Most small business owners are accustomed to wearing many hats and figuring things out on the fly. Navigating the complex world of local and digital marketing falls squarely into this camp, since it’s not typically something most small business owners “natively” understand. The past few years have seen the introduction of a whole universe of new tools designed to address individual aspects of digital marketing. Whereas they’re all intended to help small business owners, sometimes they can yield new problems since they often don’t work well together and require a steep learning curve.
In 2016, we will see a shift away from many of these discreet, single-purpose tools toward more comprehensive marketing solutions. The small businesses that choose digital marketing solutions that offer the greatest impact on mobile and online customers and require the least amount of effort to use are the ones that will thrive. Here’s a look at five ways SMB local marketing will mature in the coming year:
- SMBs will get serious about mobile. Local and mobile go hand in hand, as more consumers than ever use their mobile phones when they are making shopping decisions in their immediate area. With more consumers living on their phones and Google’s revised algorithms for mobile sites, more SMBs will now realize they need to have a truly mobile-friendly website (i.e. not only optimized for mobile phones, but also one that offers video and digital coupons) to be discovered and appeal to mobile customers.
- Advertisers will demand “true” location-based ads. The increasing importance of location-tagged ad inventory has resulted in more publishers and app developers “dressing up” their inventory to make it appear more location-specific. In reality, much of the available inventory that purports to be location-specific actually isn’t. Larger advertisers and industry experts already have realized the unpleasant fact that their ad performance is substantially impaired because of faulty location targeting. As awareness of this issue becomes more widespread, expect more small businesses to demand better location-based solutions in the coming year.
- Advertising on social networks will get more accessible. Social networks always have held great promise as a marketing platform for local businesses. The combination of excellent data for targeting ads, the increasing amount of time spent on the networks, and the ability to inject advertising in native format is extremely compelling. To date, however, social platforms have been primarily focused on large advertisers with deep pockets, leaving small businesses to deal with poorly designed and difficult to use tools of limited use. This will change in the coming year as social networks – including and especially Facebook – provide better and more robust solutions to make advertising more accessible for small businesses.
- Real insights will be important than data. Analytics have tremendous potential to improve the performance of ad campaigns, but all too often they are relegated to dashboards and graphs that don’t get much attention and consequently don’t have much value. Small businesses then have to invest additional time and energy to convert the data into actionable business insights. Expect to see more solutions that automatically translate the data into meaningful insights and then apply these insights to make adjustments to campaigns with minimal need for engagement by the business owner. This capability is especially important for small business owners who do not have the bandwidth to manage the process manually.
- Demand for multi-platform facilitators will grow. Despite the best efforts of the major ad inventory owners, setting up and managing an effective campaign to target local prospects remains a frustrating and difficult task. The process is substantially more challenging if a business owner is trying to operate a campaign across multiple platforms (e.g. Google, Facebook, Twitter). There is a clear opportunity for service providers to create a simple yet comprehensive system that allows small businesses to benefit from the relative strengths of the various platforms without having to invest the time and effort to become an expert in each.
Gary Cowan is senior vice president of marketing at DataSphere, a mobile marketing automation company that provides sophisticated targeting and campaign management for local businesses. Gary has helped many small businesses develop local marketing strategies and reap new business benefits. Prior to joining DataSphere, Gary was director of search traffic at Amazon and also worked in Microsoft’s MSN division (now called Bing).