Can small businesses punch above their weight online?

Adam Boyden, president of Conduit, looks at how small businesses can utilise online as a powerful new business tool.

Adam Boyden
Adam Boyden

With awareness of online services now sky high amongst both businesses and consumers, more and more people are searching, comparing and buying online than ever before. The value of online marketing for SMEs bouncing back from the recession has never been greater, but many SMEs are unsure how to most successfully harness the potential of today’s online marketing mix.

It is important to remember that SMEs and enterprises face different challenges in their online marketing outreaches. While enterprises often have entire teams dedicated to marketing, many SMES have only one person overseeing all the elements of their marketing efforts and this person may well have other responsibilities. In some cases, it will be the CEO that is in charge of driving a company’s marketing campaigns, alongside the day-to-day management of the business.

Engaging consumers online is all about credibility and SMEs should not try to compete on a level playing field with larger enterprises who can regularly churn out high budget advertising campaigns. However, SMEs have the advantage of knowing their customers more intimately than their larger counterparts and, for this reason, they can create more appropriate and appealing online content. And when it’s done right, content will always prove better value than advertising.

We have a number of SME customers and they all tell us the same thing: they want to make themselves visible online but they are restrained by limits on both time and budgets. For SMEs it is imperative to make the most out of limited resources by creating compelling content that will make an impact amongst all of their audiences. This is usually easier than people think. Often small companies have a wealth of knowledge about their industry and customer bases, but they may not immediately recognise the potential to package this into content that can be shared with interested parties online.

Online marketing does not have to be complicated to be successful. New technologies are allowing SMEs to make more effective use of their online marketing, and many SMEs have already created highly credible and engaging online portfolios. MyVoucherCodes.co.uk is a great example of a successful online business with an exceptional customer retention rate. They use the promotional tools available within our platform to engage users directly from the browser without having to wait for them to return to their website. This means they can deliver unique content and time-sensitive information, such as new shopping deals, to their users wherever and whenever they are online. It’s a simple concept, but it works brilliantly; following the implementation of the MyVoucherCodes app, return visits to their site and users accessing voucher codes steadily increased to 300,000 interactions per day.

The web provides the perfect platform for SMEs to interact with their customers and there are a variety of ways to do this. Online marketing is by no means restricted to a company’s website; there are multiple channels where a brand can build its presence including blogs and other social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. Given that most purchasing decisions are now made online and are heavily influenced by the recommendations of friends and peers, there can be no doubt that social media provides a very powerful medium for brand building.

Community-based web applications such as Facebook or Twitter can be a useful way to share exclusive content with a brand’s fans, which can prove a great tool for converting first time customers into long term advocates of a brand. Offering special discounts or product tips on a regular basis via these channels will encourage customers to download information from a site and consider purchasing products, and that applies whether they prefer to purchase online or offline. By allowing their customers to participate in an ongoing conversation brands can significantly boost customer retention levels.

MyVoucherCodes understands the importance of multi-faceted engagement as a means to encourage return visits to their website and to stimulate a high conversion rate. They successfully combine all of their promotional channels in order to capture their visitors’ attention from every angle on the web, using their site to promote their customer newsletter, Facebook fan page, Twitter feed and installations of their conduit. The company also used email marketing to invite more than 400,000 subscribers to install their app as well as to join their Facebook and Twitter fan bases.

SMEs need to play on the close nature of their offline relationships and mimic them online. Small businesses often find it easier than large businesses to gather a community of followers. They can then foster these communities of consumers, who may connect and build relationships amongst themselves. In this way they can form an extended community around their brand and may be able to inspire their followers to create brand-affiliated User Generated Content (UGC) which will endorse their offering and further extend their brand’s reach.

For businesses that only have one or two people dealing with their entire marketing effort, they need to be highly efficient in the way they create and promote their online content. To get the most bang for their buck, content should be limited to highly relevant topics and needs to be spread across all available channels. It is worth looking at ways to harness the management of online presence into one platform to maximize the effectiveness of online outreach. A free platform like Conduit can bundle many different elements of a business’s web presence together – including websites, blogs, RSS feeds and social media.

The advantage of this approach is that businesses need not convince visitors to consistently return to their website. Brands simply have to find a way to motivate customers to install one application which will then keep them updated automatically from their browser with all of their favourite brand’s activity. Even if smaller businesses are restrained by limited time and budgets, we have found that they can be extremely innovative in the way they use online marketing technologies. With new tools emerging all the time, perhaps the rapidly rising impact of online influence will soon mean that SMEs will be able to follow in the footsteps of David and take on Goliath.

Latest from Marketing Week

NOT REGISTERED? IT'S FREE, QUICK AND EASY!

Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now

THE BEST CONTENT

Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.

THE BIGGEST ISSUES

From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.

PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3711 or email subscriptions@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here