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5 Ways Small Business Marketing Has Evolved—Are You Keeping Up With the Times?

AllBusiness.com logo AllBusiness.com 5/16/2018 Brian Sutter

a person sitting at a table using a laptop © Minerva Studio- Fotolia.com   As 2018 nears the halfway mark, we thought we’d take a look back. Not just at how the year has rolled out for small businesses, but at how the last decade has changed things.

To frame how far we’ve come, here’s a flashback to what was going on in 2007:

The very first iPhone was released that January.Tumblr was launched.The Boston Red Sox won the World Series.The Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl.The U.S. was quietly tipping toward the Great Recession; housing prices peaked, then began to crash; the carnage in the stock market would show up a few months later.A gallon of gas cost $3.38. (An interesting economic marker to what was about to happen.)

That’s where we were back then. Here’s how far we’ve come:

1. Facebook has taken over

Facebook launched in February 2004 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in 2007, it was merely a smidgen of what it is now.

Back in 2007, most small businesses didn’t have Facebook pages, and they didn’t even know to worry about the decline of organic reach. Ad agencies were still writing overly optimistic articles about how much each Facebook follower was worth. One of those articles estimated that each Facebook like was worth $174, but even then, some of us were skeptical.

Small businesses have radically increased their adoption of Facebook since 2007. In our 2017 State of Small Business Study, we found that 50% of small businesses use social media—about the same percentage have their own website. Compare that to 2007, when only a little over 10% of small businesses were using blogs and social network sites.

The rise of social media doesn’t just impact your marketing department, either. Most consumers now expect to get customer service support from social channels. To a large extent, small businesses need to be on social media to make sure they’re available to answer customer questions and reply to customer complaints.

Where could this go in 10 years? Facebook use does appear to be leveling off—in our State of Small Business report, we saw a decrease in the use of Facebook. It’s possible that in 10 years we may have shifted to a new platform. Even now, we’re seeing Instagram and real-time messaging apps (aka “chatbots”) start to steal its thunder.

2. Mobile has become a thing—a really big thing

Back in 2007, mobile traffic on the internet was less than a third of desktop traffic. Not so anymore. Mobile eclipsed desktop in 2014; as of 2017, mobile claimed 56% of internet traffic, according to SimilarWeb.

This means it’s time to be thinking “mobile first.” Just considering it at the last moment is not enough.

So when you design your new website, don’t check it on mobile as an afterthought. Imagine your site—and your business—from the ground up, as experienced on your phone. That’s how most of your customers will use it.

3. Video has become essential

In 2007, video was a novelty online and YouTube was just beginning to gain traction. The first major success stories of the platform had started to emerge, and regular people were just beginning to become familiar with the idea of watching videos on YouTube for entertainment or education.

Fast forward to now, when top YouTubers make $15 million a year or more. Many online experts will say that video is eating the internet, and ComScore predicts that 82% of traffic on the internet will be video by 2021.

Small businesses have taken note: 36% of the small business owners we surveyed already have some video on their websites. They get it. And as Facebook makes video a mainstream type of content, and Snapchat and Instagram and YouTube gain ever more influence, this is a tidal wave of a trend. It has changed the internet, and has changed small business marketing. And it’s only just begun.

4. Funding has changed

Small business funding took a body blow in the 2008 crash (like you didn’t know). It still hasn’t really returned to what it was before, so one thing that’s definitely changed for small businesses in the last 10 years is their ability to get a bank loan. It is harder— much harder—to get funding for your business from a bank.

But other channels have opened up. “Fintech,” the term for all the financial services available online, has had a boom. Small businesses now have access to factoring services at a scale they didn’t have before. (The popular service Fundbox is one example.)

Then there’s crowdfunding. It’s not a significant source of funding for small businesses, but it has gotten a lot of attention among startups, solopreneurs, and creatives. Sites like GoFundMe, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and more than a dozen others have shifted how entrepreneurs and individuals can fund their ideas.

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5. Online reviews can make—or break—your business

Back in 2007, only 24% of online users would check a review for any business. Now, only 5% of consumers say they have never searched for a business online; 53% of them search for local businesses “at least one time per month.”

This—like the need to do customer service on social media—shows the blend that’s been happening between customer service and marketing. It’s typically referred to as “the customer experience,” and it’s considered the one last real competitive advantage a business can get, whether they’re small or large.

Conclusion

Technology has evolved enormously over the last 10 years. It’s shaped how people find, interact with, and evaluate all companies, including small businesses.

But a lot of things haven’t changed. Finding and managing employees, for example, is still a major challenge. So is getting health care for those employees. Word of mouth, too, is just as important as it ever was. It’s just spread into the digital world, via online reviews and social media.

But no matter how technology changes things, people will always be people. They’ll always be looking to find good value and a pleasant experience. Convenience may be at more of a premium than it was before, but fortunately, technology is also pretty good at making things more convenient.

RELATED: Marketing: If I Knew Then What I Know Now

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