While Marketers Embrace ‘New’ Tech, Small Businesses Need to Get the Basics of Digital Marketing Right

Apr 29, 2019 | Commentary, Research, Strategy

While marketers test new tech and strategies, small businesses continue to prioritize the basics. Two recent studies identify this gap, but there is also one area of alignment: content.

The reality in the small business marketing space is that those who seek agencies or marketing technologies are often being sold what’s “new” or “cutting edge” or “the future”. The reality is many small businesses and a portion of big brands aren’t delivering on the basics of digital marketing like websites, SEO, social media, blog writing, Google ads, online reviews, etc. Given the huge marketing budgets of big brands, small businesses must execute on these foundational tactics.

A recent Smart Insights survey of marketers representing larger businesses found that content, AI, machine learning, automation, data and improving website experiences are viewed as difference makers for 2019 (below). Other than content marketing, which has been a key strategy for some time, the rest of the top five channels represent emerging technologies and tactics.

I am always intrigued by these surveys where marketers say AI and machine learning are critical channels. Ultimately, yes, this kind of technology could have a dramatic impact on marketing performance and optimization, but how many advertisers (small businesses and brands) are actually using proprietary AI or machine learning to improve marketing? Currently, not many.

The focus on these technologies is likely a result of marketing technology and platforms that are bringing this tech to the forefront. Google is a prime example. As the company seeks to improve how they analyze big data with machine learning and AI on the Google Ads platform, marketers will likely benefit.

On the other hand, these technologies aren’t on the radar for most small businesses. While AI, machine learning and automation weren’t options in a recent small business survey from Infusionsoft, the study found the usual suspects topping the list of marketing tactics that remain a priority for these businesses: social media, digital ads, email marketing, SEO, etc.

The starkest contrast between the two studies comes in how each group views social media. While 48% of small businesses said social media was an important tactic for 2019, only 7% of marketers felt the same way. Marketers tend to be more forward-looking and experimental. However, improving social strategies and local-social management techniques could have a greater and more immediate impact than AI in the current environment. After all, these new technologies don’t always work as intended right away.

The one connecting thread between the two studies is content. Arguably one of the most difficult and time-consuming aspects of any digital strategy, both marketers and small businesses are well aware of the value of effective content marketing. From blogs and reports, to videos and graphics, content is the way a business can gain visibility and be relevant to the conversation.

The gap between marketer and small business priorities isn’t new. Marketers like to embrace/sell what’s new and shiny while small businesses struggle to deliver on the basics. Additionally, simply being on a variety of digital marketing channels isn’t going to be enough as more and more small businesses recognize the power of the Internet to drive business. This is increasingly a cost of doing business. The differentiation and results come from the marketing quality, creativity, and strategy.