The Future of Digital Marketing: Five Trends to Leverage a Small Business Opportunity

Jameson General Store was a historical treasure in the small North Carolina Community. Jim Jameson, the owner, had been part of the family legacy over 100 years old. The company had seen bad times, including The Great Depression. However, their hard work and customer loyalty had sustained the company’s success.

Even when a neighboring community got its Walmart’s Marketplace Store, their customers remained loyal. Jim did not believe in utilizing online advertising and social media platforms. He believed that these activities were only a fad. Yet, their customers gradually started shopping online because Jameson General Store was limited in its product offerings.

In fact, most of the business that Jameson Store lost was not to local competitors, but online sellers. Jim was adamant about resisting the temptation about shopping online. Yet, when he saw his own 10-year-old grandson purchase a difficult item to locate in the area online at significant costs, Jim had to ponder his current marketing strategy with the changing landscape in the nation.

Today’s customers can purchase a variety of items online with minimum effort. Given this scenario, brick and mortar companies are fighting to stay alive with the fierce internet competition. According to a 2017 survey conducted by Square and Mercury Analytics looking at 1,164 U.S. business owners, the following observations were made:

96% of Americans with internet access have made an online purchase in their life, 80% in the past month alone.
51% of Americans prefer to shop online.
67% of Millennials and 56% of Gen Xers prefer to shop online rather than in-store.
Millennials and Gen Xers spend nearly 50% as much time shopping online each week (six hours) than their older counterparts (four hours).
51% of seniors have shopped on marketplaces, 66% at large retailer sites, 30% on web stores or independent boutiques, and 44% at category-specific online stores.

Marketing professionals understand the importance of the internet and how to effectively leverage this power. According to Socialmedia.com, 90% of marketers use social media for their businesses. Sadly, many small businesses do not recognize this fact. Many businesses had opted to bury their heads in the sand in hopes that this ‘internet thing’ will go away. It hadn’t!

In fact, e-Commerce is growing more than 23% annually; however, 46% of American small businesses do not have a website according to Square and Mercury Analytics research. This article focuses on how small businesses can leverage digital marketing to achieve greater success and enhance their market opportunities.

Digital marketing should be a tool that every serious small business should utilize. Digital marketing goes by many names such as e-commerce marketing, online marketing, and internet marketing. Digital marketing can be defined as “the marketing of products or services using digital channels to reach consumers.” The key objective is to promote brands the usage of the internet.

Digital marketing extends beyond internet marketing to include channels that do not require the use of the internet. Some digital marketing channels include websites, social media platforms, email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), blogging, podcasts, and online advertising to name a few. Beyond technology gimmicks, businesses should know their customers and their core competencies. Digital marketing is not a silver bullet. Digital marketing is a tool for the savvy business professional.

Catherine Juan, Donnie Greiling, and Catherine Buerkle, authors of Internet Marketing: Start to Finish, suggest that effective digital marketing requires plenty of careful planning. They add, “The heart of getting real traction out of your internet marketing program is to tie marketing and sales data together, with metrics. Track what you’re doing, track the impact, and track the resulting sales.” Looking at the landscape of technology and internet innovation, small businesses should think strategically about the following five digital marketing trends:

• Artificial Intelligence – Some people develop elaborate doom-day scenarios of machines to control the world. However, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a way of life in marketing. AI can be defined as ‘the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.’ Voice Activation technology like Amazon’s Echo is bringing AI into public attention. By 2020, customers will manage 85% of their purchases without interacting with a person.

• Internet Searching – Buyers are more knowledgeable than ever with access to the internet. In fact, 81% of shoppers conduct online research before making big purchases. Thus, exploring how to utilize search engine optimization and getting your business at the top of searches is an invaluable step.

• Mobile Communications – Most Americans have grown accustomed to instant gratification and easy access to technology. Mobile and tablet e-commerce will reach $293B by 2018. Smartphone and tablets are part of this wave of innovation. Mobile will account for 72% of the U.S. digital ad spend by 2019. Marketers recognize that mobile marketing is an untapped business tool.

• Social Media – Social media platforms, like Facebook, allows buyers to connect with each other virtually. 65% of business-to-business companies have acquired customers through LinkedIn ads. Marketers realize this value.

• Web Content – Good content will attract customers. In fact, customers are more likely to purchase from sellers with good, relevant videos/photos on their website. 52% of marketing professionals globally name the video as the type of content with the best ROI.

Faced with the tenants of competition, small businesses need to utilize digital marketing. Some small businesses may be hesitant to explore digital marketing due to their lack of trust and understanding of the internet. Philip Kotler and Kevin Keller, authors of Marketing Management, note “Top firms are comfortable using technology to improve the way they do business with their business-to-business customers.”

This article demonstrated that today’s small businesses can utilize digital marketing to enhance their market opportunities. Hopefully, gaining this knowledge will help business owners so that they will not continue to bury their heads in the sand. The internet is here to stay. Pray that you are listening to this message.