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How to compete with the big end of town – without it costing your SME the earth

As 2017 begins to unfold there is one message for SMEs: it’s time to innovate marketing strategies to compete with bigger businesses. Gaining consumer attention is becoming an increasingly difficult task, as competition increases for SMEs and the channels with which to reach audiences continue to fragment. How can a small business stand out from the crowd in this environment? The answer is to use the width of your brain rather than the width of your wallet.

SMEs need to find smarter, more agile ways of attracting ideal consumers, using engagement to cut through the increasing noise in the marketing sphere. My colleagues and I call this marketing technique ‘inbound’ and, for the unfamiliar, it means marketing that targets customers in the platforms they already exist in, in a manner that resonates.

Despite the benefits of inbound marketing, many SMEs still use outbound techniques, designed to demand attention by ‘interrupting’ their audiences. While it may seem like an impactful way to get attention, in reality these messages often hit the wrong audience, are poorly timed, are expensive and, as they are unwanted, can sometimes result in the opposite desired outcome with consumers feeling negatively towards the brand.

Audiences have grown wise to outbound techniques – they’ve been around for years and consumers are learning to detect and ignore them. The latest Interactive Advertising Bureau Ad blocking in Australia study found almost 30% of consumers are now using ad blocking technology and this trend is only set to continue. The democratisation of the internet means power rests with the audience and they are actively using technology to filter content they don’t want.

The benefit of inbound marketing is its ability to pinpoint particular groups that should be targeted and avoid bombarding other people with information they aren’t interested in. The flow on effect is businesses more likely to reach potential leads, reduce advertising wastage and save money. The real-time metrics of inbound mean they can also see where their strategy is really firing and amplify those activities, rather than spending money where it isn’t working.

So how can small businesses capitalise on their consumers’ behaviour and move to inbound marketing techniques in 2017? While inbound as a strategy has existed for more than a decade, fundamental shifts in technology mean it too is changing, and new inbound marketing techniques are coming to the fore. Among these, compelling content stands out as key, and this year what will engage audiences is different to what worked in the past.

Video is best

For the past decade, written content has been powerful, in the form of articles and blog posts which could then be optimised for and driven by search engines. But now, with the rise of mobile, visual content has begun to surpass the written word, meaning video, optimised through social and paid media, should be a key priority. Video doesn’t need to be hyper-produced, or long, but instead should feel authentic, live and be ‘snackable’. Further, sound is less important than we think: anecdotal evidence from publishers, collected by Digiday, found 85% of videos today are watched without audio.

Be social

Content consumption is also happening in different places. With Facebook and Instagram dominating how consumers spend their free time it’s important content lives and breathes social. SMEs can put their content on social media in order to boost audience reach, and putting paid marketing spend behind it can amplify it even further. It is important that SMEs have a presence there as if you’re not meeting your customers where they live, you risk losing them.

Hand the power to the consumer

When it comes to the transaction part of the purchase cycle, having the right website becomes increasingly important. Users have been spoiled by the likes of Uber to expect on-demand premium buying experiences. A website that doesn’t enable viewers to get information when they request it or instantly chat with sales or support will frustrate your buyers and likely send them into the arms of your competition.

Increasing the efficiencies and success of marketing is important for SMEs as it reduces the cost of generating and closing leads. By communicating with consumers where they are and in the manner they expect, you can better target them and find out what strategies are working best. Inbound marketing is key and SMEs who get on the front foot ahead of the crowd will reap the rewards.

About the author

Ryan Bonnici is the director of marketing at HubSpot Asia Pacific and Japan. He is an experienced digital marketing leader and has extensive experience across B2B and B2C marketing and sales development having held roles previously at Salesforce, ExactTarget, Microsoft and Qantas.

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Ryan Bonnici

Ryan Bonnici

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