to a few common trends and challenges.

Overall Trends

According to the research, it seems SMB owners are overwhelmed by the number of marketing channels and options available in today’s landscape. They are interested in digital tactics, and there seems to be an increase in focus and spending on online marketing and advertising. In fact, digital ad purchasing exceeded print in quarter 1 of 2015, and the research suggests digital media will account for half of all local marketing efforts in 2016. Online and mobile tactics are also predicted to have the greatest increase in interest, while directories and local newspapers are expected to see the biggest decrease.

Based on the survey, it seems the hottest digital marketing opportunities for SMBs might not be ads. While search and social ad use are on the rise, small businesses are spending the most of their digital budgets on the following services (in order):

  1. Website design/hosting
  2. Social network support
  3. Lead generation programs
  4. Graphic design services
  5. Event marketing

Segment Trends

While many SMBs are increasing spending for online and digital tactics, some industries are doing more so than others. According to the survey, morticians, pet stores and government entities spend the very least on digital marketing. On the contrary, the automotive industry is quickly taking advantage of digital channels, as 66 percent of auto marketing budgets have been spent online and on mobile so far in 2015. Health care businesses are also beginning to spend more on digital marketing this year, with additional planned budget increases in the near future.

SMB Challenges

By far the greatest challenge noted by those surveyed was a lack of time. With so many options and how quickly channels change, staying on top of all of a small business’s digital assets is hard to do. Additional challenges included keeping up with social media trends and technology, as well as measuring marketing efforts.

Working with SMBs

To make this and other challenges easier to manage, Elliot suggests digital agencies and media companies consider the following when partnering with SMBs:

  • Establish ROI parameters first
  • Create “social” campaigns
  • Invest in social media management capabilities
  • Respect the SMB owner’s time and budget
  • Read up on beacons (fast – it’s the next big thing)

The insights provided by Elliot’s research provide marketers a better understanding of the perceptions the owners of small- to medium-sized businesses might have. We thank Cory Elliot for sharing his research with AZIMA and giving an interesting and valuable presentation.

A special thanks to Jessica Ropolo for her expert help with writing this post. 

Veronica Bark

Veronica’s extensive experience in developing complex search marketing strategies helps her deliver positive, ROI-driven results for clients. Her digital marketing prowess spans the areas of search marketing, content planning, data analysis and website forensics. By working closely with social, content and development teams, she is able to create integrated search engine marketing/content plans that drive traffic and increase conversions. Always on top of critical search engine updates, she creates strategies that withstand algorithm changes and focus on users first. When she’s not busy investigating user intent and the competition, Veronica satisfies her sophisticated palate by sipping fine wine and tasting fancy cheeses while discussing (and debating) politics.

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