The future of digital marketing: Five trends to capitalize on the small business opportunity

The Jameson General Store was a historic treasure in the small North Carolina community. Jim Jameson, the owner, was part of the family heritage for over 100 years. The company had seen bad times, including the Great Depression. However, their hard work and customer loyalty had sustained the company’s success.

Even when a neighboring community got its Walmart’s Marketplace store, its customers stayed loyal. Jim didn’t believe in using online advertising and social media platforms. He believed that these activities were just a fad. However, their customers gradually began shopping online as the Jameson General Store’s product offering was limited.

In fact, most of the business that Jameson Store lost went not to local competitors but to online sellers. Jim insisted on resisting the temptation to shop online. However, when he saw his own 10-year-old grandson buying a hard-to-find local item online at significant expense, Jim had to reconsider his current marketing strategy in light of the changing US landscape.

Today’s customers can buy a variety of items online with minimal effort. Faced with this scenario, brick and mortar businesses are struggling to stay alive in the fierce internet competition. According to a 2017 survey of 1,164 US entrepreneurs conducted by Square and Mercury Analytics, the following observations were made:

  • 96% of Americans with Internet access have made an online purchase in their lifetime, 80% in the last month alone.
  • 51% of Americans prefer to shop online.
  • 67% of Millennials and 56% of Gen Xers prefer to shop online over in-store.
  • Millennials and Gen Xers spend almost 50% as much time online shopping each week (six hours) as their older peers (four hours).
  • 51% of seniors have shopped in marketplaces, 66% in large retailers, 30% in web shops or independent boutiques, and 44% in category-specific online shops.
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Marketers understand the importance of the Internet and how to use this power effectively. According to Socialmedia.com, 90% of marketers use social media for their business. Unfortunately, many small businesses fail to recognize this fact. Many companies have decided to bury their heads in the sand in the hope that this “internet thing” will go away. It hadn’t!

In fact, e-commerce is growing at more than 23% annually; However, 46% of American small businesses don’t have a website, according to a study by Square and Mercury Analytics. This article focuses on how small businesses can use digital marketing to achieve greater success and improve their market opportunities.

Digital marketing should be a tool that every serious small business should use. Digital marketing goes by many names like e-commerce marketing, online marketing, and internet marketing. Digital marketing can be defined as “the marketing of products or services through digital channels to reach consumers”. The main goal is to encourage brands to use the internet.

Digital marketing goes beyond internet marketing and includes channels that do not require the use of the internet. Some digital marketing channels include websites, social media platforms, email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), blogging, podcasts, and online advertising to name a few. Beyond technology gimmicks, companies should know their customers and their core competencies. Digital marketing is not a silver bullet. Digital marketing is a tool for savvy business people.

Catherine Juan, Donnie Greiling and Catherine Buerkle, authors of Internet Marketing: Start to Finish, suggest that effective digital marketing requires careful planning. They add, “The key to getting real traction from your internet marketing program is connecting marketing and sales data to metrics. Track what you’re doing, track the impact, and track the resulting sales.” Looking across the technology and internet innovation landscape, small businesses should think strategically about the following five digital marketing trends:

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Artificial intelligence – Some people devise elaborate doomsday scenarios of machines to control the world. However, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a way of life in marketing. AI can be defined as “the theory and development of computer systems capable of performing tasks that normally require human intelligence”. Voice activation technology like Amazon’s Echo is bringing AI into the public eye. By 2020, customers will complete 85% of their purchases without interaction with a person.

internet search – Shoppers are more knowledgeable than ever with access to the Internet. In fact, 81% of shoppers do online research before making a large purchase. Therefore, figuring out how to use search engine optimization and get your business to the top of searches is an invaluable step.

Mobile communication – Most Americans have grown accustomed to instant gratification and easy access to technology. Mobile and tablet e-commerce will reach $293 billion by 2018. Smartphones and tablets are part of this wave of innovation. Mobile advertising will account for 72% of US digital advertising spend by 2019. Marketers are realizing that mobile marketing is an untapped business tool.

social media – Social media platforms like Facebook allow shoppers to connect with each other virtually. 65% of business-to-business companies have acquired customers through LinkedIn ads. Marketers recognize this value.

internet content – Good content attracts customers. In fact, customers are more likely to buy from sellers with good, relevant videos/photos on their website. 52% of marketers worldwide cite video as the type of content with the best ROI.

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Faced with competitive tenants, small businesses need to embrace digital marketing. Some small businesses may be reluctant to explore digital marketing because they don’t trust and understand the internet. Philip Kotler and Kevin Keller, authors of marketing managementNote “Top companies love to use technology to improve the way they do business with their business-to-business customers.”

This article showed that today’s small businesses can use digital marketing to improve their market opportunities. Hopefully, acquiring this knowledge will help business owners stop burying their heads in the sand. The internet is here to stay. Pray that you will listen to this message.

© 2017 by DD Green

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