THE BLOG

What Small Businesses Must Know About Next-Generation Marketing

05/28/2015 11:45 pm ET | Updated May 28, 2016

Big companies typically aren't more nimble than small ones. But there's one area in particular where the behemoths are speedier. It is in reaching the large and growing number of consumers who use digital resources--such as mobile search, online directories, review sites and social media--to find businesses.

Large companies have an almost automatic edge because they have the robust technology ecosystems they need to take advantage of this new landscape. However, small business owners and entrepreneurs can't access them. Many can't afford the same tools or lack the expertise to employ enterprise-level software solutions to address their digital marketing needs. They are often forced to turn to vendors that offer a disparate set of narrow solutions that address only a limited set of the challenges that face local businesses.

Challenges and opportunities for small businesses

This dynamic is making it harder by the day for the Davids to take on the Goliaths. And with consumers adapting to new technologies at an ever-faster pace, smaller businesses risk falling further behind in the future. Consider these startling statistics:

  • Half of small companies do not even have a website, according to a study we commissioned with Research Now.
  • Ninety percent of small businesses have not optimized their site for mobile, according to the same research.
  • While 78% of consumers' purchases are influenced by online reviews per a survey by Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange, 87% of small business owners do not ask their customers for reviews, according to other research we commissioned.

To compete successfully, small businesses need to achieve five marketing musts:

  • Build a website that works well on both desktops and mobile devices
  • Claim directory listings on sites like Google Maps and Yelp
  • Secure positive online reviews from customers
  • Establish a social media presence
  • Stay engaged with existing customers

Even small steps can have big payoffs. One of our customers, Mark Matney, an attorney in Virginia, has seen the results of having positive reviews online. "One of the things that clients would say about why they chose me instead of another lawyer was that they had seen my reviews online. They had seen positive results from other clients," he said.

All is not lost for small businesses

The good news for small businesses is that next-generation marketing tools tailored for them have been evolving quickly to keep pace with changing consumer behavior. The best ones for businesses are not DIY ("do it yourself") but instead have a blend of a DIFM ("do it for me") and DIWM ("do it with me") approach. This enables local businesses to have the starting point for an online presence set up for them - the basics like a website and directory listings - while getting support in higher investment activities like, for example, securing and syndicating online reviews.

This evolution is illustrated by how small businesses used to turn to the Yellow Pages, where they paid for impressions. Then, in the last 10 years, we and other competitors such as Google, Yelp and Angie's List have offered "clicks and calls" solutions that require very little time investment or oversight from a small business and provide transparent results. Domain providers like GoDaddy have offered basic websites at a low cost. Now, digital marketing strategies like reviews and social media require the small business owner to augment and personalize what technology providers can offer. The success of marketing platforms for small businesses will lie in delivering a flexible solution that combines DIFM and DIWM.

Still, there's progress to be made. Many content management systems are Frankensteins, welded together awkwardly when technology companies have merged or done an acquisition.

Then there's customer relationship management (CRM) software. Many small business owners know they should leverage it more. CRM is the type of marketing that generates the highest return on investment. However, many systems are not easy to use. The data, for instance, is not easily accessible, and it requires a major time investment or the expertise of a professional marketer.

Our bet is that the best solutions for small businesses will come from the providers that spot these gaps in the marketplace and address them. Small business owners need a solution that will use technology seamlessly to deliver the right message to the right consumer at the right time. That will make it a lot easier for small businesses to play in the big leagues, no matter what their budget.