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article imageOp-Ed: Taming the marketing monster for small businesses

By Alyssa Sellors     Oct 11, 2014 in Business
Internet marketing. Content marketing. Digital marketing. Whether just starting up your small business or maintaining, these terms are a common part of your vocabulary, but do you know how to optimize your marketing strategy to get the best results?
Seemingly, when it comes to marketing in general, the biggest pitfall for many small businesses lies in the lack of knowledge and planning. Findings from a recent study from the marketing research firm Ascend2 found that email is still king of marketing, with 54% of businesses viewing email as the most effective form of marketing. Out of the 333 marketing, sales and business professionals worldwide used in this study, 40% found that social media and SEO strategies were the most effective strategies, but mobile marketing and e-commerce marketing was viewed as the least effective form of marketing across the board. However, your mobile marketing strategy matters as most people access your website via smart phones and tablets, and this is just one example where knowledge and marketing trends come into play. The researchers looked into these numbers further and found that businesses use and prefer email over other strategies because it is simply easier to execute and manage, and cheaper. So what does this tell us about businesses and marketing? Perhaps that the challenges we face are a lack of knowledge on best practices and a lack of effective digital marketing strategies (which may also be a result of inadequate funding).
Speaking of funding, developing a marketing plan, setting aside a marketing budget and spending that money wisely is the best plan of attack. Unfortunately, many small businesses try to budget for marketing in all of the wrong ways. USA Today took a look at this issue and tried to address the overwhelming question many small businesses find themselves asking: “how much do I spend on marketing?” How can just a simple question create such a quandary? Since there is no “hard and fast” answer, many businesses approach the task through “seat of their pants” marketing, meaning that every month it's another “strategy” with no real purpose or goal in mind other than getting more business.
This method lacks strategy and planning, so while businesses may “budget” or set aside a percentage of their sales for marketing, that money goes fast when you just throw it at any opportunity you see with no real long-term plan in mind. Instead, consider goal-based budgeting. Goal-based budgeting means that as a business you sit down and assess your goals. You may consider asking yourself a few questions such as do you need to hire a social media marketing person or how much advertising do you need? The answer to these questions depends on the size of your business and a few other factors. For example, if you are a relatively new business, you will want to spend more on marketing to get your business launched, or if you are a business where your intended market is hard to reach, you will also want to spend more on marketing. However, if you have lower profit margins, your budget will also be lower. The bottom line is that the best way to set your marketing budget is to first set your marketing strategy by setting goals. It may not be the easiest, but it will be the most effective in the long run.
Beyond budgeting, what are some actual strategies you can work in today? Content marketing, the creation of meaningful content that is of significant meaning or significance to a desired target market, is a concept many small businesses sometimes look over, but especially in an age of information overload, it's never been more important. Consider these three basic pieces of content marketing: the case study, the e-book, and the blog post. The common denominator in all of these is a strong, well-design website so that is your first step. After your certain your website is user-friendly, it's time to attract potential customers by offering them something useful. Case studies are essentially testimonials that focus on a “universal pain point” that most of your target market would experience, and how your business helped them solve that problem. The purpose here is to create trust with your potential customers. The second essential piece of content marketing is the e-book, which is an educational piece that works to educate your audience on something rather than straight sell. By educating your audience, you are delivering them a service that will increase your credibility and put you on their radar. An effective strategy with the e-book is to make the resource accessible by requiring users to offer their email. By doing this, you gather contacts, but make sure you do not ask too much information that would annoy a potential customer and deter them from entering their information to access the e-book. Finally, the blog post, one of the most common pieces of content marketing; like the e-book, the blog post should work to educate your potential customer by providing little pieces of useful information with the intention of creating returning visitors to your website. The ideal pacing is to post up to four postings per month, and to ensure that the content is relevant, fresh, and useful. Fresh content gets more traffic and useful content creates return customers, so focus on quality over quantity when dealing with content marketing strategies.
Of course no article on marketing would be complete without a discussion of digital marketing, which involves the use of electronic devices to engage with and communicate with target markets. This is where social media comes in to play. As you can see from the survey in the beginning of this article, email is still easiest form of marketing, period, with many small businesses in need of help when navigating the social media market. But it's not surprising; social media marketing campaigns can be tricky because of the multiple, fragmented platforms and difficulty in “tracking” if campaigns are even successful, but one article published in Entrepreneur tries to simplify the process with “The Four Ms of Social Media That All Marketers Should Master.” These are monitor, manage, measure and monetize and the basic premise is planning. Before launching a social media marketing campaign, monitor the social media platform you plan to use; track and analyze the social media “chatter” to get real time information on your industry and any competitors you may have. Then, launch the campaign but once launched manage by tracking performance and changing what works and what does not. Basically, listen to your users. Then, take those results and measure them to assess the effectiveness of your campaign. And finally, monetize. Interestingly, Facebook is launching an option for users to make purchases without leaving their platform by adding a “buy it” button to hashtags. This would be great information to have when devising your campaign, and tracking its effectiveness.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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