Digital Marketing for Startups & Small Businesses | Markey Perspective

Effective marketing can often make all the difference between the success and failure of a start-up or small enterprise. And digital channels are today’s marketing frontier with unparalleled global reach, low table stakes, and flexibility to target precisely to people with specific demographics and interests.

However, small businesses and early-stage ventures often lack the domain skills, technical know-how, and enterprise resources to plan and execute marketing strategies effectively across an intimidating variety of overlapping digital platforms, including owned web and mobile, search, social media, pay-per-click display and video, and direct messaging channels.

So, for a limited budget and time, how can you reach out to the maximum number of people in your target audience (online) with your brand’s message, get the most number of prospects to check out your products/services, and get all of them to try it and buy it?

In this article, I discuss the foundational pillars of an effective digital marketing strategy that are well established and followed by large enterprises and successful brands, but often neglected by small businesses. These can help any business successfully navigate the digital ecosystem and deploy its limited resources for maximum growth.

1. Build a magnetic online presence and position close to your target customers

Most people think of an online presence as only their brand website(s) and/or mobile app(s). But it also encompasses your brand presence on:

  1. Social Media business pages and handles across Facebook, Google Business, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
  2. Online marketplaces like Amazon, Flipkart, Swiggy, UrbanCompany, Bigbasket, etc.
  3. Search results on popular engines like Google and Bing, and marketplace search on Amazon, etc.
  4. Industry aggregators/directory listing portals like Tripadvisor, Zomato, Capterra, etc.
  5. Q&A portals and consumer forums like Quora etc.
  6. Partner/Affiliate sites and apps

Invest in building your presence across the digital ecosystem that your target customers often interact with. This requires very little monetary expenditure, but greater creative and storytelling skills, along with business domain expertise to create meaningful content, rich illustrations, and engaging interactions with your target customers.

For e.g., if you are in the hospitality business, it’s important to have a strong brand presence on Tripadvisor or MakeMyTrip, as that’s where your target customers are likely to hang out when planning their next vacation.

Customers are attracted to brands with a strong aesthetic appeal, domain authority established by rich original content, transparency, authenticity, well-illustrated product USPs, and above all, what other customers are saying about it. So, get your customers to augment your digital presence by posting and sharing their experiences and positive reviews and ratings. Incentivize them to post videos and write about you. Be sensitive and responsive to negative reviews and comments too – address them immediately to ensure your brand is appealing and inviting to a new visitor.

2. Find customers searching for your products/services first

People often search online for what they are looking to buy much before they actually make the purchase online or offline. And when they search on Google or Facebook or Amazon, they leave a digital footprint that can be easily tracked and targeted. For a small fee, you can find out the number of people in your target geographical market, searching for terms related to your product or brand, directly or indirectly, on any platform over a period of time. And most digital platforms also provide a way for you to target these individuals with your ads and messages. The choice of digital platforms is also be driven by where the search volumes are heavier.

Even before making a digital marketing plan, you should determine these search volumes to estimate the size of the market that’s already in business and fight for winning these prospects first. Your marketing plan should prioritize these high-interest audiences first and foremost, for it is far easier to convince people who are looking to buy a specific product, to buy from you than to convince people to buy the said product in the first place.

3. Understand customer journeys and engage along the way

Small businesses often make the mistake of treating customer purchase decisions as single touchpoint interactions, whereas well-documented research shows that most purchases are not impulsive and often involve a considerable amount of research beforehand. Even if the purchase is offline, customers often turn online to research and compare brands, product features, prices, and other customer reviews. And in industries with frequent repeat purchase cycles, customer loyalty with the brand and first purchase experience will determine the subsequent purchase decisions for or against the brand.

Pre-purchase research involves internet search portals, industry directories/aggregators, marketplaces, Q&A consumer forums, and a brand’s own properties. Every business owner needs to understand the consideration journey of their buyer and identify and target the digital channels and touchpoints involved to deploy the brand’s messages and ads. It increases the likelihood of your messages sticking with the customer, and them engaging with your brand. Only by engaging early in the purchase consideration, can a brand sway more buyers to choose them for purchase.

The same goes for understanding the customer’s experience journey with the brand to establish customer loyalty and drive repeat purchases. From the onboarding of the customer with the product or service to ongoing product updates, new product releases, loyalty rewards, customer service interactions, all-digital journeys need to be planned well to drive customer loyalty. Remember it’s far easier to get a customer to buy again than to find a new customer, and it’s cheaper too, as you would have their direct contact details and can reach out to them by email, SMS, or even WhatsApp messages, at a fraction of cost of having to prospect new customers on pay-per-click media.

4. Deploy paid adverts to target micro-audiences with high-relevance behaviors in high-relevance contexts

Paid advertising on digital media can be very complex, and easily become a black hole, where you spend millions and yet have nothing to show for it. As discussed above, your paid media outreach efforts need to be directed first to customers searching for similar or related products or services, and secondly to channels and touchpoints where interested prospects are most likely to be present and research about your brand and competitors. Any general awareness outreach should also be precisely targeted by demographics, geography, and customer interests and behaviors, that most digital ad platforms support.

All paid media efforts should be executed in a contained and controlled experimental setup with small samples of your target audiences first, where you can measure the real impact and stickiness of your marketing messages, timing, and channel mix.

The media platforms, like Google Ads or Facebook Ads, provide for very precise targeting options that can be leveraged to place ads in the most relevant context of the online content they are consuming and when they are consuming. Once a choice of message, creative, context, channel, and timing, are established as working, it can be scaled up to target more people. This helps limit wasted media spend, preserves brand image and reputation, and gives your business an edge over the competition.

To summarise, the above template can be adopted by businesses of any size to effectively plan their digital marketing strategy and channel mix.

A comprehensive 360-degree marketing automation tool like Markey can intelligently automate most of your inbound and outbound marketing tasks, and enable small businesses to quickly build a good brand reputation online, win new business, and retain them as loyal customers.

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