Small Businesses, Marketing Budgets, and the Digital-Traditional Divide

For years now, marketing experts have been wondering – and predicting – when digital marketing spend would overtake the amount companies spend on traditional marketing strategies such as radio, television, direct mail, and billboards.

Earlier in 2019, eMarketer provided some cold, hard numbers. This would be the year the tipping point would occur, they forecasted, with digital staking its claim to 54.2% of the market. According to the research, digital ad spend would top $129.34 billion in 2019, while analogue advertising media would take in some $109.48 billion.

Those are impressive numbers, to be sure, and for the people who make a living analyzing how consumers interact with brands, teasing out the reasons behind such statistics is more than just an academic pursuit.

But what about those who earn their living by baking vegan doughnuts, taking professional photographs, or making the uniforms that local healthcare practitioners wear? In other words, small business owners who have a very limited marketing budget and need to know how best to divvy up those dedicated dollars?

Should businesses throw all they’ve got into digital marketing services – social media, local SEO, courting influencers, making video? Or hold some back for advertising in local papers, buying a banner at the baseball field, or getting a jingle on the airwaves?

Here are some key tenets to understand, to make meaning of martech trends and spends.

Understand that Not Every Bandwagon Is the Right Ride

For those intrigued by marketing and technology topics, here is what’s coming next, to consider integrating it into marketing strategy. But before latching on to next-level, logistically challenging – and pricey – trends like influencer marketing, virtual or augmented reality, flashy 360-video, or using an AI chatbot, be sure to:

  • Define the customer base
  • Balance the marketing spend
  • Check sustainability for the long run

In other words, don’t implement a strategy just because every blogger and their brother are talking it up.

Understand The Customer

It doesn’t much matter what appeals to the business owner regarding YouTube vs. the Yellow Pages or Pinterest vs. the local pennysaver. What does matter? What customers and prospects pay attention to, of course. This is a fundamental rule of marketing, full stop – but one that has become increasingly difficult to parse out in the past decade or so of digital developments.

Don’t know exactly where the best customers are, or what kind of advertising appeals to them? Ask! Surveys, social media polls, or good-old fashioned cash-register chit chat can all yield valuable information (and smart SMB owners will use a combination approach, naturally).

Do whatever it takes to get inside the mind (and smartphone habits) of the core customer or client base. Otherwise that results in throwing away money on resources that bring in little to no ROI.

Understand that Digital and Local Aren’t Enemies

Of course, it’s prejudicial to present digital media outlets as the natural enemy of – or at least direct opposition to – local channels such as newspapers, radio, television, billboards or bus-stop benches. There’s every chance that the product appeals to a broad audience, and that a variety of cross-channel approaches will work.

After all, there are few demographics that only depend on social for their content or, conversely, who ignore it altogether (and it’s likely the business owner knows whether their market is at one end of that bell curve or the other).

In fact, appeals to consumers’ loyalty to “staying local” can be surprisingly effective, especially when combined with digital strategies like hashtags. Take Small Business Saturday, for example. That now-national phenomenon – which accounted for $108 million worth of transactions in 2018 – wouldn’t have soared like it did if it weren’t for the power of social.

Popular hashtags like #buylocal, #smallbusiness, or those that incorporate the name of the neighborhood are great for exposing the brand to a wider audience. But consider branded ones as well, which can have a huge effect. Need inspiration? Browse neighboring businesses’ or even competitors’ profiles to check out what they’re using.

In the Final Analysis

Whether embracing marketing technology with a bleeding-edge social and digital marketing presence, know that the bottom line relies on results from ad spots on local TV channels, or – like most small businesses – trying to walk a fine line between the two, the most important aspect of navigating this divide is simple. To thine own brand, be true. Straying from the main business identity isn’t likely to sustain, let alone grow, revenue and customer loyalty.

Anne Lawson is a British writer who keeps her eye on business and trending issues that affect us all. She loves to delve into the real story and give us interesting tidbits we might otherwise miss.