How online services can help small businesses emerge victorious from the recession

Teresa Pereira, senior director of European market development at Blurb, explains how small businesses can create a big brand with some simple but effective online tricks.

Teresa Pereira
Teresa Pereira

The start of the decade has seen an intense focus on economic recovery, with a lot of speculation around where this will come from. Many believe that 2010 is witnessing the emergence of the big name small businesses

With the Internet revolutionising the way businesses engage with customers, marketers are set to spend nearly $2 bn this year to increase online presence and brand through social media campaigns.

But for many smaller businesses, engaging with social media and running campaigns online can seem resource heavy with many entrepreneurs uncertain of the return on their investment. Then of course there is the fear factor; if the tone isn’t right will we be immortalised online as the company that got it wrong?

The joy of being a small business is how flexible you can be in your approach. With a wealth of different platforms and services available online it’s never been easier to take control of your brand online as well as create offline products to better market in the real world.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. The Internet provides loads of new ways for entrepreneurs and small businesses to sell themselves online, the real trick is using the right combination for your business rather than executing online campaigns and ’going social’ because you feel you should.

The Internet is a wonderful way to reach customers. But it’s important to have a highly targeted approach with your online activity and build a direct, two-way conversation with customers who you hope to become your brand evangelists.

Many industries are following this path, for example publishing. As a whole, publishing is no longer about mass marketing with many authors responsible for their own marketing taking a highly targeted approach, micro-marketing to smaller communities who are searching for bespoke content.

And this approach is driving sales, just look at the self-publishers who are experiencing an 88% increase in sales by using Blurb’s own online marketing tool, BookShow, which enables authors to share their books in an experiential format wherever they are online – on Facebook, their blog, or a website.

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn offer a powerful platform to plan and execute effective marketing strategies. These tools let businesses identify and reach niche communities, gradually building groups of brand evangelists. Because you’re being extremely targeted you remove the fear factor of embarking on a resource-heavy campaign. The trick is to be smart with who you are targeting and consider where the real opportunities lie.

At the tail end of last year, we heard lots of industry commentators and bloggers saying that 2010 would be the year SMBs turn to digital, citing the move away from traditional below the line advertising and a move towards social networking, SEO and email marketing.

From the likes of the ever popular business card customising site Moo through to professional online meeting tools from Citrix Online, companies have the ability to look professional without a large upfront financial commitment. Everything is scalable, giving companies an opportunity to see what works for them before they commit.

I agree that, so far, this year is proving to be the year of the big brand SMB, and it’s all thanks to the Internet. Any business, regardless of size, can have the tools they need to better market themselves to the outside world.

Companies that get creative with these tools can find subtle ways to build brand equity and make themselves more relevant. For example, online intelligence service Cream, specialists in media and marketing innovations, curated the off-line book ’No Apples: 100 Other Top Innovators’.

Combining stunning imagery with in-depth interviews with key players at companies including Nike, Fiat, Spotify, and VW, the book was designed to celebrate and inspire. It features brands, agencies, consultancies, technologists, charities and funding bodies – all committed to embracing new challenges, with the book giving Cream the opportunity to showcase its industry knowledge as well as its own services in a much smarter and more meaningful way.

It’s a great example of how online activity can also drive marketing activity offline. The Web provides people with the flexibility they need to create off-line marketing collateral which enhances the reputation of their organisation.

Another great way to build loyalty with your customers is to meet them in real life; whether you stage a workshop for them, or a very simple and informal meet-up. You can scale up for the event using on demand services to ensure you have enough collateral for the event itself.

There is a saying that the company that gets its marketing right in a recession will emerge from the downturn as a winner in their sector for many years to come. The Internet has undoubtedly levelled the playing field for SMBs competing with big business. Whoever your customer is, and whatever your brand, the web allows you to bring creativity to life, target your micro-market effectively and reach out to new markets.

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