By Dan Hannaher, Administrator, Region VIII SBA
Many small business owners have experienced at least modest success with internet marketing of their products or services. Yet, there are others who feel like ‘the web’ may be too full of traps and potential ‘gotchas’ to get their business involved on a consistent basis. Indeed, they may feel like the fly who fancies himself having an outing on the spider web, knowing there may be a lurking and dangerous spider waiting for the right moment to spring his surprise, but choosing to take the risk as long as the spider remains out of sight.
While there are cautions that business owners should be aware of, there are significant advantages to having a consistent and ongoing internet presence. Here are a few factors to consider:
Consumers Increasingly Focus on Digital Information Whether it’s one of the hundreds of business rating or recommendation websites, a Facebook post, online directory or other digital source, consumers are ravenously consuming information online. Even traditional advertising mediums like radio, TV and print are referencing digital media sources in their advertising content. Senior citizens, one of the last groups to embrace internet usage, are now flooding to Facebook and other social media sites to get and pass along information on what they like…and don’t like. Teens and Tweens have likely never used a traditional phone book to find what they are looking for. They either ask each other via text message, or look it up on their smart phones.
Quickly Adapt Your Marketing Tactics Need to announce a one-day blow out sale that starts and ends tomorrow? The only practical way is to have a large base of current customers who can receive an email blast and then go online when the sale starts. Want to make a big splash with a new product or service? You may want to create a YouTube or Facebook video that may spread like wildfire…if you have already built up a large enough digital following to get it jumpstarted. Immediacy and intensity are the hallmarks of today’s advertising. The best way to achieve both with the least cost is through the internet.
Constantly Reinforce Your Value Proposition If you already know why customers buy from you, it makes sense to reinforce those points as often as possible. The best way to do that is through the internet. You want to be continually reminding them of why they love doing business with you, and that you have something they need in order to remain emotionally committed to your business. The personal touch doesn’t always need to be delivered in person. Perfecting the customer buying experience is as much about constantly reminding someone why they love you as it is about generating that love the first time the customer buys from you.
You Can Do More for Less With the nation’s economy still recovering, small business budgets remain tight. It’s imperative that owners leverage every dollar to its maximum effectiveness. A vast majority of the most popular internet resources are either free or very low cost, making any return on your investment more about your time than it will be about money. Heavy competition among web site providers, designers and digital advertising talent will keep costs low compared to other potential marketing options. The biggest advantage to being on the web is that you have the potential for instant world-wide access to markets you may never have imagined. Setting up an online store can be done in less than a day by nearly anyone now.
Now for the traps…
Business Reputations Can Be Threatened Overnight Even one disgrundled customer may be enough to create a firestorm of bad news for your company if that customer posts a nastygram about their experience on his or her Facebook page or Twitter account. Bad news travels fast, and human nature tends to reinforce our desire to protect friends or neighbors from repeating our own bad experiences. Being on the net requires constant surveillance to hopefully head off such negative momentum at the pass before it turns into an avalanche that is difficult to turn in your favor. Being proactive in positively responding to both the offended person and to the internet universe in general as soon as possible will help mitigate potential ongoing and future damage.
It’s Not a Post it and Forget it Medium As mentioned above, once your company is on the internet, you must be committed to constantly monitoring, tweaking and refining your online activities, approach and tone. Being on the net is like being involved in the largest imaginable block party, but every conversation is available for the entire neighborhood to hear…and respond to. You can never say anything you want to keep ‘private,’ and you must be open to all sorts of criticism from anyone who happens to be in on your conversation. You must proactively follow blogs and online conversation about your business so you’ll be ready to quickly respond, if needed.
Internet Fraud is Big Business We’ve all heard about the scams designed to separate people from their money by stealing a person’s digital identity and compromising bank accounts or credit cards. Phishing scams can involve thieves using fraudulent web sites to mirror legitimate web sites with the goal of deceiving users into divulging personal information they can then use, or even sell to others for access to a person’s financial capacity. Anyone who does business on the web needs to ensure they have a secure website and use only secure, proven methods of payment that consumers can be confident in. Even one case of suspected fraud may cause people to be overly cautious in dealing with online purchases, meaning your business may become a victim of another company’s web mistakes.
The Internet is Not a Cure All Despite all the good that can result from a company actively engaging Internet use to promote business, it should be viewed by most businesses as another arrow in the company’s marketing quiver. Unless a business has been structured to solely use the internet for product distribution, there will need to be a well-rounded marketing strategy that will have the ability to attract a significant share of a company’s target market. Too much emphasis on internet marketing activities and not enough focus on the human aspects of the customer experience can alienate many customers who need to feel that personal touch on a regular basis.
The Internet can be a great tool that benefits a wide range of small business marketing strategies. Being astute and savvy like the spider when immersing the company in web-based marketing activities can help prevent small business owners from being caught unaware of the potential dangers that may be lurking just out of sight. Better to enjoy being the hunter, rather than suffering the pitfalls of being the hunted.