Should my business start doing digital marketing? Why the answer is yes, and how to start

In a world that is obviously digital first and mobile first, it should be obvious that every single business should be putting their primary marketing efforts into digital strategies. This blog post however was inspired by a recent article I read which stated, less than half of small businesses participate in digital marketing. Although this is mostly a theoretical post on why you need to start, there are some direct actions you can take at the end of the post.

My opinion on what is most important will probably differ slightly from the average "digital marketer" out there.

In 1883 Western Union stated, “The telephone was not a viable product for business purposes.”

That seems like a pretty ridiculous statement today. For context, let me give you some more recent examples of the way that many of us thought about recent technological developments.

20-25 years ago, how many of you thought you would never get a cell phone? 15-20 years ago, how many of you thought the internet was just a fad? How many of you said you would never buy anything on the internet? How many of you thought social media was just for horny college kids? How many of you thought having a touch screen phone was a terrible idea and you would never get one? Now, more importantly, how many of you now have a cellphone? How many of you buy things on the internet? How many of your businesses have a website? How many of your businesses are now on social media? How many of you now use an Iphone?

I learned a disturbing truth recently. A fact that blew my mind. Only 44% of small businesses participate in digital marketing. In my view, it seems like the remaining 56% of small businesses are hiding their head in the sand and thinking that things aren’t really changing. The reality however, is that we are living through a time period that will prove to be every bit as significant as the renaissance that followed the invention of the printing press. The internet is still in its infancy and it will continue to change the world in profound ways. Trying to ignore that truth is not a winning strategy.

Friends, not having a clear digital marketing strategy in 2016 is the equivalent of being one of those companies that 10 years ago was still sending you daily fax blasts. Still doing this despite the fact that almost everyone had the trash can sitting directly below the fax machine so that every fax that came in would drop directly into the garbage. I know all too well of companies that were participating in this at a time when emails where getting 80% open rates 15 years ago. Any business that had the foresight to switch from fax blasts to emails was killing it 10-15 years ago!

I have spoken with many business owners that stubbornly dig in their heels and say they are too old to learn social media, or the internet is for young kids. They claim, they didn’t grow up with it so they couldn’t possibly learn it now. Friends, you didn’t grow up driving a car but you learned that when you turned 16. You didn’t grow up with a cell phone but you learned to use one of those didn’t you?

How do you shop? How do you find information? You use the internet don’t you? Even when someone you trust refers you to a business, you still go online and check them out don’t you? Stop for a moment and think to yourself, “If I search for products and information like this, isn’t it likely that my target market also does the same thing?” The answer of course is a resounding, YES! Wouldn’t it make sense to have a strategy in place for serving your target market online prior to them actually picking up the phone to call your business? Don’t you think this would greatly set you apart from your local competition?

Some of you might be thinking, “Yes I know the internet is important for business, that’s why I have a website.” Friend, “having a website” is like pinning your business card to the crowded bulletin board at the local coffee shop. “Having a website” in 1996 was something that made you special. Having a website in 2016 is like having a business card. Half the stay-at-home moms in America also have websites and most of them do a better job of updating it than the average small business does.

Furthermore, of the 44% of businesses that do participate in digital marketing, very few of them actually have a strategy. For a resounding 84%, participating in digital marketing means they maintain a facebook page. This is hardly a STRATEGY.

I’m done ranting. What needs to be done, and how do you start?  

1.       Admit that the internet is winning and will ultimately completely crush everything else.

Commit to a mindset that your customers are consuming media at home on their computers, and all day long on their phones. This isn’t going to stop.  

The first thing that unquestionably has to happen is a change in mindset. Start by admitting that the internet is winning, that things are moving forward, and growing with them is the way to win. Every single business needs a digital marketing strategy. Given the fact that so few local businesses are doing anything beyond having a website and a facebook page, it means that the small businesses that get serious about a digital content strategy will very rapidly develop a massive advantage in their local market.

Think of it like this. In your local market, there was probably a car dealership that ran a ton of commercials on TV. The odds are, they had a slogan that you will never forget because you heard it so many times. I can remember every single commercial break seeing these commercial again and again. It must have cost a fortune to run those ads for the dealerships that did it but, it paid off for them. When I lived in San Diego it was “Cal Worthington in the Car Country Mall in Carlsbad, Open ‘till 10.” When I moved to Colorado it was, “Nobody beats a Dealin’ Doug Deal, NOBODY!” Prior to the internet, these commercials worked really well. Back then, this was how you told your story to the consumers and the more you told your story, the more you stuck in people’s minds.

Now, you tell your story on the internet. The principle is the same though. The more you tell your story, the more you stick in the mind of your potential customers. The more places they find you, the greater chance you have of earning their business. The more times your business pops up to your customer, the more they will see your business as THE leader.

Of course, the thing that has changed is, on the internet you can’t just yell at people to buy your stuff. You have to provide some value to them or you will be ignored. The point however, is most local businesses, don’t do anything. They don’t have a digital marketing strategy. The small businesses that decide to get aggressive about their digital strategy can very rapidly become the behemoths of their local industry.

So the first step is changing your mind. Understand that the principle is exactly the same. 20-50 years ago it meant outspending your competitors on traditional media. Now it’s far easier. You don’t have to outspend your competition, you can outsmart and outwork your competition. This gives even the smallest of businesses hope. The game has changed. The more content you put out online the better. It’s free but it takes a commitment and discipline to do it.

2.       Turn your Business into a Media company

The first point leads to the second which is, businesses need to understand that every single business, large or small, is in the media business. Understand that with almost zero exceptions, a person interested in your products or services will go online and consume some type of information about your industry. Don't you want them to consume your information rather than your competitors?

They might read buyers guides. Why not be the company that produces those buyers guides? They might watch educational videos. Why not be the company that produces those video? They might check out your facebook page. Why not have a really engaging experience in which your customers are constantly engaging with you? A person who sees that will automatically see that your customers like you and trust you.

The media used to mean, the networks, the newspapers, and the magazines. That isn’t the case anymore. Blogs have replaced newspapers and magazines. Google has replaced the yellow pages. Facebook has replaced letters and cards. Youtube has replaced TV. Twitter has replaced the news.

It’s important to understand this. Old media is dead or dying but new media is only a teenager. It just so happens this teenager is a MANCHILD. People are consuming media ALL DAY LONG instead of just watching their favorite TV program at night. It’s such an incredible opportunity for small businesses because new media is free!

Relative to 25 years ago, it is incredibly easy to tell your story. Relative to 25 years ago, it is incredibly easy for your business to be found. The accessibility of these new outlets mean that whether you are Coke, Nike, a local stay at home mom that does swimming lessons on the weekends, or a semi regional CPA firm, you have the same opportunity to tell your story. The local hobby store with $97K in revenue has the same access to the media that General Electric has.

To take this point further. Consumers and decision makers thinking and purchasing behaviors are continuing to aggressively shift. People who look for information on your company or who maybe don’t know your company yet but are searching for info on your industry, are going to find your blogs, your videos, your facebook page, your customer interactions on social media, and they will tell themselves a story about your company based on what they find. The story that you tell about your business will determine the story that your customer tells themselves about your brand. They will do this prior to ever talking with a representative from your company.

It is imperative to realize this. 94% of shoppers do research online prior to making a purchase. The average buyer for a B2B product or service is 60% of the way through the buyer’s journey prior to speaking with a company about their services. This means that the buyer is already fully educated and very close to making a decision before your sales reps ever speak with them.

So, the second step is for your business to commit to becoming a media company. The media you put out online acts as your sales reps did 50 years ago. It’s a heck of a lot less expensive.

Now, don't take what I'm saying the wrong way. You will still have to close the sale. But, you have a huge advantage at the start when your customer has already decided to trust you based on your online content.

Through your blog and your facebook page, you become a publisher. Through your Youtube channel you become a TV network. Through your twitter, you become a news network. Through your Instagram you become a photographer. Your customers will consume something. Make sure they are consuming your content rather than your competitor’s content.

3.       Start doing something to become a media company.

Practically, what does this actually look like? The easiest way by far is to start blogging aggressively. Yes, most businesses have a blog but once a month is not good enough. Once a week is the absolute minimum. If you blog once a week for a year your website will have 52 more pages at the end of a year. Twice a week will give your website 104 more pages. For 95% of small businesses, regardless of the industry, that is enough to give you more content than the rest of your competitors combined.

What that does is it gives you a disproportionate share of voice in your local industry. It makes anyone searching for your services or products immediately see you as the expert in the industry. A business that commits to this is going to start receiving calls from all over the country because they will establish themselves as leaders.

Another important point is that once you get momentum, it becomes easier and easier. Committing to it and sticking with it means you will become a better blogger much faster.

If you have the time or the money, take it a step further and make video content. This can be anything. It could be informational videos for potential customers to understand the products in your industry. It could be a weekly or daily joke of the day told by someone with a good personality. It could be something extremely valuable like a step by step guide on how to do exactly what it is that your service provides. You can also do podcasts. You can do animated gifs and info graphics. There are innumerable ways to do it but the key is to put out content that provides value to your audience.

That’s it.

Truly, it is that easy. Its 3 steps. Admit that the internet is going to win and it is actually to your advantage as a small business, decide to become a media company and, start producing media. The small business that commits to this, and sticks with it over the long run will be blown away by the long term results. Now, I’m not saying strategy isn’t important because I think it is. The context of each platform that you use is important but, getting started is the first step. Don’t be Western Union. Don’t be the fax machine spam company. Be the leader in your local market. Like all good things, it’s easier said than done but, there is no excuse for not getting started. Good luck.