10 Ways Online Marketing is Changing for Small Businesses

Marketing has changed for all types of business in the last few years thanks to new platforms, channels, and technology. However, the changes have been revolutionary for small businesses, often leveling the playing field and providing a way to reach out to their customers and prospects in a low-cost, targeted, and personalized way.

Here are 10 ways that have changed marketing for small businesses:

1. Customer Service to Customer Engagement

Previously, a small business owner set the hours that they would be available to answer questions or follow-up on a customer question or issue. Now, with the 24/7/365 access that social media platforms offer customers, they can ask or comment (and complain) whenever they want to in a way that is open to the rest of the customer base and target base. This means a small business owner needs to stay alert at all times to see if there are comments or issues they must address quickly.

This can be good in many ways, but it can also damage a small business owner’s reputation if they do not pay attention to what customers are saying on these channels. This is why customer service has evolved into customer engagement to ensure small businesses are always involved and available at the customer’s whim. Consider the small business owner on Yelp that has immediately addressed an issue by publicly responding to a complaint and following up with action. Often, the customer returns and notes their satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) based on how the small businesses has responded.

2. Monologue to Dialogue

Ads and marketing messages used to be one-way streets where a small business did a billboard, television ad, print ad, or some other campaign and told their audience what the small business thought they a wanted to hear. Now, marketing is a dialogue in which a small businesses are often listening to the customer or prospect, asking questions, and providing information related to the marketing effort.

Small businesses must thoughtfully traverse this two-way marketing street and make the most of the conversations they now have with customers to learn and adapt their marketing messages to suit this audience - and when you tell a good story, you'll improve sales and acquire more loyal customers.

3. Paper to Digital Marketing

Small businesses no longer need to think in terms of newspaper, phone book, billboard, or magazine ads. Instead, it is about designing digital marketing campaigns that leverage new technology to reach customers.

Not only is this thought process environmentally friendly, but this approach to marketing can save money and be more effective in terms of the return on investment.

4. Traditional, Expensive Advertising to Low-Cost, Results-Oriented Options

Small businesses often felt left out of the advertising world because it was too expensive to run a television or radio campaign or even take out a full-page ad. Only large companies with hefty marketing budgets could pull that off.

Now, small businesses have the opportunity to reach the same size audience as the large companies with low-cost marketing platforms that deliver greater results than the traditional channels have ever done, and with clearer knowledge of their success by picking and tracking the right metrics for your startup.

5. Shotgun Marketing to the Sniper Approach

When a small business owner offered a marketing message, such as a phone book ad, billboard, or magazine display, the approach had a similar effect to a shotgun when it goes off. The small business message may sound with a loud bang and actually be powerful if it actually does end up hitting anything, but it is often hard to lock in on the target audience, or customer.

New marketing approaches help small businesses become snipers with their marketing messages. They can essentially hone in on their targets, aim with precise, personal messaging, and hit with great accuracy nearly every time. With the introduction of new tools that are driven by artificial intelligence or similar machine-learning technology, the ability to become a sniper even when shooting at great distances means greater accuracy.

6. Clever Jingle to Informed, Relative, and Entertaining Content

While effective marketing has always been about creating something memorable so people remember a small business, consumers and businesses want more than a catchphrase or clever jingle. They are seeking concrete and relative information that solves a problem or delivers convenience or they want entertaining content that takes them away or distracts them from their stressed or monotonous lives. This means that a small business owner has to continually develop written and visual content that keeps the audience’s attention, and stays fresh.

The need to continually digest information, which also has to be personalized, means more work, but the payoff is definitely worth it for the marketer who puts forth this effort. 

7. Singular Marketing Effort vs Army of Brand Advocates

A small business owner often wears a mountain of hats and must go it alone with their marketing efforts. The result in this marketing approach is inconsistency in delivery and approach. A singular marketing effort is difficult, but previously it was the only choice a small business had.

Social media platforms have enabled a small business to enlist an army of brand advocates that spread the message and essentially lead the marketing march. When it turns out that a message about a small business owner’s product or solution, “goes viral,” it means that all they had to do was find and inspire their legions of fans and then let the fans loose on their virtual marketing crusade to spread the message. The result has been that more people get the message about a small business than ever before without the small business owner having to remove any hats, or buy any hats for that matter.

8. Local Marketing to “Glocal” Choices

A small business often only hoped for a local following at best because their marketing platforms were geared solely to the local marketplace. This was fine for some businesses but really limited their potential. Once small businesses realized that new marketing technology and channels would allow them to market both locally and globally through customized campaign choices, it was like a whole new world of opportunity opened up.

Now, small businesses have to develop more versions of their campaigns and understand how they can cater to different audiences that are often beyond their local market understanding. When this happens, small businesses have reported extraordinary gains in revenue and profitability.

9. Cold Calls to Mobile Marketing

Prior to the new ways of marketing, a small business owner did a lot of cold calling (and hoping) that they could convert customers, but it was often difficult to know when and where to reach these prospects, leading to a lot of wasted resources, and often a lot of rejection for the marketing/sales teams. However, research now shows that most prospects can be found on their mobile devices. Seeing that marketing opportunities now happen at any time, the advent of mobile marketing has helped small businesses reach out to their audience in a much more effective way and on a channel that their prospects prefer.

Rather than waiting for the customer to come to the small business, mobile marketing is a proactive marketing mechanism that can yield higher conversion rates at the fraction of the cost and effort.

10. Vague Statistics to Key Performance Indicators

Previously it was hard to know just what any marketing campaign was really achieving in relation to what was spent. While the store maybe seemed busier, a small business owner was never really sure if it was their marketing effort or a combination of factors. And, when it got even quieter, there was no explanation as to why the current marketing campaign did not resonate.

Now, a small business has a greater understanding of what is going on in their market space because marketing tools now provide a way to deliver key performance indicators and the analytics that break down how each marketing campaign is being received, and what percentage of return on investment it made in relation to revenue and profitability. These marketing metrics provide a way for a small business owner to determine the science behind what they are trying to achieve so that they can take control over their own success, including how visitors have found the website, the demographics of the customer base, and what technology is used to access a website.

Final Thoughts

Marketing has radically changed for small businesses. There are more opportunities and channels to more effectively target customers in a cost-effective way that delivers a greater return at a faster rate. However, these changes to marketing have also required that small businesses think locally and globally as well as be able to regularly generate content that engages and assists their target audience in a way that the competition cannot. Even with some challenges and the need for an ongoing learning curve, these marketing challenges have put small businesses on the field and in a promising position to take on their bigger industry players.