So what is the small business marketing process? What specific steps can you take to raise the profile of a business in its local area and increase enquiries and sales? There are several potential options.
But before diving in let’s assume the basics are in place. If they are not, then deal with them first or any promotional effort will be wasted. They are:
- A strong product or service offering is in place at an acceptable price.
- A product or service differentiated (as far as possible) from the competition.
- Identified target customer groups.
A short overview of potential small business marketing tactics follows:
GOOGLE MY BUSINESS PAGE – Delivers a presence on page 1 Google. It captures the active searchers (prospects) for goods and services in the local area.
Those searching for a supplier of goods or services in their local area will often turn to friends or family for a recommendation. Failing that, they will probably scan the first page of the search results.
There are only ten organic positions available on page1 Google. One tool that can level the playing field to an extent is a Google My Business page. It can give a small local business a presence towards the top of Page 1 Google.
DIRECTORIES – The second line of defence is to pick up those actively searching (in buying mode) for goods or services.
The use of paper directories for small business marketing is in rapid decline (Yellow pages anyone!). However, online directories are still used by those searching for local goods and services. Of course, prospects are most likely to click on a website or Google My Business listing. That said, directories do receive clicks and listings are often free or low cost.
There is an increasing number of industry sector-specific directories that offer various (paid) add on services. These sometimes include sales lead generation.
WEBSITE – The information hub for the business. More likely to pick up those searching for general information than active searchers. The challenge is to engage those visitors, so they return when ready to buy.
The key is to deliver the information prospects need at whatever stage of the buying process they may be at. Consumers need to build a level of trust before they will buy. The website should deliver the information they need to build that trust, including reviews and recommendations. Often, a simple website of only a few pages will suffice.
LOCAL SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION – The website needs to appear on page 1 Google when a prospect types in a relevant search phrase.
A Google my business listing has its limitations. The listing provides the briefest of details and not everyone will click through to the website. Some will ignore the Google my Business panel and dive straight into the organic results.
Driving the business website onto page 1 Google gives a business another chance to secure an enquiry or raise consumer awareness. But to get that Page1 position requires some level of search engine optimisation.
For a business with a national customer base SEO is a complex, expensive, long term operation. Fortunately focusing on potential customers in a limited area simplifies the process.
That is not to say small business local SEO is easy. It takes time and effort and there are many tricks and traps to be aware of. However, for many local businesses the effort involved can pay off and keep paying off over the long term.
REVIEWS – The psychologist Dr Robert Cialdini (and others) have identified social proof as a key determinant of human behaviour. It is natural for people to seek out the opinion of others before making a decision. This is why publishing positive customer reviews are so important.
As stated above, one of the first sources of information prospects will seek out is the recommendations of friends and family. They may well check out business reviews before making a final purchasing decision.
Reviews also have a secondary impact. One of the many signals used by Google to decide which businesses it should rank in the Google My Business panel is the number of reviews for that business. Many believe they also assess the proportion of reviews that are positive rather than negative.
SOCIAL MEDIA – For a small number of businesses, organic (unpaid) social media can be their prime lead generation tool. For most, it is an awareness-building exercise at best.
It is important to establish if ideal potential customers are using social media and, if so, which social media channels. It could be Facebook, or for a younger audience, it could be Snapchat. For B2B, it could be LinkedIn. If the product is best represented visually, it could be Pinterest.
ONLINE ADVERTISING – Google Adwords and paid social are the main options. Again, this may be a valid marketing tactic for some small businesses but not for others.
There are many options including Google Adwords, Display Ads, Bing Ads and (many variants of) social media Ads. The choice depends on where your customers are most likely to be found.
Online advertising fits with some messages and not others. There is always a learning/testing process involved and that can be costly. The Ad is only part of the mix you will also need landing pages. There is lots to think about.
Because it’s not all about online! Offline marketing activities can be the prime source of sales leads for some businesses. There are many offline tools available to raise the profile of your small business.
To name but a few, there is local sponsorship. Perhaps an advertising board at your local football or rugby club. Networking groups may work for some businesses, assuming the business owner is the right type of person. Local advertising can still be effective. Investing in attending events can work well for specific types of local businesses.
It is worth keeping an eye on what the competition is doing. What marketing techniques are they using and are they successful? Be careful, just because they are investing in technique X, Y or Z does not mean they are generating a return on their investment.
Any small business with a local customer base can implement a successful small business marketing process with minimal (if any) support. All that is required is the time to learn the tools and techniques involved and the ongoing commitment to drive the campaign forward.