How to use Digital Marketing for your Small Business (An Agency Guide)
Diversify your business, diversify your income, and throw expectations out the window. That’s what we learnt last year. Businesses have been forced to adapt rapidly to the online world in the last 12 months in order to stay afloat. If your small business has been forced to ‘go digital’ recently and you still don’t quite know what you’re doing, rest assured that by laying the foundations of a solid digital marketing strategy, you’ll have the opportunity to compete with even the biggest players in your category. So, if you’re still running your business like it’s 2010, buckle up, we’ve got a bit to cover!
My goal is not so much to help you stop searchers and scrollers in their tracks, but rather it’s to help you consider an approach to digital marketing that will be most suited to your unique business. There’s a step before throwing yourself into creating a Tik Tok account and learning all the dances (that will come) and an important place to start any new marketing strategy is to identify who your audience is.
Have a detailed think about who it is that’s purchasing from you, or interested in what you have to offer. If ‘everyone’ comes to mind, then you’re probably not diving deep enough. Take a look at your sales data, your Google Analytics and social media insights reports if you need to and start drilling down into the age, gender, affinity and location of your buyers, to build out some loose market segments. I promise that there’s very little point in investing countless hours per week creating and managing a Tik Tok account for your brand, if your demographic is middle aged men!
Great, now that you’ve worked out who your key audiences are, let’s work out about what goals you’re trying to achieve for your business, and how they relate to the different areas of digital marketing. Detailed below are the fundamentals of marketing 101, so I’ll try not to go textbook-deep with them, but let me broadly refresh you on what the consumer journey looks like and how online platforms can contribute to your overall marketing strategy.
How will people know about your business?
Do you know how many virtual eyeballs are coming across your brand every week? On the internet, there’s two ways that we quantify awareness:
Reach - the number of unique people who are seeing your business
Impressions - the number of times that your business or digital content was seen.
We care about awareness because your reach and impressions figures should always be growing. If they’re not, it’s because you might have reached saturation point with your current strategies, and that could indicate that it’s time to try something new!
Your website is going to be the single most important part of your digital marketing strategy. Consider your website like your house, It’s probably the most important asset you own, it might imply a level of status or belonging for you, and you’d really like it to look nice and be filled with lots of useful other assets that contribute to improving the function of your life. Because of all this, your website is going to be the cornerstone of your digital marketing strategy.
You see, you’re probably running your social media account for the link-in-bio clicks, and sending emails from a database that was generated through your website or online store, and how do new people find you? You betcha, these days it’s most likely going to be a search that lands people on your front doorstep (hopefully). To not have a really fabulous and functional website puts you at risk of losing credibility among your target market and missing out on an untapped potential for business growth.
Got a Website Already?
Tick? Great. Digital platforms that will be important for building your brands awareness include…
- Search. This is going to be your #1 source of new business discovery, and even repeat business discovery too (most people won't remember your URL first time around). By ensuring that your website is hitting it’s SEO goals and your content is appearing in relevant search results (don’t worry, we have a blog on this!), you’ll be more likely to attract customers in their discovery or interest phases to visit your website. Stats you want to consider when assessing your search performance would include your keyword ranking (like Ahrefs rank tracker) and Google Analytics reports like your referral source report, bounce rate and new vs. repeat visitor stats.
- Social media. Grow your reach and impressions by: growing your followers, tagging brands and other influencers in your content where relevant, engage with your community (both category and geographically) and above all-else develop engaging content. Ensure that your Instagram account is set up as a business page so that you can see your insights reports and try and inject as much personality as possible into your content through writing, behind the scenes stories, or by showing the people behind your brand. People use social media to connect with others and by acting solely as a brand, you're missing out on the opportunity to authentically engage with your audience which will in-turn damage your reach.
- Email. Don’t forget to remind your database that you exist! Email doesn’t strictly fall into the beginning of how we would classify ‘awareness’ (someone’s gotta know about you before they’ll end up on your mailing list) however you can use email for driving consideration. For example, keeping your audience up to date on you and your business’ development, your new product or services and anything else that you think might make for relevant, engaging content! Email is similar to social in that you want to be consistent with your output aware of the insights you can draw from your content performance. If your open rates are low, try and increase them by switching up your subject lines, or the send day/time. If your unsubscribe rates are high, consider your frequency or the value of the content you're sharing.
Driving conversion for your small business.
So you've got your brand awareness strategies in place, and you're producing content to keep the wheels turning? Awesome work. Conversion is next, and it can be a rather broad topic. In fact, what a conversion is exactly is going to depend on the type of business you run. In the online space, a conversion relates to someone performing an action that is valuable to your business.
Types of Conversion
If we're getting technical (sure, why not) there are actually two types. They're categorised as soft and hard conversions. Soft conversions are defined as actions that lead toward an hard conversion and show positive intent.
I can't tell you how to define conversions for your specific business but
- if you’re a retail store, a hard conversion would likely be an online purchase
- if you’re an insurance provider, maybe it’s filling out an online form
- and if you’re a restaurant, a soft conversion might be someone downloading your menu, where as a hard conversion would likely be making a reservation.
The sum of all parts = conversion.
You know the old saying, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink? That’s kind of the case when you’re running ads or implementing strategies with the goal of conversion. Everything else around that conversion has to be working hard to give you the best possible chance of increasing your conversion rate.
There’s a bit of a fallacy floating around among business owners that the sole purpose of digital marketing is to drive conversions. Yes, 100%, digital marketing can be used to help boost conversions, but as with every marketing strategy, it’s best utilised when considered as part of a broader picture. You can run ads with the goal of selling product, and write emails to introduce people to your new stock lines, and shout on social media about your product … but songs get tired pretty quickly when they're played over and over again on the radio, and soon enough, people will switch off. They’ll unfollow, unsubscribe and maybe even complain to their friends about the fact that you're relentlessly hounding them, asking for them to purchase, with nothing valuable in return.
This is where carefully designing User Experience and implementing strategies for Conversion Rate Optimisation come into play. Take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of your customer and consider what it is that will make you feel ready to hit ‘buy’. You’re probably going to think about…
- Brand reputation. Are you offering the unspoken cues that your customer needs to trust the brand that they're about to purchase from?
Does your website have security badges? Do you offer PayPal and most importantly, does your website actually look like a credible online location? It also goes further than that too. Check out whether your reviews online are helping or hindering your customers purchase decision, and are you working with influencers or brand ambassadors who are aligned to your target demographic? There are things that you can do to actively boost your reputation score as well, like adding in testimonials, case studies and a reviews section to your website.
- Navigation. How easy is your website to navigate?
Are your most important webpages less than two clicks away from any starting point? Is your checkout process smooth and loading fast enough? And how about your social media channels. Are you incorporating swipe-ups on stories, and updating your bio-links to make them hyper specific? This is what people are looking for. Sadly we’re a lazy bunch these days with short attention spans, and we don’t want to go to too much effort to find what we’re after!
- Warm and fuzzies. How are you making your intended customer feel?
These are likely the little value adds and surprise and delight elements that contribute to reducing post-purchase dissonance. Are you remembering your customers name and birthday? Have you surprised them with free gift wrapping at checkout. Are you giving them a reason to purchase beyond the fact that they want to buy from you? I once got served an ad on social after purchasing from a brand, that simply said thanks. They featured an aspirational image of the product I had just purchased and there was no call to action, just a thank you. Now that was a surprise that ultimately will make me more likely to purchase from them in future, for sure.
Conversion is ultimately going to tie right back into that first step I spoke about - identifying your audience. Because the more you can tap into the brain of your customers and design an experience for them (rather than any ol’ Joe), the more success you will have in achieving conversions.
Retaining and re-engaging your customers.
So, you made a sale - woo! You must be feeling great, and so is your customer. The next, and very final (but still very important) step that we need to cover in the purchase journey is retention.
Retaining and re-engaging your customers is considered to be right up there with one of the biggest challenges for your small business. I understand why. It’s time consuming and you’re not getting instant feedback or gratification from all the effort that you're putting in to nurturing your customers. You're certainly not alone. 22% of business owners say that a lack of time and resources are a hinderance to their business. Unfortunately for you, we can't forget about retention because it's the piece of the journey that can turn your customers into repeat customers or even your biggest advocates. So please allow me to introduce you to your new best friend - automation.
Time = money:
As a small business owner, time is your most valuable resource, you’ll be glad to know that if you set your automation up properly from the start, and invest small periods of regular time to review and tweak your work, that the initial investment will most definitely pay for itself.
There are a couple of different tools for different retention strategies (and this is by no means exhaustive).
- Social media. You know that ad that I mentioned before that I got served after making a purchase? Technically that could sit in this category of the funnel as surprising and delighting your customer softly via social media automation, and it's a great retention strategy. Advertising, or social media more specifically are valuable for keeping your brand at front-of-mind and reducing post-purchase regret. This being said, you must ensure that you're investing time into community management to make sure that your followers feel valued. Nothing is going to put a sour taste in your customers mouth faster than a DM about their order that is left on ‘seen’.
- Email. Email is such a versatile channel and can be used to nurture your new customer leads and contacts by putting them on a welcome journey (thus improving your database retention as they come to expect emails from you), or you can automate engagement or re-engagement points along their lifecycle with you. Provide them with timely messages like re-purchase reminders, let them know when their favourite products are on sale, or offer them something for their birthday. I’m sure these are all techniques that you've seen, but they’re techniques that work, so there's no need to re-invent the wheel to start off.
So that's it, now you have raving fans and better understand that each digital platform can be used in a variety of ways depending on which part of your customers journey that you're looking to enhance.
Let’s get cracking!
Woah, not so fast! That’s awesome that you’re keen to start tinkering around and setting your business up online. My recommendation, is that if you’re going to start implementing these strategies, let’s break it down into stages. Why? Well, if you start doing 5 things at once, you might find it a little hard to a) finish each job at hand really well and more importantly b) work out which technique is having an effect.
Start slow, tweak and analyse your new methods to perfection, and always consider your digital marketing approach as an ecosystem, not a series of disconnected parts.
Hooray. You’re now an expert. Time to start signing up to every brand you know’s newsletter and abandoning carts left right and centre to see what you can learn from your competitors. Have fun!