Why is digital marketing important for small businesses?

Technological advancements mean consumers can find whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they may be. As such, having an online presence has become somewhat of a prerequisite for business growth.

Why? In short, digital marketing helps increase brand awareness, leads and sales.

For the long answer, or if you’ve ever wondered how exactly digital marketing can help your business grow, keep reading – you’ve come to the right place.

A lesson on changing consumer behaviour

Picture this: it’s the year 1980 and you’re selling a new cleaning detergent. Thinking about the customer journey, you might raise awareness with a TV ad. Then, you might send out a pamphlet by mail. Finally, you’d offer a discount through a local magazine.

And then you’d sit back and hope it worked. But you could never really be sure. How many people that saw your ad would read your pamphlet? And how many would go on to buy your product?

What’s known as ‘traditional marketing’ was largely an expensive guessing game, out of reach for many small businesses that lacked the funds for widespread advertising.

Today, that journey looks very different. Instead of reaching a mass audience, businesses are focusing on online interactions with smaller, pre-defined markets. As such, today’s target audience is likely to find you via a Google Ad, learn about your product on a blog, sign up to your newsletter, message you on Twitter and read online reviews before purchasing.

Digital marketing is all about using online tools to promote and sell your products or services. And being able to target your audience through analytical data means it’s much more cost-effective.

Essentially, digital marketing is all about reaching potential customers in the right place, at the right time and with the right content.

What can you learn from your consumers?

But as a small business owner, how do you know what the right place, time and content are? The beauty of digital marketing is its ability to gather data on what your audience is doing online.

With each interaction, a consumer leaves valuable clues about the part of the journey they’re in – i.e. the time. Based on this information, you can choose the appropriate digital channels to target them in the right place.

Continuing with the above example of cleaning detergent, let’s start with the consumer and work backwards.

Say someone searches for ‘how to remove a wine stain’ on Google and finds your website in a search result. They then read an article you published on that precise topic, and use the DIY tips you mentioned. They don’t purchase any products.

The consumer is at what’s known as the beginning of their customer journey. They are looking to educate themselves, and aren’t ready to make a purchase yet. But if you look at your website analytics, you’ve now got information about their demographics, their interests and the device they’re using.

Now let’s say a visitor searches for ‘buy wine stain remover’ and finds you after clicking a Google ad. Judging by the query, they’re looking to make a purchase and further into the journey.

Depending on the ad they clicked on, you’ll know more about their requirements. Do they need a stain remover for the carpet or sofa? What price range are they searching for?

If they go on to subscribe to your newsletter, they’re not ready to purchase just yet but engaged enough to want to know more about your products.

Let’s say they receive some of your emails and end up buying a product. Depending on how they purchased, you now know more about their available budget. Did they use an offer or discount code? Did they buy a single product or in bulk?

Finally, if they make future purchases, you’ll learn more about their ongoing needs and consequential situation. Perhaps they have a busy home where they entertain a lot, or maybe they work at a wine bar.

Every step of the journey reveals important information about potential customers that help you understand their needs.

How digital marketing helps small businesses

Let’s look at how you can use that information to react accordingly. Depending on where the consumer is in the journey, you can choose different digital channels to achieve one of the following goals: brand awareness, lead generation or increased sales.

How to raise brand awareness

Let’s say your consumer is at the start of their journey and possibly doesn’t know they’ll need your product yet. At this point, you want to make them aware of you – best done through interruption marketing.

This means interfering with what a user was doing by showing them an ad. While it won’t directly lead to sales, interruption marketing is extremely successful at driving brand awareness.

One example is digital display advertising, loosely defined as graphic or video advertising across websites, social media platforms and apps. The majority of display advertising is through Google’s Display Network, which reaches 90% of internet users worldwide. That’s quite a lot of consumers you can learn more about.

To put it into perspective, Schmidt’s Naturals, a small business that started out creating organic products in their kitchen, saw a 48% increase in brand awareness through display advertising on YouTube. The ads help make consumers and consequently supermarket chains aware of them, and their products are now available in stores worldwide.

How to generate leads

Now let’s say a consumer has read your blog articles, and moved to the middle of the customer journey, telling you more about their demographics and requirements. Because they’re showing interest, the best way to now reach them is through email and social media marketing.

Besides sales, email marketing subscriptions are a great indicator you’re doing your job well. A consumer is giving you consent to send them more information, making them a lead you can nurture until they become a customer.

And it works: a HubSpot study found that 59% of respondents said marketing emails influenced their purchasing decisions. And you’ll see the most success if you segment your subscribers by product or service: segmenting campaigns can increase revenue up to 760%.

Similarly, if someone follows you on social media, you’ve got a ‘foot in the door’ to wow them with great content. This is an opportunity to let your brand authenticity shine, share your values and tell your story.

Social media is also a great tool to answer middle-of-journey questions. Twitter found that 60% of consumers expect brands to respond within an hour, and that ‘users reported feeling more positively toward the brand after receiving a response.’

How to increase sales

If your consumer is regularly interacting with your business, it’s safe to assume they’re moving towards the end of the customer journey. From their previous interactions, you’ve discovered how urgently they need your product.

You’re now able to engage in behavioural marketing, defined as responding to your consumer’s behaviours by targeting them with relevant content to close the deal. According to Wordstream conversions increase the more users see remarketing ads.

One (relatively quick) way to go about it is to utilise Google’s remarketing tool. For example, if you notice a lot of people abandoning their cart, you can show them an ad for the product they forgot. Retargeting cart abandoners can increase conversion rates up to 26%.

The trouble with remarketing ads is that your consumer will only see them for a limited time. If you want to drive long-term value, focus on content marketing instead.

By analysing your website content, you’ll learn which topics are most popular with your audience. Use keyword research to understand what your audience is searching for, and optimise your content for search engines (SEO) to show up in those searches. This is how you discover the right content. And by adding calls to action throughout, you’ll gently nudge your audience to make a purchase.

While both content marketing and SEO (they work hand-in-hand) take longer to see results, building trust over time means consumers listen to what you have to say. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 61% of online consumers have made a purchase based on recommendations from a blog.

Advice for small business owners: test, test, test

You’ll come across situations where a digital marketing campaign won’t work. You might want to write that channel off, convinced it’s not the right one for you. But don’t.

Digital marketing is all about testing. That channel may very well work with a different audience. Or maybe the image you used didn’t stand out. Or you need clearer wording.  

If you don’t test variations of your campaign, you’ll never know why it didn’t work. Our advice is to test everything: from imagery, to wording, type of content and email subject lines.

And even if a campaign is successful, don’t leave it at that. Try to understand why it’s successful. Test variations of it to see if you can make it even better.

Digital marketing never stands still, so put yourself in your competitors’ shoes and think of ways to improve your online marketing efforts.

3 steps to starting your first digital marketing campaign

  • Know your target audience – in order to target consumers every step of the way, you need to understand your audience’s interests, needs and online behaviour. The best way to do this is to create a persona of potential customers.
  • Decide on metrics – you’ll only know if your campaign was successful if you choose the right metrics and targets in advance. Here are the best metrics to use for each channel.
  • Understand reporting – before getting started, ensure you know how to measure your campaign’s results. If you’re using Google Analytics, Google offers free online courses.

Why digital marketing is important for small businesses

If your business objective is to grow, having a digital marketing strategy is crucial. As Ian Schafer, founder of ad agency Deep Focus, stated “innovation needs to be part of your culture. Consumers are transforming faster than we are, and if we don’t catch up, we’re in trouble.”

You’ve now got a good understanding of consumer behaviour, what you can learn from audience interactions and how to generate brand awareness, leads and sales.