Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Small Business Marketing: Unmined Data is Content, Customer Service Gold

I've worked with enough small businesses to make a generalization: most of them feel a little left out when we marketing types talk about mining the data and analytics and stuff. They're like, "yeah but that's for Pepsi-sized companies."

Not really.  The cool thing about data is that it doesn't have to be big to be helpful.

Marketing is for all businessesSearch Engine Land neatly outlined 5 under-utilized marketing strategies in an article late last year. The three I found most useful for one small business I was working with at the time:
  1. Use your "unmined" data and 
  2. Spend a few minutes with Google+ 
  3. Check on your online reviews
The primary challenge of marketing in a very small business is just having time to think about marketing.  Small companies or organizations - let's say those with 20 or fewer employees - are often years from even writing job descriptions for their workers, let alone having a marketing position.


A little creativity (and a serious desire to grow, either size- or profit-wise) can give you major marketing results. Here's what that might look like, and what it might mean, for your small business marketing efforts.

Unmined Data? We Don't Even Look at Our Own Website, For God's Sake

According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, 89.6% of businesses in the US have 20 or fewer employees. (For entrepreneurs and solopreneurs the figure is nearly 98%.) (Wow.) (Wow!)

So how many have a marketing staff? One employee? How 'bout a marketing budget? The right answer is not many. And, not enough. But this is reality, folks - running a business ain't easy. Hiring a marketing person, or managing marketing plans yourself, often takes a back seat to the reality of running a business. 

On the other hand, marketing is vital to your small business if you want it to survive, grow, and thrive.

The good news: there's a middle ground.

Don't fear your website analytics! 
Use what you know about your customers and 

Know Thy Customer, Know Thy Business, Know Thy Marketing Consultant

There are flexible marketing firms that will offer expertise on an hour-by-hour basis, and many consultants and small boutique firms are happy to help on a project basis.

When your small business is hiring marketing help, the first thing you need to know is what you can do in house and what you actually WILL DO in house. Sure, you can assign your customer service/do-everything frontline employees to update your social media channels, but can they really manage that and provide excellent customer service?

(Hint: the answer is usually "no." If you think the answer is "yes," then give your staffers a fighting chance by streamlining your operations and providing them with a checklist of posts to make each week and each month, which will serve as an editorial calendar.)

The second thing to consider as a small business looking for marketing help is, do you have the right marketing person or firm? Your marketing consultant or firm doesn't necessarily need to know everything about your industry, but they'll certainly need to understand how your business operates. There's no sense wasting your money on a firm that wants to get you into Groupons if your customers are other businesses. Or don't use smart phones.

How much should your small business spend on marketing, anyway? 

...And Know Thy Social Media Channels

The Search Engine Land article I referenced above recommended spending some time on your Google products page(s) and mining online reviews for marketing data and content.

The small company I worked with last winter got little action from Google+, however, it got a healthy number of calls and searches for directions from the sleeping giant of social media. So spending a little time with Google+ was worthwhile.

Also, while it had never solicited customer reviews, there were several nice, positive reviews out there in internet land. Sifting through them, I was able to "mine" some "data" and use it to revise some web and create some new posts on our existing channels.

So, take that, Big Data!

Last Word on Customer Data

Even if your marketing budget consists entirely of free media (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn), you can make the time investment really pay off. (Because there's free, as in no-money-required, and then there's the real cost, which is time-spent-on-one-thing-is-opportunity-lost-elsewhere.)

Mining your customer data can be as simple as jotting down notes at the end of the day or end of a shift about key phrases (especially objections and buying rationale) that you hear from your customers. It can also include

  • Perusing industry blogs and Q&A forums for current trends and pain points
  • Watching the competition with an eye to what they're doing and not doing (unmet needs = service opportunity)
  • Calling or emailing a handful of customers each week, just to keep in touch. 
Use the wisdom collected in those exercises to create your social media posts, and new product offerings. You might be surprised how quickly you see an improvement in your response rates (and sales!) when you start incorporating your customers' voices in your marketing efforts. 

Then, at your next small business event, you can drop into conversation about how you've increased engagement by incorporating the VOC. Go ahead. Brag a little. You've earned it. 

Then take the next step:
Get more traction with online reviews and other under-utilized social media channels

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