Getting Noticed: Small and Medium-Sized Businesses Need A Cross Media Strategy

Barb Pellow

Monday, August 8th, 2011

How do you get your product noticed in a sea of look-alike competitors? This is one of the key challenges facing small businesses today. According to the Small Business Administration, there are over 27 million small businesses currently operating in the United States[1], and these organizations account for between 60% and 80% of new U.S. jobs. Small businesses are indeed extremely important to this country and its economy, and they include a wide variety of establishments like restaurants, salons, real estate firms, manufacturers, tech start-ups, and credit unions.

To get noticed and generate revenue, small businesses must do exactly what the big enterprise corporations do—market and advertise their products and services. While big companies spend millions of dollars annually to maintain brand awareness and add to their bottom lines, small businesses don’t have the luxury of large marketing budgets. Nevertheless, these businesses still want to have a strong, high-quality brand and marketing that reflects those principles. To develop a greater understanding of this topic, InfoTrends conducted a study of marketing and business communication trends among 2,000+ small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) at the end of 2009.

In the document entitled Capturing the SMB Communications Services Opportunity, InfoTrends stated that the marketing and advertising expenditures of SMBs averaged around $42,000 during 2009. Obviously, this average doesn’t tell the whole story; spending varies based on the size and type of the business. For instance, non-employer businesses (e.g., companies with only one employee) spent an average of $784 on marketing and advertising in 2009. Meanwhile, businesses with 20-99 employees spent almost $67,000 that year while businesses with 250-499 employees spent over $240,000. Since this study was conducted during the recession, it is safe to assume that these averages have risen over the past year and a half. Nevertheless, most SMBs are working with hundreds or thousands of dollars in their annual marketing budgets rather than millions. How can these organizations market and advertise their products effectively when their time and resources are limited?

The Internet will continue to play a major role in equipping SMBs with the technology and reach to engage existing customers and capture new ones. If your business is interested in obtaining a new, professional-quality logo, there are dozens of Web services that can connect you with a graphic designer who will create a competitive brand emblem for a nominal fee. Do you need to manage your contact list to start sending e-mail newsletters with coupons and other offers to your clients? E-mail marketing service providers that will keep your business engaged are available for you at a low cost. Do you need some business cards and letterhead to go along with your newly-created logo? Online printing services can be found far and wide to help you out.

It’s clear that SMBs have more tools and technologies than ever before to help them market and advertise. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the myriad of search engines are other digital components to the SMB marketing toolkit. These channels often provide self-service tools to create an online presence (e.g., a Facebook page or Twitter account), but they can also be used to create targeted, localized ads to help raise awareness and bring in business.

Barrages of new outlets have become available over the past few years, and SMBs can leverage them for marketing and advertising. Businesses have rushed to these channels, often getting involved without a clear strategy or a way to measure effectiveness. A recent study on SMB marketing tactics by Bredin Business Information found that while small businesses are flocking to a wide variety of new digital marketing outlets to spread their messages, these efforts are facing mixed results. The study found that general Website and e-mail marketing were rated as the most effective marketing tactics for finding new customers, which is consistent with results from similar past studies. Social networks, meanwhile, ranked lower in effectiveness. This is likely due to the “newness” of social networking, along with a lack of focus, strategy, and measurement on the part of small businesses to actually gauge true effectiveness.

What does all of this mean? Small businesses need to act a bit more like big businesses by building cohesive cross-media strategies and consistently communicating the same message across all channels. Small businesses must measure and understand the marketing tools that have increased customer loyalty and retention while also acquiring new customers. It’s great to experiment with new mediums and technologies, but a clear strategy must eventually be defined to achieve more effective results. It should also be remembered that because many of the available tools are self-service, they are inherently time-consuming for small businesses. Unlike their larger counterparts, SMBs typically won’t have an agency to help them accomplish their goals. Resources are an ever-present concern, and SMBs must weigh the time that they are investing in marketing against the results they are delivering. By staying focused and investing their time wisely, SMBs can use these new technologies and services to gain an edge on the competition and get noticed!

[1] Small businesses are defined as firms with fewer than 500 employees.

About Barb Pellow

Barbara Pellow helps companies develop multi-media strategies that ride the information wave. She has assisted companies in areas such as creating strategies to launch new products, building strategic marketing plans, and educating their sales force on how to deliver an effective value proposition. Pellow brings the knowledge and skills to help companies expand and grow their business opportunities.