It’s 20 years since I started my marketing business and I think like most milestones, it provides an opportunity for reflection. I’ve decided to reflect on the past 20 years of marketing for small business. What has changed, what’s stayed the same and what are the current new challenges for business in doing marketing. I will be writing a series of blog posts to reflect some of these thoughts.

I have been working in marketing for close to 30 years with the majority of those years helping small businesses and not for profit organisations with their marketing strategy, tactics and implementation. Boy has marketing changed dramatically for small business.

I started working in marketing pre-Internet and it was a different world. Marketing principles haven’t changed but some of the implementation methods are almost unrecognisable. Many of the big changes in business and society involve technology and marketing is no exception.

Technology has enabled three major changes in marketing and these have impacted small businesses and not for profit organisations the most.

  1. A Level planning field has been created
  2. Greater access to information
  3. New opportunities through new media

Let’s take a look at each one and its impact on small business marketing.

Level planning field

Cloud based computing has enabled small businesses to access marketing tools that were previously out of reach because they were cost prohibitive.  Now thanks to cloud computing and the one-to-many strategy of software developers, there is access to powerful marketing automation and direct marketing tools for a small monthly fee. Email marketing programs like mailchimp and customer relationship management (CRM) programs like Capsule, Infusionsoft and others have made it possible for small businesses to effectively directly market to customers through personalised emails.  It requires less people power therefore less staff, can be outsourced and is within most small business budgets.

This technology was previously available only to larger companies in the past. So if you like small businesses now get to direct market like the Pros. Through the internet this can be done globally increasing the amount of customers businesses have access to. Because more people have access to this means that more people are doing it. So there is an abundance of marketing emails arriving in email IN boxes. The new challenge is to stand out and ensure that people stay subscribed to your mailing list.

Internet technology has created so many opportunities for small business.

  1. The ability to have international transactions. I mean what did we do before Paypal? Well I do know and it was called an international bank transfer which was a pain in the butt, expensive and took time. Now any one can sell anywhere. Exporting was hugely expensive and out of the league of many small businesses. Not anymore.
  2. Websites have level out the playing field in promotion. It’s within the range of all businesses and a small business can be found just as easily as a larger business.  20 years ago the main promotion available for small businesses was advertising in the newspaper or yellow pages, having a brochure, the occasional flier in a letterbox and some signage if you had a ‘bricks and mortar’ business. A website is the number one form of promotion required and is loads cheaper than what the Yellow Pages used to cost.

Greater Access to Information

With information comes power and now through technology businesses can capture and keep loads of information about our customers’ preferences and buying patterns. We have results to online surveys and feedback at our fingertips. This helps us to better tailor our communication and sales pitches to our customers’ and future customers’ needs. Google and Facebook also keep information on search and online interaction history of people so we can more closely target our ideal customers. 20 years ago we could do this with our own customers but not so much for prospective customers. This means we have some really sophisticated marketing being done by small and large businesses alike. One of the challenges is the overwhelm that can happen with so much information available to us – where do we start!

New media New opportunities

At the start of the new millennium most of the advertising and promotion channels available were for mass audiences. Radio, TV, Newspaper if you wanted to segment a little further you look at specific magazines or cinema advertising. You would have a call to action to try and monitor a  response to the advertising but really you could only estimate how many people saw or heard your ad and who responded. With social media and online advertising there is a whole new ball game for advertising and promotion. We see more pull rather than push marketing techniques employed and the ability to directly measure impressions and response is something that is a dream come true for marketers. Social media and online advertising has definitely been one of the big game changes in the past 20 years. Even though social media has been well and truly with us for over 10 years its importance in the Marketing mix is at its peak. Being an early adopter of social media was incredibly advantageous for small businesses and many small businesses achieved enormous success by investing time into social media early on. While social media has been a game changer I see it being a game that is continually changing and I predict many businesses may move away from playing with social media.

With the introduction of new options and the ability to do so much more marketing business owners are under stress. With some many choices for marketing and access to tools business owners constantly feel that there is more marketing they need to be doing. In other posts I will be covering some of these issues such as How much marketing is enough? Do I have to do it all? What marketing should I stop? Do I have to be on social media?

A final thought: Always make your focus on having a great product or service that your customers love as glowing testimonials or recommendations for customers is one of the best forms of marketing you can have.