DEBATE: The Marketing of SMB Marketing Solutions

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Today marks the rare occasion when we have two columns — one from Greg Sterling, the other by Matt Matergia — that touch on the same subject: the marketing and provision of SMB marketing solutions.

Debates over which of the various models is best — do-it-yourself (DIY), do-it-for-me (DIFM), or the middle-ground option, do-it-with-me (DIFM) — have been raging in digital marketing circles for years. For a host of reasons, DIY would seem to be the logical winning choice, and yet, as our own research has shown, SMBs regularly say they lack the time and resources they need to do marketing right.

For example, 42 percent of respondents in the survey conducted for Street Fight’s Local Merchant Report cited lack of time as their biggest digital marketing challenge, while one-third pointed to budget and expertise. Over half (51 percent) complained that managing social media was too time-consuming. And even though nearly two-thirds of local merchants said they use social media for marketing, 38 percent indicated they hadn’t seen any return on their social spending.Slide1

These challenges aren’t unique to local merchants either. Recent studies from both Gleanster Research and Brandmuscle on co-op and marketing development fund (MDF) programs found these same challenges plague national brands and their network of local affiliates, resulting in a massive waste of available resources. And more than just seeing marketing as too time-consuming, Brandmuscle discovered that a high percentage (71 percent) of local affiliates just weren’t spending much time on marketing-related activities at all.

So what does this hold for the future of SMB marketing solutions? Sterling, a self-described former proponent of the DIFM position, now believes technology developments, combined with shifting SMB attitudes and expertise, will make some version of effective DIY marketing a possibility for SMBs in the next few years. But instead of a DIY vs. DIFM dichotomy, the outcome he envisions is one that “looks a lot like a three-cabin airplane seating chart,” with sales outreach for first- and business-class customers and self-serve for economy-class SMBs.

Matergia likewise believes technology will bring decisive changes, but his outlook is more radical, emphasizing a new service model he terms “do nothing,” wherein providers fuse software and automation into low-cost solutions that require little in the way of learning or doing from customers.

Technology is part of the current problem, but it’s undoubtedly part of the solution as well. Raising the level of technology will, as Sterling puts it, “remove at least some of the complexity and fragmentation from the market.” Another part of the solution — one that we heard throughout the Street Fight Summit — involves raising SMBs’ level of marketing knowledge and technology education. That’s a must for any solution, DIY, DIFM, do nothing, or otherwise, to work at scale. In turn, greater comfort with marketing technology may ease perceptions that marketing itself is too time-consuming.

Noah Elkin is Street Fight’s managing editor.