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The Basics of Marketing in a Digital Age

Moving Beyond Yellow Pages and Simple Websites


If you’re an average small business owner, you’re no doubt struggling with how to respond to all the chatter and references to the new world of digital marketing. Just a few years ago, many companies reacted to the opportunities of the Internet by creating a simple website. Now, you’re reading and hearing about the need to be involved with social media. Many of you have added Facebook pages and even opened a Twitter account.


Studies show, however, that most small business operators find social media’s challenges intimidating and even overwhelming. Many experts consider this new marketing medium one of the greatest gifts available to small businesses. Yet, there’s no denying it also creates many issues concerning priorities and getting up to speed on effectively putting it to use.


One of those studies by Staples shows that as many as 85 percent of small business owners try to manage their social media accounts. However, that may explain why less than 20 percent of small businesses currently use social media to market their products and services. If you’re one of the 80 percent waiting to act, you shouldn’t feel alone.


However, it is increasingly vital that you find a way to tap into this and other digital marketing tools. One example of why this new medium is so important is that computers, laptops, and smartphones now make more than 80 percent of all first contacts with a business. This trend won’t stop growing as a primary way to deal with your customers and prospects.


New Methods, New Words: The Same Objective


Our goal is to help you, as a small business owner, get a better grip on what is happening in the marketing world. Before we start, however, let’s talk about the basics. You’re no doubt familiar with the concept of the sales funnel. The whole goal of any marketing and sales strategy is to help you find new prospects and make them happy customers. Your marketing plans and activities should also deal with your existing customers, keeping them involved and making more sales to them.


For all the media hype about the Internet, social marketing, and the like, the reality is that these are simply new and efficient tools to help you fill and manage that sales funnel. Make no mistake; these are exciting and powerful tools. There is, however, no need to be intimidated or overwhelmed by them.

Traditional Outbound Marketing: Leveraging the Changes

Paul Michael’s started selling home accessories at a large flea market over a decade ago. He collected snail mail addresses and sent regular flyers to a growing base of customers. He focused on email addresses when they started to be used by many of his customers. Eventually, Michael moved into a permanent location off a major Interstate and started using strategically placed billboards. As the business grew, he added locations and now has an active social media presence. However, he continues to find his billboards and mailings effective for finding new customers and getting existing ones in for sales and specials.


This thriving small business is an example of integrating both traditional outbound and evolving inbound marketing techniques. It underlines the issue that these are not either/or type decisions. Whether your focus is B2C or B2B, the opportunities are the same. The key is adapting your approach and adding the correct elements where they can make either method more effective. For instance, adding a website address and a hashtag to a billboard is using both strategies to get more bang for the marketing buck.


The Baby with the Bath Water


As we discussed earlier, traditional outbound marketing does have some real limitations. You’re throwing a dart at a board when you pay for advertising based on a “cost per impression” basis. If 50,000 cars drive by your billboard daily, that sounds impressive and costs a penny. Yet, if only a handful of those drivers are potential customers, it can be expensive on a per-prospect basis.


For decades, however, this form of marketing has worked. This includes time-proven marketing tools such as:


  • Networking
  • Promotional Products
  • Direct Mail
  • Print Catalogs

This means it’s essential not to simply consider outbound marketing outdated and drop it across the board. You certainly want to reevaluate your spending on directory listings and other advertising. In most cases, your most creative approach is to make your outbound more efficient by leveraging it with inbound techniques.


One example of this approach is Insource Electronics. This company has been around for two generations and has relied on a bulky printed catalog for years. While it still produces the catalog in much smaller quantities, it provides copies in digital form on its website and emails targeted pages to specific customers.


These longtime customers can still get the printed copy if they desire or access it on the website. Management and salespeople also carry a nifty little plastic business card with a built-in flash drive. They hand these out at trade shows and other networking events, each much cheaper than a printed catalog. The drives contain a copy of the catalog and connect to LinkedIn, their website, and to Facebook.


The critical tip is to be creative. Evaluate your proven outbound marketing techniques and add elements of new digital marketing methods to make them more cost-effective and successful.

Internet Marketing Terminology for Small Business Owners

Small business owners don’t care about hype and theory; they want results. That’s the motivation behind Riverside Foods’ email marketing. A suburban Chicago neighborhood grocery store, this small business regularly lets its thousands of loyal customers know about specials, sales, and new products and provides regular tips. Some of its vendors help cover the costs involved. The fancy name for this is integrating traditional outbound and innovative inbound marketing strategies.

People deeply immersed in Internet marketing and social media are minting new words and different terms and adding definitions almost as fast as they’re adding new capabilities. However, you simply need to understand some basics to use these tools.

small business internet marketing guide

There’s no need (and little chance) to become an Internet expert, but there are a few things you need to be aware of in approaching the issue of digital marketing. Here are three concepts for starters:

  • Inbound marketing. This comprehensive term now refers to all activities you take to have a customer or prospect contact you through a website, social media platform (reviews, tweets, feedback, etc.), or other methods, such as email. To use the current term, this has the customer initiating a conversation with you and or your other customers.
  • Outbound marketing. This term refers to traditional marketing methods such as direct mail, advertising, email blasts, and other “old school” approaches. Some digital marketers disdainfully refer to these, looking exclusively to digital as the way to go. However, there is a growing focus on digital outbound efforts and techniques.
  • Conversation. As used above, this is the new buzzword for marketers. The idea is that instead of intruding on a prospect with a TV ad and a one-way message, you and the customer/prospect begin a running dialogue. This is a more powerful and effective way to get and keep customers. Note, however, how this points out the need to actively respond to input from your marketplace.

Here are two tips:

  1. Get some help. We all turn to our printers, accountants, and lawyers for help in technical areas. The fact is that digital marketing is both simple and complex. To make the most of things like email and social media, you need help if you’ve been out of school for over five or six years. As the study above showed, the only honest answer for many is to hire a younger person or digital agency to help with the effort. Millennials are a great source of talent. You may never want to tweet, but you don’t want to lose the power of that tool for your business.
  2. Use a search engine. Once we give you some insights, tips, and hints in the following few articles, enter some of the terms you read as search terms. You’ll find plenty of information, from very simple to technical. Put your industry, product, or service with the search term for even more helpful information. For example, if you’re manufacturing widgets and want to know more about responsive emails, type in “responsive email for widget companies.”

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