Small businesses, especially startups, are told repeatedly that they should stay lean. Only by treating this idea as a guiding principle, it’s said, can a business avoid being one of the 75% of startups that fail. However, no business plans on indulging in bloat and inefficiency, but those two conditions hobble businesses nonetheless.
A recent survey by Constant Contact and Small Business Week has found that for small businesses, a prime site of inefficiency is the realm of marketing. For large firms, inefficient marketing is a waste of resources. The smaller the firm, though, the more of a danger inefficient marketing is to that company’s long-term prospects.
Though a majority of firms surveyed were cautiously optimistic for 2014 and beyond, marketing remains the greatest pain point. Businesses spend an average of 20 hours a week on marketing, and nearly half of businesses employ 3 or 4 marketing vendors. Despite all this expenditure of employee time and company funds, many firms find the promise of the internet to be prohibitively complex.
Since the survey reveals common marketing pain points for businesses, it’s worth examining how these points can be alleviated–and what works well. Fortunately for the quarter of unhappy businesses surveyed, there are solutions. By implementing efficient practices in certain areas and bringing in outside help in others, small firms can see the ROI they’re missing.
1. Implement More Specific Aims for More Efficient Marketing
The internet has a built-in paradox: it’s never been easier to reach potential customers, but this makes it difficult for customers to find the information they’re looking for. Customers tend to walk into a store not knowing what brand they’ll buy, which is why 86% of customers will search generic terms when shopping. A comprehensive inbound marketing strategy is the first step to direct customers searching for a company’s information to their site. At stake is getting a share of the more than $1.4 trillion in “web-influenced” annual revenue.
An efficient marketing strategy begins with a clearly defined picture of the future customer—the buyer persona. Though this sounds basic, a poorly defined buyer persona is a common mistake. The cosmetics industry, for instance, is a $100 billion industry that spends countless millions of dollars marketing anti-aging products to teens. According to industry marketing experts, these teens are too fickle and uninterested to display the brand loyalty that beauty companies seek, but millions are still fruitlessly spent pursuing this market.
2. Connect Digital Platforms
Once buyer personas have been mapped out, they should be used in concert with a multi-channel marketing strategy. With multi-channel marketing, customers who search for your information can find it via any number of channels, be it your website or social media. The Constant Contact survey found that over 80% of small businesses were using multi-channel marketing, and the majority were seeing robust returns on ROI.
3. Get Help When You Need It…
For the quarter of businesses surveyed that weren’t seeing big returns on ROI, a few issues were negatively impacting their marketing practices. Many businesses cited a lack of knowledge about analytics and the channels themselves, a lack of aesthetic consistency and functionality across platforms, and time constraints.
Many of these problems are easier to solve when you partner up with an outside agency. Before implementing a new marketing strategy, get a professional SEO audit. Based on the insights provided, you will have a good baseline against which to measure ROI. Constant Contact found that nearly half of businesses that weren’t finding success with their marketing practices cited the difficulties of using different interfaces, and keeping a consistent look and feel. A responsive website will alleviate most of the design problems that pop up across platforms.
Bringing in an outside agency may seem like an unnecessary cost, but it is an investment in the marketing strategy like any other. Expectations among potential buyers are sky-high: customers expect pages to load in 2 seconds or less, so a fully optimized site is a necessity. Investing in a great site with responsive design is an integral part an of an efficient marketing strategy because it alleviates marketing pain points in the future.
4. Maximize the Strengths of Your Channels On Your Own When You Can
However, many efficient marketing practices can be implemented without outside help. The most prevalent issue facing small businesses — not knowing if their customers are using all available channels — can be fixed by creating platform-specific URLs for content. With only 5 minutes more work before posting a new piece of content, a business can measure if a lead is coming from Twitter, YouTube, or their blog, etc. This also goes a long way towards alleviating the second most-cited concern, the difficulty of measuring success across channels.
The Constant Contact and Small Business Week survey is heartening—in both the optimism it shows in the small business ecosystem, and how reliable a good multi-channel marketing strategy is for their ROI. Customers are looking for your company right now; efficient marketing practices simply connect them to you.