Jun 7, 2024

Why Digital Marketing is Important for Small Business

When small businesses get started, they often focus on how to get the first customers through the door and rely on traditional advertising, such as brochures, print ads, or even outdoor advertising. 

While this strategy may bring in a trickle of business, there’s a better and easier way. Small businesses should consider the global online marketplace and benefit from using a combination of traditional and digital marketing to leverage every avenue available.  

After all, 76% of consumers look for a company online before visiting a store, while 45% are likely to visit after finding a strong online presence on a local search page, according to research by Visual Objects.

Every small business, no matter how new or established, should look at digital channels as a way to generate leads and convert interest into customers.

In this blog, we’ll look at 6 ways you can use online channels to promote and grow your business (along with 3 great examples from small brands for inspiration). 

  1. Conduct competitor research
  2. Leverage SEO
  3. Be proactive and reactive on social media
  4. Target existing customers
  5. Reach out to influencers
  6. Focus your marketing budget
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What are the benefits of digital marketing?

The potential customers you can find online are  a much larger group than you’ll ever be able to attract only locally. By using digital marketing techniques, you can reach a massive audience in a way that’s cost-effective, scalable, and measurable.

Some of the key benefits of using digital channels include:

  • Increase your interaction with prospects and learn exactly what they are looking for i.e. get to know your customers better!
  • Reach out to anyone in any location and at any timezone as there are no geographical boundaries with digital 
  • Target the right audience at the right time through hyper-personalization
  • Communicate with your prospects and customers at every stage of the buying process
  • Save money and reach more people for less 
  • Understand your audience and drive engagement to boost customer loyalty 
  • Track and monitor campaigns in real time so you can optimize or tweak content or targeting
  • Offer better customer service using social media platforms like Facebook or X

Getting started on digital marketing for small businesses

With endless opportunities, digital marketing can seem intimidating if you’ve never used it before. There are a variety of platforms and strategies that may make it seem like a bigger project than it is.  

But the online marketplace is competitive and while word of mouth marketing and customer recommendations can help drive traffic, customers will struggle to find your business unless you show up in the places they spend time.

That’s because online shopping has exploded in recent years as people flock online to research and purchase. This has resulted in the global ecommerce share of retail sales going from just 18% in 2021 to an estimated 23% in 2027.  

Ecommerce share of retail sales 2021-2027
Ecommerce share of retail sales 2021-2027

This makes building a presence online crucial to any small business that wants to survive especially when 20% of businesses fail in the first year, 30% in the second year and 50% by year five according to Forbes Advisor. 

So let’s look at some simple but effective digital marketing tactics you can use to build an online presence and get found by the people that have an interest in your product or service. 

1) Conduct Competitor Research

For your business to be successful, you need to pay attention to what your competitors are doing and learn from it.  Look at what your competitors are doing online and that will get some idea of what is and isn’t working. 

Conduct a competitor analysis and do your research with these types of questions in mind: 

  • What type of content do they use (e.g. a company blog, videos or visuals, custom landing pages, original research or user-generated content?) 
  • How do they communicate their brand and what makes them unique? 
  • How well do they engage with the audience and how (e.g. social media channels? 
  • What platforms do they use?
  • Do they have any brand advocates or influencer partnerships?
  • Do they have a loyalty program and if so what does it offer? 

Luckily there are some great tools that can help in your research so it doesn’t become a drain on your time such as:

  • Semrush - great for keyword ranking and keyword traffic
  • Ahrefs - useful for discovering competitors’ most linked content
  • Moz - another platform for keyword ranking
  • BuzzSumo - track popular content types and influencers
  • Google Alerts - a tool for tracking mentions of any competitor you choose to track
  • Ontolo - a great tool for backlinks and content marketing
  • Similarweb - gives you insights on digital channels used, website traffic, keywords and social channels

You should also take advantage of platforms for customer insights to feed into your persona development and content marketing such as:

  • AnswerthePublic
  • Ubersuggest
  • Statista 
  • SparkToro

There are also plenty of useful artificial intelligence (AI) marketing tools and ones for copywriting using AI

2) Leverage SEO

Whatever product or service a person looks for, they will most likely start their search with a search engine like Google. If you have an online presence but your competitors are easier to find as they rank higher in search, you still might not be found. 

So, along with creating an optimized website, you need to understand the importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to outrank your competitors. 

Keywords are crucial in making this happen so make sure you research the best keywords (long-tail and short-tail) for your business. This will help you identify and keep phrases that have good search volume, disregard keywords with poor volume and find content gaps that you can fill to build authority. 

Local SEO is important here for a small business. While you can aim to inform and sell to people across the globe, local SEO can help your business be more visible in search results on Google based on searches aimed at specific locations. 

You can also use Google Business Profile which is a directory that offers you a way to display business information on local searches and Google Maps.

Also, tap into simple questions prospects may want quick answers to by including FAQs on your website or writing a blog that targets specific long-tail phrases. For example, if you are a bar that specializes in local beers you could write an article that covers ‘The Best Beers in X (& Why They’re Great)’ and include information about where you can get them e.g. your place!

Don't forget, AI tools like ChatGPT can help with SEO so make sure to check out the platform and see how it works. It’s easy to create prompts with target keywords and ask ChatGPT to come up with some content specifically for Facebook or X. 

3) Be Proactive and Reactive on Social Media

Social media is one of the most powerful digital platforms for a small business. With over 5 billion users representing 62% of the world’s population according to Datareportal data, it’s a great channel to get your brand seen and heard.  

The big challenge may be which social platform to use for your business as there are many to choose from and each has a different audience and relies on different content types. 

The secret to being successful on social media is to pick the right platform/s for your business. This means you need to understand who is active on what platform and what type of content they consume. 

  • YouTube - Video content (including YouTube Shorts) and popular amongst the 25-44 age groups
  • Facebook - Text, image and video content can be used and the platform is most popular with 25-44 year-olds
  • Instagram - A platform made for image and video content and used by influencers, it’s most popular amongst 18-34 year olds
  • TikTok -  A video based-platform (and fast becoming a search engine) it is most popular amongst 18-34 year olds but is also widely used by 12-17 year olds. 
  • LinkedIn - Used for text, images and video content 60% of LinkedIn users are between the ages 25-34.  
  • Pinterest - Coined as a visual discovery engine, images can be grouped into themes as ‘Boards’, Pinterest is popular with women (76% of users) and the ages of 18-34 years of age.   
  • X - As a news-orientated platform, you can post images, text, videos and polls, it’s popular with those between 25-34 years.   

You can also make a decision based on active users as this will guarantee you an audience. 

Social media active users 2024
Social media active users 2024

Social media should not only be about posting content about your business (self-promotional content), it’s also about sharing the content of others and providing information that your audience would find useful. 

Consider encouraging your audience to create user-generated content as this can help share reviews or endorsements of your brand (while not doing it yourself). Don’t forget that social media should also be used to respond to customer queries or complaints. It can demonstrate your commitment to customers and also provide quick and transparent responses to solve issues quickly.  

4) Target existing customers

It’s great to have an email marketing list even if it’s not that big, it’s important to nurture people on it. After all, they are there for a reason, whether that’s due to a purchase or taking advantage of a discount offer. 

Just bear in mind you need to be aware of data protection laws and legislation for sending emails via Google and Yahoo to ensure that you’re protecting your customer’s data. 

Before your email database gets unmanageable it’s good to put some structure on it. Segment your customers or prospects so you can target them with relevant and personalized content. These segments could be:

  • Action (e.g. purchase or download)
  • Gender 
  • Age group
  • Location
  • Abandonment cart
  • Interests
  • Purchase history
  • Engagement

It’s also important to look at how to grow your email list. The more people you have on it, the more opportunities you have to engage and convert. Here are some simple ways to do that:

  • Offer a subscriber discount
  • Set up a referral program
  • Promote a giveaway or contest
  • Offer VIP discounts for ‘members’
  • Create data capture content
  • Set up a newsletter

You can check out our blog on email tips and examples to find out how to leverage and grow this channel.  

5) Reach out to influencers

An influencer is a person with a social following that’s seen as an expert in a certain area. The beauty of using one is that they are creative and have a skill for making content that their audience loves. This can make the right voice valuable to your brand.

Influencer marketing has surged in recent years and many marketers use it to connect with customers. It’s become so popular and effective, that Statista reports that 22% of marketers invest 10 to 20 percent of their marketing budget into influencer marketing while another 26% invest more than 40%.

The key to effective influencer marketing is to select the right one. For small businesses, the follower count may not be the most important factor. It’s more important to find someone that aligns with your brand and values. 

You can find relevant influencers through social media or by searching using hashtags. Types of influencer activities are:

  • Sponsored posts
  • Partnerships or collaborations 
  • Giveaways
  • Brand ambassadors
  • Guest blogs
  • Event hosting
  • Unboxing videos

Once you find the right influencer, you can figure out what you want from the partnership using a reach out using our influencer marketing brief template

6) Focus your marketing budget

Few forms of advertising are as cost-effective as digital marketing. Small businesses and start-ups are always trying to achieve as much as possible by marketing on a budget

Advertising online can stretch your budget further and will allow you to refine your target audience. Social media is particularly good for this as it enables you to set a daily budget for a discrete audience that has an interest in your brand or ethos. Most importantly, it allows your business to exclude the people who would never buy from you - saving you time and money!

The key with advertising on social media is to select the platform that will work best for you and your brand. Don’t pick TikTok just because it’s trending or advertise on LinkedIn when you’re not trying to generate B2B interest.

Research social media platforms, check out a guide on social media demographics to find one that matches what you’re looking for and run some simple tests to see what messaging and content works. 

3 Great Examples of Digital Marketing by a Small Business

As a small business, any insights you can get can be invaluable to growing your business. 

Here are three great examples of companies using different digital marketing tactics to build a brand online and drive engagement. 

1) Zac's Sweet Shop

Zac has a lifelong love for sweets and started a business at the tender age of 13. After getting a degree from USC, Zac created a direct-to-consumer ecommerce candy store. 

After a shout- out from Beyoncé on her list of black-owned businesses during the pandemic, sales surged and Zac’s business now delivers nationwide.

Along with sharing his personal story on his site, he promotes the link to Beyonce using a top banner with the text ‘BEYONCE-APPROVED NOSTALGIA SHIPPED FRESH TO YOUR DOOR’.  

The ecommerce site also features a ‘Mystery Box’ section. This taps into the emotions of a customer in a similar way to unboxing videos on YouTube. You can also see an autoplay video in the bottom right- hand corner featuring Zac with pop-up questions you can click on. 

Zac's Sweet Shop Mystery Box
Zac's Sweet Shop Mystery Box

Zac’s Sweet Shop is a great example of a business leveraging several tactics to inform, influence and sell. 

2) KidRunner

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KidRunner was set up by a father who loved running and wanted to do it along with his daughter. So he created a running stroller that helped him to do that. 

This product was so successful it has grown to include a stroller for skiing and one for bikes. The best element in KidRunner’s toolkit is the views and testaments of its customers which are featured on the website under ‘Reviews’ and provide guidance and a great recommendation for anyone looking to buy this type of product. 

KidRunner reviews
KidRunner reviews

3) Lentiful

After cutting down on meat and ramping up our plant-based eating, the Bacon family (real name) noticed the impact on inflammation and general mood levels. 

On this basis, they set up Lentiful, inspired by the word plentiful - the idea or feeling that you have more than what you need and are willing to share it with others.  

The company’s strength is in its colorful and eye-catching design both on packaging and across its digital channels. Lentiful’s use of Instagram showcases the colorful products and also trade fairs and promotional offers along with the intro text of:

Why Digital Marketing is Important for Small Business
Why Digital Marketing is Important for Small Business

By focusing on one social platform, they have amassed nearly 7,000 followers that comment and engage on posts. This shows that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to choosing a social platform and posting content.   

Transform the marketing capabilities of your small business

Are you looking to develop a website that can generate leads or set up a social campaign to see the results? The first step to achieving these goals is to develop an understanding of digital marketing and how it can have a positive impact on your business. DMI’s certified Professional Diploma in Digital Marketing will teach you the most relevant and up-to-date digital marketing skills including how to use AI effectively. From social media to SEO, PPC and content marketing, you’ll have the knowledge and skills to drive business success.  

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