Marketing has changed ….

Marketing used be dominated by traditional, communications whereby large companies broadcasted their messages – one way – to the masses through newspapers, radio and TV and hoped that the messages would strike a note and that X% of the market would buy. This marketing method was expensive and inefficient and, for most small businesses, it was beyond their limited budgets. It favoured companies who had the resources to consistently invest in marketing. SMEs didn’t have the tools to compete or market themselves on a national stage. Nowadays, audiences in Ireland spend more time online than watching TV. The digital revolution is here. It means that audiences neither have the time nor the patience for old-fashioned ‘interruption’ type advertising. It also represents an unprecedented marketing opportunity for SMEs worldwide. For the first time ever, they have a loud-speaker, access to the market that doesn’t cost the earth.

New marketing

The internet and it’s accompanying search capabilities have brought with it inbound or content marketing which has utterly changed how SMEs market themselves. So instead of TV or print advertising ‘interrupting’ potential customers when they are relaxing or not in the market for your product or service, marketing is now about earning the attention of prospects by engaging them through creation of content that specifically speaks to them about the problems they are having etc. Because content is searchable it catches them exactly when are actively seeking solutions for problems or needs, ie when they are typing their need into Google’s or a Social Media search box. What could be more efficient and targeted than that? This new form of marketing is inbound or permission-based and is done mainly by being engaging (talking about what interests your targets) and making yourself easily found by having a strong online presence, engaging content, decent SEO etc. Another example of permission marketing is when you sign up to a newsletter, become fan of a business on Facebook, or subscribe to a blog. Each time you are giving a business or brand permission to communicate with you and establish a relationship with you. As with people, businesses need to nurture this relationship by building trust and engagement over time. The overly selly-selly or purely self-promotion approach doesn’t work well here. Why? Because people generally don’t like being pitched to, sold to … it switches them off. Think of cold callers, door to door sellers, leaflets you dump. These days people have become experts at screening quickly to avoid what doesn’t interest them.

Social media explained

Although Social Media appears to be a relevant touchpoint for SMEs, it may not be the ‘silver bullet’ some gurus claim it to be. As a business owner myself I have used Social Media with success to promote my business but I hear far too many business owners flaunt it as the low cost, ‘go to’ communications solution. The value of Social Media is in how it connects a business directly to their current and potential customers. Primarily Social Media is used to generate awareness and buzz about products or services a business offers and it can drive significant traffic to its website.

Social media content can be in the form of video, audio, images, links or just plain text that is published and shared in a social or business environment with a view to getting to your customers.

Social Media is one OF MANY online marketing tools that are available to SMEs, but because of the popularity of Facebook, Twitter and Linked in it receives a disproportionate amount of attention from business owners I meet. To put some numbers on that usage in Ireland;

  • 1 in 2 Irish have a Facebook account.
  • I in 5 have Twitter account •
  • Nearly 1 in 5 are on LinkedIn

I say it’s one of many online marketing tools because a lot of small business owners aren’t aware of the trade-offs or what they could focus on instead. Having a decent website – one that puts across what you do in an engaging way – can get overlooked in favour of Social Media because of cost and effort. I also see SEO & Search – which remains the single best way drive traffic to a website (leading to enquiries/sales etc) getting less focus than Social Media, again because it takes some understanding and patience to master. Same for email marketing whose conversion effectiveness has quadrupled in it’s in recent times. It can take a little planning to do. Don’t get me wrong Social Media Marketing can have a place for your business. But it needs to be part of a bigger plan.

It has an edge over other forms of marketing because of this basic premise; people read, share and generally engage with type of content that is surfaced through friends and people they know and trust.

However, before you jump into using Social Media to market your SME it is very important to have your thinking straight first.

Some questions to answer before getting started with Social Media

1) Why are you using Social Media? Be honest. Followers and ‘likes’ sound good but don’t pay the bills, if there’s no strategy around them. Are you doing Social Media because everyone is talking about it and the barriers to entry seem low cost?

2) Sometimes businesses aren’t clear about the basics; who they are primarily selling to and how they are different from their competitors. This thinking is far more important to get right. If you are fuzzy whether you are primarily targeting mums or businesses, or whether you are trying to get more repeat customers or more new customers, yet post X times a day to drive ‘vanity’ likes from people who will never become customers then something is wrong.

3) Establish your business objective. Is it;

• Customer service?

• Selling on line and getting customer to pay online?

• Encouraging off line sales?

• Creating sales leads via email/phone?

• Building trust/developing relationships

• Rewarding loyal customers?

• Promotional offers communicated digitally

• Networking – partnerships created through people/companies you meet through social media

• Entertaining past customers? (Can you do better than this?)

• Getting more subscribers to your blog, followers on Twitter or fans on Facebook

• PR through your presence on Social Media which in turn may lead to sales

• Recommendations you received that turned into business

4) What content do you plan to share? Have you a plan? Do you really know what interests your market? Have you done enough research or ‘listening’ to competitors and trends on the market? The power of Social Media is that it’s personable, 2-way, engaging communication. If done right it can really hook in your prospects.

5) Have you found your Social Media voice? What’s your tone like? Are you doing updates yourself? Use the tone of voice that is appropriate to your brand and your customer. Friendly, relaxed, irreverent, professional.

6) Decide how much time you are going to spend on this activity and stick to it. Decide on frequency of posting. Social Media needs to be responsive and spontaneous but you can alleviate the daily pressure through content planning. Use a content calendar to plan content in advance.

There’s been so much discussion on the pros and cons of Social Media. For me it’s success depends on 5 basic things

1) The product you are selling. Is it a consumer product or service? Business or technical product? Is it local service? Hubspot Inbound Report 2012 tells us that , in the main, Facebook works better in converts prospects better on business to consumer sales and Linked in business to business. If your product is very visual, Facebook works well in showcasing it in an engaging way. Remember, it’s much easier to advertise a free family day or educational talk on Social Media, or cultural, late night music in a local café to a local crowd than sell an expensive, technical, difficult to understand product that requires a different mode of communication.

2) The market enthusiasm for the subject. Is it a product with an enthused market who seek out updates, who LOVE to share, comment and interact on Social Media? For example certain Mums on certain baby subjects, particular music fans, active locals, digital marketing enthusiasts? Does the market really like (not just kind of like) to keep abreast of the very latest on a subject?

3) The action you expect. Are you looking to generate awareness or sell? Are you expecting people to turn up to a free event or to buy a product?

4) The readiness of the customer to you and your messages. Are they at ‘awareness’ stage or ‘like’ or ‘actively interested’? You need to court them through this trust process. Is Social Media supplementing other marketing you are doing? Have you also a great website? A planned email marketing campaign? Interesting blogs to share? Social Media on its own has a difficult job to do on someone who is completely unaware of your business, product or brand.

5) Special interest sharing? Are you aiming for your content to be shared by someone genuinely interested in it or are you relying on re-tweets from the Twitteratti or serial ‘like and share’ Facebook competition enterers? It’s OK to rely on friends and family at the beginning but this network will soon run dry. Try to find your true fans.

Time is Money

To conclude, although low cost on the face of it, Social Media costs time and for small business owners and it can be very expensive in terms of the time you need to allocate to. This time could be used making business leads elsewhere. Social Media can be shiny, interesting and distracting and it can lead you down the wrong path. But it also could be the perfect connection you need to make with your market. All I recommend is that you ask yourself some of the questions I’ve highlighted.