Four strategies for SMBs to consider when creating a digital presence.
By Renee Morad
Small- to medium-sized businesses increasingly are realizing that brand awareness and recognition in the digital space is essential in today’s market. Creating a spotlight for your company online can help you gain an edge on the competition, connect and stay top of mind with customers, express core values and more.
“Brand recognition online is really nonnegotiable in today’s market,” says Jennifer Martin, owner of San Francisco-based Zest Business Consulting. “Most SMBs are constantly seeking ways to connect with new customers and to sell more to existing customers.”
Many SMBs say they see a payoff from strategies to boost their digital presence—fully 80% of companies using social media have found a positive or very positive return on investment, according to a recent study by CompTIA.
A separate study, the Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey, suggests that social tools are changing the way consumers are influenced online, with 90% of online consumers saying they trust recommendations from personal acquaintances. As a result, tools such as “likes,” posts and shares on Facebook, along with tweets, Instagram photos and Snapchats can rapidly influence your prospective customers and help to drive business.
Here are four strategies to reap the most from your digital presence:
- Know your customers
Consultants emphasize that SMBs should analyze data and conduct surveys to better understand who their customers are, what their defining characteristics are and what motivates and inspires them. Only after they know their customers can they effectively target and communicate with them.
Nancy A. Shenker, CEO of digital marketing company theONswitch, says that SMBs today also should take advantage of the digital tools available to them to learn more about their customers. SMBs can use crowdsourcing surveys, for example, to reach out to them and collect opinions.
“Companies can work with a client to develop a new logo, and rather than sitting around a table and voting on which logo they like best, they can narrow down the top three and ask customers to vote,” Shenker says.
Take it a step further, and a company can launch an online contest, asking their customers to submit a new logo with the winning entry to receive, say, a yearly supply of product, and then have everyone vote on the logo online and share it among their networks.
SMBs can also better learn about their customers by taking note of those who are posting about them on Facebook or tweeting about them. They can also observe which publications are most interested in covering their company and what the demographic for those sites are—which could reveal even more about their customer base.
- Be where your clients are
Once companies obtain a deeper understanding of who their customer is, they can then show up to the right online spaces for maximum exposure.
For an SMB targeting a younger demographic of consumers, Facebook might be the go-to channel, whereas a financial firm or SMB targeting executives might be better served by a more professional online platform like LinkedIn, Martin says.
Another strategy: create your own community online. Build a Facebook page, a solid website with an interactive element or a Google+ page, for example, to help open up a dialogue with customers. Online grocery delivery service and recipe provider Hello Fresh, for example, is brewing up company interest by having customers post pictures of their recipes online and commenting on their favorite meals of the week.
Even beefing up your digital presence in your own office or retail store can hold value. According to a survey conducted by Penton Research for Hewlett-Packard in July 2015, 22% of retail operations with 10 to 499 employees use digital signage, while 18% use video wall displays.
- Be strategic and consistent with your messaging
It’s also important for SMBs to find a straightforward message that will resonate with customers—and stick to it. Consultants tend to point back to solid examples like Nike’s “Just Do It” tagline and logo, which is simple, resonates and is consistent across all products and channels.
Simplicity is often best, since the spotlight can be fleeting, Shenker says. The average consumer attention span is down to eight seconds—“one second less than a goldfish,” she says—so finding a way to quickly break through that clutter and become memorable and timeless is more important than ever.
Sure, some companies might “get lucky” and have a strategy go viral overnight, like the ALS ice bucket challenge, Shenker says, but it’s just as important that companies are strategic. SMBs should take the time to explore all options and then identify the best path for their messaging and brand recognition. “These companies will be much more satisfied with their online presence in the long run,” she says.
- Share your story
In addition to brand messaging and logo, it’s also helpful to share a story that resonates with your customers. Remember that as the owner of a small business, you’re the person behind the product, and customers want to know, like and trust you.
For example, if you launched a magic-show business after spending time in a hospital pediatric ward wishing you could find a way to bring smiles to patients’ faces, let the world know. If you were inspired to create a new food-storage device to help eliminate food waste after a community service visit overseas to help malnourished people, then explain that.
Through various online channels such as your company website, blog, a Facebook page or even media coverage, share your background, how you got started, what inspires you, and what you’re doing to help your local community.
Seeking endorsements from others is yet another way to help resonate with customers, particularly if they’re fans of the person with whom you’ve partnered. However, sharing your story is one of the best ways to help customers relate to your company. If customers feel a connection to you and your mission, they’ll be more likely to support and trust your company.
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