Did you know that two-thirds of SMB owners and leaders—a full 66 percent—are personally responsible for three or more of the following areas of their business: operations, finance, sales, marketing, human resources, customer service, product development, or IT? When stretched too thin, even the most seasoned business professionals find that some, if not all, of their efforts suffer somewhat.

Perhaps this is why so many businesses fall victim to marketing mishaps, which Melissa Horton cites as one of the four most common reasons small businesses fail.

“Because marketing is a crucial aspect of any early-stage business, it is necessary for companies to ensure they have established realistic budgets for current and future marketing needs. Similarly, having realistic projections in terms of target audience reach and sales conversion ratios is critical to marketing campaign success,” writes Horton.

“Businesses that do not understand these aspects of sound marketing strategies are more likely to fail than companies that take the time necessary to create and implement cost-effective, successful campaigns.”

Clearly, organizations need to stay sharp on industry knowledge and trends if they want to survive. Unfortunately, more and more changes are taking place across the marketing landscape with every passing year, and with so many SMB owners and leaders overworked already, learning about and implementing new marketing strategies often proves difficult.

Nevertheless, your marketing needs persist. Your first step is figuring out what you need (not what you want). Here are five ways to market your small business better in 2019.

1. Invest in A.I. & Big Data Analytics

Big data and analytics have been buzzwords in marketing for years now, but, more recently, there’s been a lot of chatter over “Artificial Intelligence” (AI). Big data and data mining initiatives have been drastically augmented by AI and automation, eliminating much of the guesswork and repetitive, essentially “mindless” human labor, such as data entry.

For those unaware, a simplified data mining example might be a restaurant manager who knows the annual local convention schedule based on his or her experience in the business. NJIT explains this scenario in their post “Gaining Competitive Intelligence with Data Mining”.

“The manager can cross-reference that information with historical sales results to predict such things as forecasted profit or labor demand,” they write. “With this information, the manager can estimate an advertising budget or hire temporary staff to handle anticipated workload.”

They also make it a point to mention that when medium to large-sized businesses use data mining, as opposed to small businesses, they uncover these same information points; the difference, they explain, is that revenue gains can range from “millions to billions of dollars.”

While you might not be looking at revenue gains that high, the good news is that AI-powered automation can simultaneously free you up to focus on other tasks and can level the playing field between SMBs/Entrepreneurs and big time corporations. This technology is going to become tangential to almost all others in the near future, the same way that the internet already has—better to get ahead of the curve than be behind it.

2. Embrace Inbound Marketing Efforts

For those in the know, lead generation efforts nowadays are often dominated by inbound marketing strategies: content marketing, social media marketing, email marketing and search engine optimization (SEO), among other tactics.

Alarmingly, according to research from Clutch’s survey on small businesses and digital marketing, a full 80 percent of small businesses aren’t investing in content marketing at all, generally spending less than $10,000 a year on digital marketing. This highlights two fundamental trends in small business digital marketing efforts: first, that business owners are unaware of the potential of inbound marketing, and second, that keeping marketing costs down is of the utmost importance to this demographic.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, all of these businesses that have neglected content marketing tactics could be spending much less while getting more out of their efforts—specifically, they claim that content marketing costs 62 percent less than outbound marketing and produces 3 times as many leads.

One tip for approaching content marketing in 2019: be authentic. Authenticity evokes emotion, passion, and connection. Consider brands like Apple, Nike, or Harley-Davidson, which have strong, almost cult-like followings all over the world. Emotional appeal is the reason that consumers worship these brands, acting as “outspoken brand ambassadors for their products,” according to the Freshchat blog.

Dishonesty, on the other hand, provokes ire and could dismantle all of the effort you’ve put into making your campaign a success. Be helpful, and write with your users—not their money—in mind.

3. Use Mobile-First Optimization and Strategies

One of the most important, yet overlooked/under-utilized marketing strategies is SEO, both onsite and offsite. The need to invest in optimization has already and will only continue to grow, as recent changes in user behavior and industry standards are shaking up the digital landscape.

For example, in 2018 Google began to take page speed into much heavier consideration when determining rankings for mobile websites and keywords, indicating a newfound emphasis on mobile first content strategies. This is supported by statistics released by Amit Singhal, Google’s head of search, that every month, users perform 100 billion mobile searches—and that this number is only expected to grow.

“Considering this, it is obvious that the future of internet marketing will be designed to directly target mobile phone users,” states Rutgers Online via their post on top internet marketing trends.

“To quicken this transition, marketers should make sure that all of their ads, websites, and landing pages are set up for mobile optimization,” they continue. “Nothing will scare away potential customers more than a clunky, aesthetically displeasing site.”

4. Increase Focus on Voice Search and Chatbots

While we mentioned AI above in conjunction with Big Data and Analytics, we also mentioned that its tendrils are creeping into almost every facet of business. As Siri, Alexa, and Cortana take over our phones and smart speakers, it’s easy to see why two of these additional areas are voice search and chatbots.

According to eMarketing, 35.6 million Americans used a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month in 2017, which represents a year-over-year increase of 128.9 percent since 2016. In 2019, Technavio predicts that the voice recognition market will be worth $601 million as a whole, while ComScore claims that, by 2020, 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches.

Clearly, the rise in popularity of voice search is quantifiable, demanding that small and large business owners alike increase focus on SEO that adheres to new paradigms. While the difference is more in the form than the function—queries to and results garnerd from algorithm-based engines are still just that—the growth of popularity in AI-powered voice search is creating a ripple effect.

People are becoming more accustomed to having “an expert” around at all times, and customer expectations are shifting toward a culture of consumers that expect 24/7 “on-demand” assistance as a result. Fortunately, there’s a solution for that too.

“Chatbots, powered by AI, are becoming a more common customer service channel where customers can interact with a bot instead of a person,” writes Brooke Faulkner via CosmoBC. “In many instances it’s getting tougher to distinguish if someone is communicating with a person or a computer program.”

Voice search and chatbots are already becoming integral parts of even the smallest business operations. By neglecting to invest attention toward voice search and chatbots, you’re missing out on a huge slice of the search market and likely working more than you have to.

5. Consider Outsourcing Your Efforts

You can’t be an expert at everything, but everything you do requires expert results. If this phrase rings true for you, especially in marketing, join the club; Matthew Grattan, writing for BigCommerce, mentions that “small business owners spend roughly 33 hours a week on marketing activities,” and that 76 percent of them report “having insufficient time in the day to get everything done.”

If this is the case for you and your small business, it might be time for you to consider outsourcing your marketing efforts. Not only is outsourcing one of the best ways to reduce small business operating costs, but, when approached wisely, this practice can help garner multiple additional benefits. These benefits and more are mentioned by the editors at AllBusiness.com in their post on outsourcing for small businesses:

  • More time to focus on your role: Fewer hats to wear means clearer priorities, and increased attention on core matters rather than periphery ones.
  • Increased efficiency: If you’re not a marketer, you’re probably not good at marketing. Leave it to the pros—they’ve optimized their processes to be as efficient as possible, which means better leads and insights at the best price possible.
  • A more level playing field: Some large organizations might have in-house marketing support that dwarfs your entire small business. Outsourcing can help small firms act just as “big” via access to the same economies of scale, efficiency, and expertise.
  • Reduced risk: Every time you pursue a new marketing strategy, you’re taking a risk. Markets, competition, government regulations, financial conditions, and technologies change all the time, and can all affect your efforts profoundly. Let a third party decide how to handle and avoid this risk so that you can sleep easy.

By pursuing these ways to market your business better, you’ll experience better marketing results at reduced cost and effort. Look into these strategies, decide what’s best for you and your business, and marketing your firm 2019 will be a breeze.

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Andy Heikkila is a business owner, writer, and musician hailing from the lush Pacific NW. He enjoys running, drinking, and hanging out with his friends when he’s not working. Feel free to drop him a message on Twitter @AndyO_TheHammer.

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