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Sharon Rowlands, global CEO of ReachLocal

Be trendy, experiment – just don’t forget the ‘tried and true’ digital marketing practices

Incorporating fads such as Pokémon Go into your digital strategy can pay-off; however, it’s important to have a solid foundation of ‘tried and true’ marketing technologies that take you where your consumers are, says Sharon Rowlands, global CEO of ReachLocal.

She recently spoke to Dynamic Business about the emerging technologies redefining the way small businesses approach all facets of digital marketing, from social media through to search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM).

DB: Which technologies are essential, which are fads and are fads worth embracing?

Rowlands: As with all technology, some areas of digital marketing are ‘tried and true’ in terms of driving results for SMBs, while others are trendier. The way SMEs can get the best bang for their buck in the digital space is to provide a great experience across the consumer journey: start with the consumer and go where they are. If you think about how people use the internet in their purchasing process today, you need a diversified strategy to reach them. This means a mobile-responsive website and SEO plus search engine, retargeting and Facebook ads. With all these pieces working together, you can target your consumers no matter where they are in the buying journey and help drive the right results.

Fads, like last year’s Pokémon Go, come and go. When it first landed, everybody was trying to figure out how to use it to market the local businesses where consumers were spending their time – and it worked for some, at least for a little while. Why? Because it answered the question: where are the people and how can I reach them? Sometimes the trends and fads work, so it’s ok to experiment, but have a solid foundation of tried and true practices you can always be driving new customers into your business.

DB: Which emerging technologies are transforming digital marketing for SMBs?

Rowlands: Marketers shouldn’t look past immersive new technologies such as video, geo-fencing, AR, VR and social advertising as well as voice search, which is projected to drive 50% of all searches by 2020. As we integrate more of these technologies into our daily lives, they become more and more relevant in terms of businesses using them to reach the consumer.

Facebook advertising is one of the hottest marketing solutions right now because of the considerable time people spend on the platform daily. With the kinds of targeting capabilities available through Facebook advertising, you can reach virtually any type of consumer. Due to the prevalence of mobile devices, geo-fencing is also huge. It’s a great place to get a competitive edge because it’s a new approach. Plus, there are some lower-cost solutions that make geo-fencing accessible for smaller businesses seeking to understand how it works for them.

Another a big consumer trend is video – it occupies a lot of people’s time, so it makes sense to look at video for advertising and content marketing to reach prospects. As to VR, AR, and voice search, watch the consumer side of these trends – people are getting more comfortable adopting and using them, so they hold a lot of promise in terms of digital marketing as well and may also shape how you should approach existing solutions like your website. For example, as the use of voice search grows, how you optimise your website with natural language content is evolving SEO.

DB: How can SMB marketers hope to be across all these new technologies?

Rowlands: That’s the challenge all these opportunities present: ‘how can my business be everywhere as people spend more of their daily time online, across all these types of technologies?’ And it’s not only the SMBs asking this, every business right now is trying to figure out the answer to this question. For small and local businesses, it’s all about focus. You want to focus on what you do best (i.e. running your business) but you know you need to continue bringing more people into your business, so it becomes a question of where do you prioritise your time? It’s useful to build a relationship with a marketing provider who can help you understand which platforms and technologies make sense for your business. The goal isn’t just to be everywhere, it’s to find – and use –  what works best to meet your goals and what will drive results.

DB: What is the risk of not embracing these emerging technologies soon?

Rowlands: If you don’t, somebody else will. It’s a matter of whether you want your company, or your competitor’s, reaching your customer base. The technology will keep evolving, along with consumers and their habits, and some of these things will become standards over time. We have seen this first-hand with things like mobile-responsive websites. They started out as the new “shiny” thing and then fairly quickly became the baseline standard for websites, because consumers just simply prefer the experience of mobile responsive websites as they are toggling back and forth between so many devices throughout the day. So Google put a line in the sand and said mobile websites would perform better, and now if you haven’t kept the pace with this evolution, you’re losing traffic, leads, etc. to somebody who has kept up with this trend.

DB: What is a best-practice approach to digital marketing for SMBs?

Rowlands: It’s having an approach that equips you to reach your consumer across their buying journey, convert those consumers into leads, and then see how everything is working together to drive results. That’s a point where I’m excited to see digital marketing evolve for SMBs today. There is finally data and technology that can equip businesses of every size, not just the bigger businesses, to see the results of their marketing. The baseline needs of today are a mobile website, making sure that you can be found wherever consumers are searching online, and an optimised web presence, including accurate information about your business, along with good reviews. From there, you can build more awareness, targeting, and lead generation.

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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