Small Business Saturday is around the corner and we wanted to help you prepare your business as much as possible, so we interviewed small business owners and experts to share their insights with you. We covered online marketing topics and how businesses can leverage their small size. Michael Brenner is the CEO of Marketing Insider Group, and co-author of best selling book The Content Formula.
As a Forbes Top CMO Influencer, top B2B marketer, content marketer, and social media marketer, Michael has a wealth of marketing knowledge and insights to help small businesses make the most out of this year’s Small Business Saturday.
Q. What are some of the benefits of being “small” that a business owner can leverage to beat out the “big” guys?
A. The most important advantage small business owners can leverage is their direct access to customers. Large organizations “protect” their executives through layers of middle management. Small business owners can stay closely tied to the challenges of their customers and make sure they are building an organization that continues to grow by supporting their customers across every function of the business.
Q. Is there a common place where you see many small business owners go wrong when they start to market online?
A. The biggest mistake I see small business owners make is thinking that marketing is all about directly promotional advertising. We live in a world that ignores, blocks, and rejects advertising in ALL forms. Small business executives need to think of marketing as an extension of what they know, not what they sell. The best marketing helps customers first, and earns the right to explain the product offering.
Q. We all know those emails or websites that “look” like spam, but what are some strategies you’ve see business owners do to demonstrate their credibility?
A. The best emails and websites are committed to communicating answers to customers’ questions and sharing their expertise to the marketplace. If you want to avoid the spam filter, stop promoting yourself. It’s that simple. You can explain your product offering but the best emails and websites make that secondary.
Q. With so many places for business owners to turn for online advice, how do you recommend they cut through the noise in order to make an impact?
A. The only way to cut through the noise is to focus on something unique. My favorite tool for this is the mission statement. What value do you provide to what segment of the audience you are trying to reach. The answer is typically found in the problem that the company was founded to solve. Tell stories about that problem, and people will come asking about your solution.
Q. When working with new business owners, what are some tools or steps you use to come up with a digital strategy unique to their business?
A. A customer-focused mission statement will define what audience you are trying to reach, what problem you solve and what value is in it for them. Understanding where your audience hangs out online, and then thinking about the personal and professional challenges they face every day is key. Every buyer of a product is a person first. They have spouses, or kids, jobs, and stresses that we all face. Digital strategy needs to have a personality that attracts your audience instead of just trying to interrupt them with promotional messages.
Q. Can people expect to get results from purely organic campaigns these days or is it pretty much required that they have an ad budget for a campaign?
A. Many small businesses can’t afford ad campaigns. And many that can, find that they don’t work. My advice is to focus on sharing your company’s expertise online and through social channels. This is the only way to market today. Adding paid traffic to your best content can help but it’s not required and is completely dependent on having great stories shared in the first place. Create content people want to read and share, and even the smallest business can generate organic results that deliver on your business goals.
Q. Online-to-offline: Any examples of companies doing a great job driving traffic to their physical store through online campaigns?
A. There are many examples I cover in my 99 Examples of Effective Content Marketing. A few retail examples I love are Williams-Sonoma “Taste” and Home Depot’s DIY Blog. Both are examples of how a business is addressing customer needs over product promotion and driving traffic and demand to their retail stores.
Q. What tool/strategy do you think will make the biggest impact in 2017?
A. I think 2017 is the year of the customer. Brands which communicate with advertising are actually starting to see sales DECLINE once their ads interrupt consumers just a few dozen times. That number is less than 10 on a mobile device. So companies are starting to realize that a real focus on customers helps their customers to remain loyal, it helps employees to feel more engaged as they focus more on customer value and less on making the boss happy. And it makes executives happy because focusing on the customer is the only way to drive business results that last.
Q. Who are some of the influencers who have made a large impact on how you think about online marketing?
A. I get by with a lot of help from my friends: Ann Handley, Andrew Davis, Joe Pulizzi, Andy Crestodina, Jay Baer, Lee Odden, and more. But these are the folks I recommend everyone follow to get inspired.
Find more resources for Small Business Saturday in our guide.