Small and Midsized Businesses Must Capitalize on the Democratization of Digital

Opinion: Social platforms drive SMBs to bigger things

Small businesses are more discoverable than ever before shapecharge/iStock

While there’s a lot of concern about an increasing digital divide between the haves and the have-nots, there’s hope for small business in automation. The tools to create, buy and test ads have gotten easier to use and can now be accessed directly by marketers regardless of company size, budget or level of social media and digital marketing sophistication.

The democratization of digital is upon us. With automated tools, small businesses can more directly drive online and offline results by targeting the people who will care about their products and services. And SMBs are up to the task of digital transformation: 43 percent say improving customer experience and retention is their top strategy to improve revenue growth.

Marketing tools, such as video advertising and audience targeting, can help smaller companies level the playing field, especially on social platforms with people sharing content all of the time. Here’s how:

Video’s ascent

Video once required expensive tools, specific skills and a lot of time to produce. It was thus reserved for larger enterprises. That’s no longer the case, as technology has made video marketing more accessible, and users are seeking out content that meets their needs. What’s more, 76 percent of SMBs that used video marketing said it directly impacted their business.

SMBs using video effectively include Ole Smoky Moonshine, a corn whiskey distillery from Tennessee, which employed video ads to drive a 22 percent increase in brand awareness. And Johnny’s Pizzeria, a one-location pizza business in Brooklyn, N.Y., has increased sales 30 percent by regularly posting videos about its award-winning pies to social media.

There are also business-to-consumer startups that have shown how powerful video advertising can be. The clearest example might be Dollar Shave Club, which used comedic-minded clips that inspired huge sales and, ultimately, drove Unilever to buy the startup for $1 billion. Other winning instances include Squatty Potty and Orabrush. Each combined organic buzz with social ads to drive home epic marketing wins.

More startups—business-to-business and B2C—need to focus on social video. Be creative, be smart and be human, and you’ll win over new customers, which, according to our internal research, is SMBs’ No. 1 priority.

Targeting and measurement

Marketing pioneer John Wanamaker famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” Well, now we do.

Data-based advertising allows companies to find customers based on their location, shown interests and purchase history. It lets marketers large and small figure out which dollars are working the hardest for them, allowing them to optimize for the most effective cross-platform marketing mix.

The key to social marketing success is experimentation, namely A/B testing. Find out what messages work, what formats work and what platforms work, and earn your company a sales lift.

For instance, Sunshine Limo, a Daytona Beach, Fla.-based limousine service, started testing different kinds of digital ad campaigns and discovered that getting people to pick up the phone was its best call-to-action. Those ads got a 25 percent higher conversion rate than other campaigns.

This budget optimization is particularly beneficial for cash-constrained SMBs, as reallocating money from the less-successful elements to better-performing ones enables them to achieve the same kind of success as their competitors with deeper pockets.

The tools are here

The democratization of digital can help little guys compete with larger players. SMBs and startups don’t need an ad agency or a data scientist to grow their companies.

Classic online marketing tactics like A/B testing still work, as Sunshine Limo shows with its case study. Right now, it really comes down to marketers simply taking the time to utilize the free tools at their disposal to increase sales.

If you need more education, there’s a simple solution. Digital platforms are rolling out accreditation programs to help SMBs—at no cost—get the most out of their budgets.

In sum, thanks to automated digital ad tools, small businesses are more discoverable than ever before. SMBs should utilize the tools right in front of them to measure results accurately and spend budget more wisely.

Heidi Andersen is vice president of global sales at professional network LinkedIn.