Kent Huffman is a results-oriented B2B and B2C marketing and branding executive, change agent, customer experience advocate, and published author. Currently serving as a fractional Chief Marketing Officer for small businesses, Kent has earned a reputation as a marketing revitalization specialist, having achieved significant, measurable results in a number of startup, turnaround, and expansion situations during the past 20+ years. He has created a large professional network on social media with more than 48,000 followers on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
Q. What are some of the benefits of being “small” that a business owner can leverage to beat out the “big” guys?
A. Small business owners typically can make decisions more quickly and “turn the ship” much faster than CEOs of large corporations, meaning they can better take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. They can also bounce back from a recession or other types of setbacks faster than their larger counterparts. In addition, small business owners usually know their customers better and communicate with them more effectively.
Q. Is there a common place where you see many small business owners go wrong when they start to market online?
A. One of the most common causes of small business failure is the lack of proper planning. The two biggest mistakes I see small business owners make related to marketing planning are 1) failing to first assess their customers, competitors, and their own company and then 2) neglecting to develop a strategic and tactical marketing plan that focuses on their target markets, product/service offerings, and positioning—and that includes reliably measurable metrics. More often than not, small business owners jump into marketing tactics (such as launching a website, promoting themselves on social media, etc.) without first deciding where they should be headed strategically.
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Q. We all know those emails or websites that “look” like spam, but what are some strategies you’ve see business owners use to demonstrate their credibility?
A. Over the past few years, personal branding has proven to be a key contributor to the success of countless small business leaders. Savvy owners can build a strong personal brand that creates credibility for themselves—and by association, their companies—by focusing on several key elements when developing a personal branding strategy, such as:
- Defining a specific target audience
- Offering measurable value
- Supporting core values
- Demonstrating expertise
- Educating through storytelling
- Increasing visibility by publishing content
- Being authentic and consistent
- Participating in social media
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. Small business owners should invest some time in understanding the current state of digital marketing, so they have a good knowledge base of what works and what doesn’t. Knowing that they have a lot of other hats to wear as the leader of their organization, small business owners also need to find a trustworthy marketer who will not just offer good advice about marketing, but will help them think through how marketing will impact their entire business and contribute not only to top line growth, but to bottom line profits as well. The most effective and valuable marketing partners will help perform whatever tactical tasks are needed, too. Just as they would with potential employees, small business owners should vet any potential marketers carefully by reviewing their client success stories, professional references, social media feeds, awards and accolades, etc.
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. The degree of difficulty of showing up on the first page of search results on Google and the other search engines is most often determined by how competitive that specific category is and what/how many keywords are associated with it. So ranking well using only organic (search engine optimization/SEO) tactics can be difficult and time consuming, albeit still very important. My experience has been that using joint organic and paid (pay-per-click/PPC) campaigns is a much more effective approach, as it allows small businesses to have multiple, more-visible presences on the first few search results pages, which usually leads to more clicks, and if the corresponding landing pages are designed properly, more leads and sales.
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. In addition to discussing the traditional “4Ps of marketing” (product, price, place, and promotion) when I engage with a small business client, I ask a lot of questions and use a number of planning tools to help them determine the right marketing strategies and tactics for their particular situation:
- SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) and PEST (political, economic, socio-cultural, and technological) analyses
- Goals and objectives (revenue, profitability, scalability, etc.)
- Customer targets (industries, geographies, buyer personas and their journeys, etc.)
- Branding/marketing strategy (brand promise, value proposition, differentiators, positioning, messaging, etc.)
- Branding/marketing tactics (website, SEO/PPC, content, social media, e-mail, etc.)
Q. Any examples of companies doing a great job driving traffic to their physical and/or online stores through digital campaigns?
A. BearCom Wireless recently converted its company magazine, Today’s Wireless World, from a printed publication into a digital content marketing vehicle with the idea that it would help drive traffic, sales leads, and new business to the company’s locations around the U.S., as well as its existing website, BearCom.com. By publishing more than 200 informational and educational articles about the advantages of wireless technologies over the following months, TodaysWirelessWorld.com became the leading source of online and offline leads for the company, it drove a 100%+ increase in e-commerce sales on BearCom.com, and it played a significant role in helping the company to record its most financially successful year in BearCom’s 33-year history.
Q. What strategies/tools do you think will make the biggest impact in 2017?
A. There are several strategies and trends that will significantly impact digital marketing for small businesses this coming year, including the continued rise of storytelling, partnership content, live streaming, artificial intelligence, and influencer marketing. Also, push advertising will continue to decrease and will ultimately be replaced by native advertising. In terms of small business tools, look for local marketing services like ReachLocal and Yodle to expand your portfolio of offerings and become more sophisticated when it comes to the targeting of local customers and prospects. And last, but certainly not least, the use of various social media tools will continue to grow.
Q. Who are some of the influencers who have made a large impact on how you think about online marketing?
A. Since I am so active on social media, I have a number of influencers I could mention here. But my short list would include Jay Conrad Levinson, Carla Johnson, Seth Godin, Mari Smith, David Meerman Scott, and Eric Fletcher.