digital marketing

By Rieva Lesonsky

How did small business owners market their businesses in 2017 — and what do they plan to do differently in the coming year? Infusionsoft’s annual Small Business Marketing Trends Report has some answers, including both good and bad news for small business owners.

Small business owners’ top marketing goals are getting new customers (31 percent) and retaining existing customers (25 percent). To achieve these goals, 38 percent will budget more in 2018 for social media management, 30 percent will budget more for digital advertising and search engine optimization, and 24 percent will budget more for website analytics.

But while entrepreneurs are “embracing digital marketing to some extent,” the report says, there’s still a long way to go if small business owners want to stay competitive. For example, more than one-fourth of small business owners surveyed (28 percent) don’t plan to increase their digital marketing budgets at all in 2018. What’s worse, 15 percent don’t plan to use any type of digital marketing whatsoever.

What They’re Using

Even when small business owners do implement digital marketing strategies, they don’t always know if they’re getting results. Almost half (46 percent) of entrepreneurs in the survey say they aren’t sure if their marketing strategies are effective — and 17 percent admit they know that their marketing isn’t working.

The biggest challenge small business owners face when it comes to digital marketing is simply finding enough time in their days to handle it. Given the constantly changing nature of digital marketing, this isn’t surprising. It’s hard enough for marketing specialists to keep pace with the latest industry trends — much less a busy small business owner.

What specific digital marketing tactics are small business owners using?

  • Social media management — 49.3 percent
  • Website analytics — 35.7 percent
  • Search engine optimization/digital advertising — 28.2 percent
  • Email marketing service — 26.8 percent
  • None of the above — 23.8 percent
  • Customer relationship management — 20.9 percent
  • Marketing automation — 11.9 percent

Converting leads into sales is the second-biggest challenge small business owners in the survey face. Perhaps that’s because so few of them use CRM and marketing automation tools, the survey suggests.

2018 and Beyond

Heading into 2018, a whopping 74.4 percent of small business owners surveyed say they plan to use social media, and almost 40 percent plan to spend more on it than they did in 2017. Overall, social media is the top customer-acquisition channel for small businesses in the survey. Facebook is the most popular social channel, used by 75.1 percent; close behind are Instagram (37.6 percent) and Twitter (35.1 percent). In addition, 22.8 percent of small business owners surveyed use LinkedIn and 21.4 percent use YouTube.

What should small businesses do in 2018 to stay competitive?

  • Be willing to pay for social media advertising. Social media has grown in importance as a customer-acquisition tool for small businesses. Going beyond organic social media posts to invest in social media advertising and lead generation tools can help entrepreneurs get even better results.
  • Think mobile. Social media marketing expert Mari Smith, cited in the report, says any Facebook ads or posts you create must be mobile-friendly. That’s because almost 90 percent of Facebook users visit Facebook mostly through their mobile devices.
  • Use video. So far, only about 27 percent of small business owners use video as a marketing tactic. Smith recommends trying “micro-videos” that are 10 to 30 seconds long, and taking advantage of Facebook Live.
  • Don’t forget email. I was really surprised to learn that just 26.8 percent of entrepreneurs in the survey use an email marketing service. While email may not get as much buzz as newer marketing tactics, it remains one of the most effective marketing methods for businesses in general – and especially for small businesses. When you create in-house email lists of customers and prospects, you’ve got contacts you can communicate with directly, without a social media platform in between.
  • Take advantage of tools that can simplify your marketing. Most small business owners who use social media are probably familiar with social media management tools — but they should also use marketing automation and customer relationship management tools to automate their interactions with customers. With time at a premium for every small business owner, solutions that help you communicate more efficiently — and effectively — with customers should be a no-brain are.

The overall takeaway from the report: Digital marketing will become more and more important in the coming years. Do what you must to stay on top of online marketing trends, or risk being left behind.