by Brian Sutter, Director of Marketing, Wasp Barcode Technologies
What are your plans for 2018? It’s well underway by now – hopefully you’ve got a few of them implemented already.
But if there’s still any room in your calendar, consider making some time for the ideas below. Some of these may not fully hit in 2018, but it’s not too soon to get started with them. Other changes, like the ones at Facebook have been brewing for a while, but it’s no longer possible to pretend everything’s okay.
As you look through the list below for some big ideas to apply to your marketing this year, some will sound familiar. Some will be evolutions of what you’ve heard before. And a couple might seem entirely new.
That’s as it should be. 2018 isn’t a year to completely throw out everything you’ve learned about marketing before. But if you want to compete – and maybe even grow your business this year – it helps to be open to new ideas.
1. Facebook is an advertising platform.
You’ve heard about Facebook’s recent news feed change, right? It basically means that any organic reach you thought your posts were getting… is gone.
And while that’s not great news for small businesses, even before this announcement, organic reach was at nearly zero.
When these new changes take effect, reach will be so small that we won’t be able to kid ourselves about whether or not our audiences see our content.
They won’t. We’ll have to accept Facebook as largely an advertising platform.
I think many small businesses had already gotten the message about Facebook even before this recent announcement. In our last State of Small Business report, fewer businesses were using Facebook than in prior years.
2. Facebook Messenger (or other apps) may be Facebook 2.0.
Yes, Facebook will be harder to do marketing on. But Facebook Messenger could actually work even better than old Facebook did. And if you don’t like Messenger, there are plenty of other messaging apps to choose from.
Messaging apps are actually the #1 social media trend advertising and marketing executives say they’ll be focused on for 2018. This is a channel most small businesses could use, too.
In fact, Facebook Messenger’s major competitor, WhatsApp, just launched a separate app exclusively for businesses.
At one point Mark Zuckerburg actually thought Facebook Messenger could kill email. That may still be overly optimistic, but it gives you an idea of how powerful this could potentially be.
The user base is already there: More people use the four most popular messaging apps every month than use the four most popular social media platforms.
3. Online reviews are a marketing channel.
It’s time to get serious about your business’s online reviews. Your customers (even the “old” ones over 50) rely on them more than you might think.
And while Facebook offers online reviews (which you should manage as part of your customer service work on that platform), there’s also Google My Business, Yelp, and a dozen other review services.
Don’t ignore what’s happening with these reviews. Answer every one (or pick your best customer service rep to answer them). Even if they’re negative. Actually… especially if they’re negative.
4. It’s time to lay the groundwork for voice search.
I’m not going to tell you that you should put half of your marketing budget into voice search. But I am saying it’s time to get yourself (or an enthusiastic employee) a voice-enabled device and start paying attention to how companies are using it.
Voice search and voice assistants are going to be a big deal, though they may not be essential to small businesses for now.
However – agile small businesses who figure this out early could have a major advantage.
Why? Because while voice search is not yet a tidal wave, it’s growing. ComScore predicts that by 2020, 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches.
In short, many of your customers are already using this channel. If you can lay the groundwork now and get ahead of your competitors, there’s major opportunity here.
5. Influencer marketing is not just for companies with massive marketing budgets.
Does the idea of “building an audience” seem exhausting? Do you not have (or want to hire) a team of creatives to make your content and your marketing stand out?
Then maybe you need the help of an influencer. Or even a “micro-influencer”.
You just have to pick the right influencer and be clear on what your goals are. And set things up so you’ll be working with that influencer for the long term.
6. User-generated content.
This is a trend that feeds into several of the ideas we’ll mention here. But first of all, understand that user-generated content is any piece of content one of your customers or one of your followers creates.
This would include:
- Any reviews they leave you
- Any comments they make about your content or your products or services
- If they take any photos or videos of themselves and mention or include your products or services
- If they contribute content because you asked them to, or in order to participate in a contest
User generated content is one of the most effective and trustworthy types of content. And because Facebook has said more posts from friends and family will dominate the news feed, I think we’ll see more focus on “UGC” this year.
But this is not a “big boys only” marketing tactic. Any business, of any size, can partake. You just need customers or an audience that likes you enough to want to spread the word.
7. The customer experience you offer is as important as the products or services you offer.
This is a truly big idea, but there’s abundant evidence it’s a reality, too.
User experience is so far-reaching that it has consequences for what happens in your store, or on your website.
The marketplace is just too saturated anymore for people to tolerate bad experiences. And whether we’re all snowflakes or not, we’ve come to expect to be treated well.
Get customer experience right, and you’ll be a step ahead on the next idea, too.
8. Trust is precious.
Mistrust seems to permeate our culture now. And it’s not just directed at the government, either. People mistrust companies, products… you name it. They even distrust online reviews (often with good cause). And they especially distrust social media.
You can’t turn the tide on this all by yourself. But you can be sensitive to where your customers or clients’ heads are at.
So basically, be trustworthy. And if you are trusted, protect that reputation. Invest in customer service. Keep your inventory stocked. Honor your return policies. Don’t sell cheap goods, or offer shoddy services.
Protect the trust you’ve earned even if it costs you some profits. Be as loyal to your customers as you’d like them to be to you. Because even million-dollar marketing can’t overcome a lack of trust these days.
9. Consumers expect brands to have an opinion.
Many companies have had a long and tightly held tradition about not commenting on political or cultural issues.
There are some things (many things, now) that are just too much of a powder keg to mess with.
But you may need to change that stance. More and more research shows that consumers actually want brands to speak up on issues.
This could be especially true for local businesses, who are ideal advocates for local issues.
Tread carefully, of course. But consider trying this approach in 2018. Just don’t pose… find issues that your company feels genuinely aligned with.
10. It’s time to outsource some of your marketing services.
Marketing tends to be neglected at small businesses. Our own State of Small Business Report found that marketing budgets are often far too low.
Marketing also gets starved for time, according to Infusionsoft. They found that the biggest challenge small business owners face is finding the time and resources for marketing.
So small business marketers are short on time and short on money. And yet, according to our research, only 14% of small businesses outsource their marketing, public relations, and advertising.
It’s not that they can’t or don’t know how to outsource – 54% of small businesses outsource graphic design and website design.
So maybe 2018 would be a good year to hire some help. So you can follow through on some of the other ideas, too.
Back to you.
What’s your big idea for small business marketing in 2018? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.
Brain Sutter serves as Wasp Barcode Technologies’ director of marketing, where he sets the strategic direction and oversees the tactical execution of the company’s marketing programs.