3 Key Trends That Are Transforming Local Online Marketing

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smalltownSmall businesses face increasing marketing complexity driven by more fragmented media outlets and more online channels, and a vast array of marketing technology that is supposed to “help” them simplify this dynamic. SMBs are being forced to rethink where they advertise and how to stay in touch with existing loyal customers.

Today’s small business owner is expected to understand and optimize marketing in many areas including social, appointment booking, SEO, online advertising, mobile, and customer relationship platforms. Add to that a small business owner’s need to determine how to do email marketing programs or attract positive online reviews, and the multidimensional challenges become increasingly clear.

Here is a look at three specific trends and marketing challenges, with thoughts about how SMBs should respond and a few of the solutions that are available to them.

Growing Importance of Social Media
A recently conducted study by Experian Marketing Services found that Americans are so fixated on social networks that they spend an average of 16 minutes out of every hour on them. Given that fact, it’s unsurprising that 13% of local search activity is now happening on Facebook. Despite this trend, the Yodle SMB Sentiment Survey showed that only 11% of small businesses found social media to be a useful tool for finding new customers and there were similar numbers for retention. This suggests that SMB owners are not effectively leveraging social media, most likely because they don’t have the tools to do so.

The challenge for small businesses with social media, and so many other things, is that they don’t typically have the time or expertise to maximize the opportunity. SMBs know they need to be on social media but often don’t know how to establish an effective profile or what quantity and quality of content they should produce.

The good news is that a number of companies are automating time-consuming processes associated with social media management. Not only will this help with some of the aforementioned social media dynamics but it also means as social sites like Facebook add reviews as a key feature, tasks like responding to customer reviews or creating special offers for customers will become simpler and quicker though these integrated CRM/marketing platforms.

Increasing Blurriness Across Acquisition and Retention Marketing
When interacting with consumers where they already spending time, such as on a social network or content site, SMBs can simultaneously both acquire new customers and retain existing ones. For example, a social media or blog post that illustrates thought leadership or an understanding of consumer issues will impress existing and potential new customers alike. Another example is online reviews that not only build credibility with existing customers but also attracts new customers and improves organic ranking.

An area that many SMBs are struggling with, but where they can gain a significant competitive advantage, is in better combining their acquisition and retention marketing approaches.  Only then can they determine which acquisition channels are providing the best return on investment.  Luckily for SMBs, companies that currently provide local business tools are reacting to this increasing blur between acquisition and retention marking by diversifying their product mix, or are partnering or merging with other businesses to become more of a single platform solution. GoDaddy, for example, completed several acquisitions in 2013 to round out its small business solutions portfolio. I expect more companies to do the same this year.

Increasing Importance of Booking and Scheduling Tools
Consumers increasingly expect to be able to book services online the way that they purchase goods online whether it’s for a taxi service, plumber’s appointment or almost anything you care to think of. It’s a far cry from just a decade ago when booking was seen as innovative and cutting edge in industries such as travel and financial services.

Although SMBs are slowly starting to adapt to this consumer behavior they need help from platform providers. While some companies like ZocDoc, Uber and OpenTable offer booking services in specific verticals, the migration to comprehensive online booking has just begun.  We can expect to see more deals like Demandforce and Full Slate, which aims to popularize booking services across dozens of service industries.

Court Cunningham is CEO of Yodle.

Find out more about the latest trends in local marketing at Street Fight’s Local Data Summit, taking place on February 25th, in Denver. Learn from and network with some of the top local data experts in the country. Reserve your ticket today!