Digital marketing is seemingly everywhere these days, yet many small businesses aren't taking full advantage of all the new and emerging opportunities to better engage their customers.
Emery Skolfield, VP of Digital Strategy & Marketing for Office Depot & OfficeMax, offered his insights into how digital marketing is evolving and what small businesses can do to get ahead of the game. Here are his thoughts on strategy, mobile and mistakes:
Q: What are the biggest changes or trends you’ve seen in digital marketing?
Skolfield: In the past, companies have had to experiment with different types of digital marketing to determine what worked and what didn’t for them. And with trial and error, attribution is tricky business. Now we have much greater insights into the customer journey from initial touch through ultimate transaction, and we better understand how each marketing channel affects and assists that journey. The modeling has become quite sophisticated and has allowed companies to be much more strategic and make investments accordingly.
Another trend is companies gravitating toward new and emerging forms of marketing, stuff that simply didn't exist a decade ago. For example, the major social media networks have, in the past few years, transformed into legitimate advertising platforms. Data available from social media — everything from what people say to what they "like," click on and share in their profiles — allows companies to target their marketing more effectively than ever before. It becomes very precise, very interesting.
Q: What are the biggest mistakes you see small businesses make when it comes to digital marketing?
A: I'd say inactivity. Many small businesses, unfortunately, feel they can’t get involved in digital marketing — that it’s something only big companies do. The reality is you don’t need a million dollars to run a social media marketing campaign or to send regular emails to your customers. If you have an audience you’re trying to reach, say, on Facebook, you can turn on a targeted marketing campaign using a credit card and determine exactly how much you want to spend — even if just $100. There are lots of low-cost digital marketing opportunities for small companies and they absolutely should be taking advantage of them. It's a great way to communicate your business' brand and its unique propositions.
Q: Some businesses may feel like social media is a waste of time, especially because some social networks like Facebook are asking businesses to pay for exposure. What do you think?
A: The organic reach of published content of the big social networks has definitely been squeezed by the platforms and their algorithms, but it's still an important extension of your brand. If you don't keep your social presence up-to-date, people will notice and make assumptions about your brand. If consumers can’t find current information about your business on the big social networks, they might assume you've closed up shop. Consumers use social all day, everyday, so there's no choice: you have to be there.
Q: Can you give us some tips for how small businesses can build a more effective digital marketing strategy?
A: Step one in any marketing strategy is understanding your customer: Who are you trying to talk to? Who are you trying to reach, engage, attract and retain?
Once you know your customer, you can start to figure out where they "live" digitally and how they want to be engaged and what platforms are most appropriate to speak to them on. If your budget is small or nothing, obviously you’ll have to rely on very efficient forms of marketing like email marketing or search engine optimization. After you figure out which channels are worth your while, you can put together a basic plan for what topics you engage your audience around, and when. Some businesses, for example, might put together a yearlong calendar of topics based around seasonal themes or promotions.
Finally, after this imperative prep work, you’re ready to execute. There are a bunch of free and low-cost social tools that help businesses write and publish more effective social media posts, use the right key words and listen to what their audience is talking about. I definitely recommend businesses take advantage of those tools. But it’s also about tracking and analyzing, which is the great thing about digital media — you have so much information at your fingertips. Figure out what's important for your business and drive to the goals you create, optimizing at every turn.
Q: We hear more and more about mobile marketing. How can small businesses take advantage of it?
A: Hundreds of millions of people now have mobile devices and they’re using them all the time. This is a new and massive opportunity for businesses to reach their customers. For example, even small retail businesses have launched mobile-enabled loyalty programs that notify customers of promotions when they’re in store or in range of a store.
But small businesses should also consider that the majority of the emails they send customers now get read on mobile devices. So it’s essential to make sure emails can be easily viewed on very small screens and that any buttons, videos or web links are easy to use. Mobile used to be a secondary extension of a brand's digital marketing; it’s become the default.
About the Author
Kelly Spors is a freelance writer and editor based in Minneapolis. She previously worked as a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, covering small business and entrepreneurship.
All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is” and neither the author nor Office Depot, Inc. warrant the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.
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