The digital marketing landscape is as complex as ever. As we head into a new year, small business owners (SBOs) are looking for strategies and tactics that can help them compete. We surveyed 1,000 small business owners to determine their priorities and challenges in digital marketing for 2018. In our report, we asked top marketing leaders and brands to weigh in on the results and offer insights into what’s on deck for 2018. We spoke with Mari Smith, the so-called “Queen of Facebook”; Zapier, a workflow automation tool; Sufjan Patel, a digital marketing strategist for Fortune 500-caliber companies; and more. They helped us interpret the data and forecast the 2018 landscape, offering valuable insights on where small businesses need to line up for 2018.
Here are the top five takeaways from the report:
1. Digital marketing success remains elusive to most small business owners
Forty-six percent of small business owners can’t verify whether or not their marketing strategies work. Worse? Seventeen percent are certain that their efforts aren’t working—that’s 1 in 6 small businesses—whereas, only 38 percent can confidently state that their sales and marketing efforts are in fact, working.
This means that the majority of small businesses are spending their marketing budget on strategies that either are not working, or can’t be shown to work.
Sujan Patel notes that the competitive advantage will be in using analytics: “The primary trend I see for small business owners that want to gain an immediate competitive advantage in 2018; the businesses that use the tools at their disposal to track their leads and customers will make the biggest strides over their competitors.”
2. 2018 is the year of social media marketing
Social media marketing is on the rise? Not a surprise. But that 71 percent of small businesses actively use social media as part of their customer acquisition strategy? That’s a little more impressive, especially as compared to the fact that fewer than 40 percent use email to acquire customers, and fewer than 30 percent use video for that purpose. Social media, is, of course, a powerful medium for customer acquisition, but there’s a good chance that small businesses could do better with their social media strategy (especially when you hold up the fact that only 38 percent know their marketing is effective.
Facebook emerged the winner for the social platform small businesses will turn to in 2018. Three quarters (75 percent) of small business owners using social will include Facebook in their social media strategy. While it wasn’t too long ago that Facebook was projected to lag behind more innovative social platforms, they’ve rebounded and are proving to be ahead of the curve.
Mari Smith offers the most important trend for Facebook in 2018: “What you need to know now...to take advantage of what Facebook is rolling out in the coming 12 to 18 months is how the world is communicating: it is mobile, mobile, mobile.”
3. Small business owners plan to increase spending on social media
Small business owners are willing to put their money where their mouth is, it seems. The number one tool small business owners plan to increase their spending on is also the thing they use the most to acquire customers: social media. The top three digital marketing tools small businesses will increase spending for are:
- Social media management: 38 percent
- SEO and digital ads: 30 percent
- Website analytics: 24 percent
If you’re going to spend more on social, where should you put your money? Steve Strauss, USA TODAY senior columnist, had this to say: “The vast majority of small business owners are indicating that they plan to invest their money in social media in 2018, I strongly recommend they invest in tools that enable them to...monitor traffic and conversions to see what’s working and what isn’t.”
4. Over a quarter of small business owners will try to get by in 2018 without spending more on digital marketing
Most small businesses intend to increase their budgets for at least some aspect of digital marketing. And yet, there remains more than a quarter (28 percent) of small business owners who intend to tackle 2018 with the same—or smaller—digital marketing budget as they had last year.
This means many small businesses will work on optimizing their marketing budgets and will look for low cost or free tools to help them succeed without spending more.
We asked the folks at Zapier what they thought about this development. Noting the increasing availability of data and analytics tools, “We notice a larger trend: the empowerment of the SMB (Small/Medium Business). Tools that help with every part of the marketing funnel, from getting new prospects to engaging them and closing the deal, are accessible, easy to use, affordable, and often require minimal technical skill.” This is good news for small business owners on a tight budget, they went on to say, “These direct-to-consumer tools allow small businesses to execute and iterate on their marketing quickly, effectively, and within budget.”
5. Biggest marketing challenge for 2018: Finding the time or resources for marketing
When asked about their biggest challenge they’ll face for their marketing in 2018, respondents indicated that their number one challenge was simply finding the time or resources for marketing. It seems that the biggest hurdle to small business marketing is just getting a break from the fray long enough to properly market their business.
We know small business owners are strapped for time, but the answer may not be to simply adopt more technology. As Brian Anderson, news editor at Demand Gen Report, observes, “Finding time and resources for marketing, being able to convert leads into customers, being able to have the types of conversations that lead to sales: it’s ultimately not a technology solution as much as it’s a process solution. If you don't have a process to understand your marketing efforts and your sales efforts, your technology isn’t going to benefit you.”
Source: Keap 2018 Small Business Marketing Trends Report. In October 2018, Keap surveyed a panel of 1,000 self-identified small business owners from across the United States via an online questionnaire they accessed with a mobile device. Respondents were not necessarily customers of Keap, and the survey did not identify Keap as a sponsor.