Tuesday, October 04, 2011
I think the core challenges that small businesses face today are the same challenges that they’ve faced in the past; too much to do, too little time in which to do it, and not enough expertise to drive it all, because they can’t be experts in everything, and have too much on their plates. I see this particularly in the areas of marketing, and it is even worse because marketing is one of those fields where anyone who’s read a book or taken a course thinks they really get it, even though in many cases they really don’t.
Social media has impacted the small business owner by opening a new channel through which they can connect with their audience. It’s not just another channel, either, because it is qualitatively different from what was previously available, both in terms of the cost structures (it’s a lot cheaper, and is often free), and in terms of the bi-directionality (prospects and customers can talk to you and about you as easily as you can talk to them – more easily, in fact).
That really depends on the client, and you’ve actually hit on one of the biggest mistakes that I see most small businesses making, which is assuming that there is one “best” way to do online marketing, whether that be SEO, or PPC, or Twitter, or Facebook, or whatever. The truth is that the only way tactics will work for you (unless you just happen to get lucky) is by understanding who your customer is, where they hang out, and what drives their behavior. In other words, even if you can get very cheap clicks on a certain medium, it doesn’t mean anything if those clicks aren’t the people you’re trying to reach, or they’re not in the right head-space to receive your message.
There are two parts to this; the first is having something that people want to talk about – that includes just having a great offering, of course, but also making it “buzz-worthy”. There are things that people like to tell their friends, and things that they don’t. You need to be great at what you do, but you also need to find some remarkable way to shine through the clutter (like BlendTec’s Will It Blend YouTube videos). Then the next step is to make it easy for people to tell their friends about you – for example, with easily embedded buttons that let people share with a single click.
Well, first of all, don’t try to beat big companies at their own game; if David tries to beat Goliath by fighting like Goliath, then David gets his butt kicked. Instead, focus on what value you can bring to the table that your big competitors can’t – for example, since you’re smaller and more agile, you can probably offer more personalized service to your customers, or service a market segment that desperately needs your offering, but is too small for the big competitor to justify investing the resources. Don’t focus on the competitor, but rather on what can make your relationship with your customer as special as possible.
What makes online marketing effective is the same thing that makes offline marketing effective – understand your audience as well as you possibly can, because that’s the information that you need in order to differentiate yourself and really stand out in their minds. The “online” part of online marketing is mostly tactical, and not that complicated or important. Focus on knowing your customer, and serving them as well as you possibly can – the rest can almost take care of itself.