By taking the time to really understand why we want to take our business online, thinking about our customers in order to create a profile and a customer journey, and then setting a SMART goal, we’re ready to start the work of developing an online marketing plan to achieve our online ambitions. For the limited purposes of getting a small business online, I’m not going to go into a great deal of detail about marketing planning in general, but it helps to have some sort of definition to work with, and so for our purposes I am going to define the marketing plan as:
“A set of promotional activities a business undertakes to profitably attract more customers”
I have highlighted two parts of this statement so we keep them in mind: “promotional activities”, and “profitably attract”.
I’ve highlighted “promotional activities” because your marketing is something you have to actively do. The business environment is constantly changing, and so is the efficacy of your marketing plan. If you unthinkingly do the same things all the time, or simply adopt a “fire and forget” strategy you are unlikely to have any long term success. Unattended marketing activities can become part of the background of your daily work and fade from consciousness. Signage is a good example of this. One often forgets to look at the signage when going into work, but your customers don’t forget to look at it when they arrive to do business with you. Similarly, Pay Per Click (PPC) marketing campaigns can be open ended and will be active when you’re not looking at them – even when you’re asleep at night. If they are not maintained they can become ineffective by becoming irrelevant and unseen or expensive (Google considers relevancy in its pricing and ranking model for adverts). What can also happen, if you don’t pay attention, is that offers and discounts that have expired are still advertised and still expected by prospective customers. In short: Signage needs maintained; PPC campaigns need monitored; you need to actively manage your marketing campaigns.
I also highlighted “profitably attract”. It seems to obvious to state, since it is the de facto reason businesses market themselves, but for the avoidance of doubt, we want to attract customers, and we want to do it profitably. Loss leaders and clearance stock aside, this means aiming to attract motivated customers at a price which is considerably less than the gross profit you will make from the sale. It seems quite a hard-hearted to look at it this way, but you have limited resources, and if you’re going to invest in a marketing campaign you must be selective about who it attracts. If a marketing campaign doesn’t attract buyers, it has failed; if it doesn’t attract enough buyers to cover its costs it has failed; if it doesn’t attract more buyers than other options for the same investment then it has arguably failed. This means that there are probably more ways that an activity can fail than it can succeed, hence the efforts we went through in the previous two posts to try and focus as precisely as we can on what it is we want to achieve, so we can make clear choices when it comes to how we respond to our goal(s). When marketing offline it can be very hard to work out exactly what works well and what doesn’t because it can be hard to precisely attribute a sale to a specific marketing activity. Online systems are much easier to attribute success to because they can record all the user interactions through the browser. This doesn’t mean that offline marketing is outmoded or irrelevant – it is relevant, particularly if you want people to actively seek out your company when they go online – but that is a story for another day.
Taking a business online means choosing from a very wide range of options in terms of where you focus your marketing presence and how you draw people’s attention to it. An apt comparison with the physical world could be where you base your business, and the choices you make to advertise it. The first thing to decide is where to focus your marketing presence.
As in the real world, your online marketing needs a destination: somewhere you direct people to with your advertising. The most obvious example is a website, but there are other options which might be more appropriate for your business and your level of expertise. Such options include social media pages, local business listings, Google My Business pages and others. We’ll have a brief look at some of these in a moment, but it’s worth bearing in mind that you’re not restricted to one option. Many, if not most, online businesses use several.
If you’re new to online marketing, then I would strongly advise that you keep to the minimum number of options you can. Each one has its own quirks and requirements and in order to get the best out of them you need to manage them properly. Their management consumes time and effort, so make sure you only take on those activities you can devote regular attention to. In this regard, I subscribe to the philosophy of a Minimum Viable Product. Although it is a concept used in software development, I think its basic precepts can be used in the context of any new venture: you work out the minimum, simplest, version of the thing you are trying to do, launch that to check that the basic premise is viable, and then expand it using your experience of how your customers respond. What makes a product minimum and viable includes considerations such as your skillset, the modus operandi of the particular solution, and how the kind of problem the solution tries to address.
Take a Facebook page for example. Facebook pages allow a business to talk to their customers and be promoted in their social media feeds. They work by allowing the business to post comments, images, and videos to their page which they want people to engage with and attract a following. In order to be successful with a Facebook page it helps if you are the kind of positive extrovert who likes chatting with strangers and enjoys seeing a response to their posts. Facebook pages are relatively high maintenance but they can be very useful in creating and reinforcing your businesses image and quickly creating awareness at both a local and wider level. You do not need to know how to program or how to optimise your page for search engines (Search Engine Optimisation – SEO), or manage things like web addresses. All the technical aspects are managed for you by Facebook. And it’s free to set up.
Websites, on the other hand, are a different kettle of fish. They do not necessarily require any programming knowledge, but they are much easier to use if managed by someone who understands web development. They need to be designed, at least in terms of appearance, but in most cases, also in terms of their software engineering. Systems such as WordPress and Wix don’t require any programming, and can be styled with templates, but you still have to choose the right template. If you want a website that performs at a professional level then you will probably have to pay for both the template and a monthly hosting charge. Although it can sound intimidating, these are quite easy matters to resolve with a little knowledge and practise. The great advantage of websites is they are highly malleable: you can do anything you like with them, allowing you to create a seamless brand experience, really indulge your creativity and imagination, and you are not as subject to the whims of big tech companies who have their own priorities.
As your business develops you are likely to create your own website (and we can help!), but in the early days you are probably better using a pre-packaged option, unless you need something specific to your business like a detailed booking form. What you choose depends entirely on what you want to achieve.
Here’s a table indicating what you might want to achieve, and which options might be most appropriate:
|I want to||Good solution(s)|
|Promote my brand||Facebook, Instagram, Website with GoogleAds, YouTube|
|Let people know where we are||Google My Business|
|Appear at the top of Google||Website, GoogleAds, yell.com|
|Get timely news out about my |
|Take online bookings||Website|
|Sell things online||Website, eBay, Facebook|
|Host public documents||Website|
There isn’t enough space in this post to go into any of the above in detail, but just to say that they are all worth research and consideration. They aren’t mutually exclusive; obviously some businesses want to do all of the above and use a variety of different options to do so, but for the small business trying to get online or trying to get off the ground then it is best to pick one or two solutions which you can focus on. As I have reiterated ad nauseam in this series of blogs, the solution(s) you choose depends on the reason you think you need to go online in the first place and its attendant goals. It’s unwise to split a limited amount of time between several solutions such that none of them are used properly.
Let’s continue in the context of our breakdown garage business from the previous posts. We are trying to achieve the following goal:
“Increase the number of people booking with us per month by 10% within the next 6 months by advertising the breakdown service online.”
We could try and solve this problem in several different ways. Let’s assume that the potential customer will search online for a breakdown service in his local area when the car breaks down. We want anyone who searches for a local breakdown service to find our number and call us before they call anyone else.
The first question to ask is “where do people search online for car breakdown services”. The answer is unlikely to be Facebook or Instagram, which are more of an entertainment medium. It’s probably going to be Google. The challenge with Google is to attain prominence for your business in the search rankings, i.e. to appear near the top. Someone whose car has just broken down is unlikely to patiently wade through many search results until they decide which breakdown service they like the look of. They want to call someone in a hurry, so prominence is key, but it is also important that the user isn’t deterred from using our business either. Our competitors will probably also be trying to attract their attention within the same set of search results.
An analysis of the above suggests that we want to:
There are several ways we can approach this. We can:
It is worth considering how our customer journey would appear in each case.
In this scenario we have built a website, either in house or through an agency, structured the content to focus on breakdown services in and around Anytown and told Google about it by registering it on our newly opened Google Search Console account. Google has added it to the listing for Anytown breakdown services as we intended. However, because Google has only just seen the website for the first time, it does not appear at the top of the search engine rankings. Moreover, because we haven’t created a Google My Business account to let Google know the garage is a local business, our listing appears below those competitors who have done.
The user has to swipe down to the search results to find our site. Once the user reaches our website in the search results they can click the link in Google and be taken to the homepage which has our number. The number is displayed such that the phone knows it’s a telephone number and you can call by tapping on it.
This solution gets us online, but it isn’t ideal. The website does not appear in the most prominent position and the local listings obscure it from the user. Additionally, there quite a few interactions the user needs to take in order to get to our site and obtain our number.
We can do better. One way to appear at the top of the Google listing is to pay Google for the privilege, using Google Ads. This would put our advert above the Google Maps entries:
This is better, now we appear in the most prominent position and anyone looking for a breakdown recovery service in a hurry can just click on the link. But we can still do one better. In this scenario the user has to click into our website, but clicking on links was never the point of the exercise. The point is to produce a call to our operator. Fortunately, Google provides us with another product which solves this problem very nicely: A Call-Only ad.
In this case we create an advert which promotes our telephone number. When the user clicks on the ad they do not get directed to the website, but instead their mobile phone initiates a call to our operator. So, now our customer only has to do two things to be connected to us: Search for a breakdown garage and click on the link, like so:
But if the user doesn’t need to visit our website, then do we need a website at all, at this stage? No! We can avoid the cost of a new website with a Google My Business account. In this case, all we do is create a Google My Business account – which means we will appear in the Map listings – and then create a Call-Only ad which points to our Google My Business profile. The Customer Journey is identical to the above, except that the web address that is shown in the advert is a link to our Google My Business profile, and we appear in the Google Maps listing beneath it.
This is the simplest way for our garage to advertise its breakdown service online. It requires the minimal investment, just the effort required to get the Google My Business profile set up and to advertise it, and so if our hypothesis about online advertising is wrong there is very little lost. However, if it works, then the strategy can be developed to use a website which will provide a better brand experience and open up the possibility of more solutions.
A classified site is probably a reasonable choice if you only need a minimal online presence, and you want to minimise the time you spend managing it, but for our purposes it doesn’t provide much of an improvement over building a website in terms of clicks and would possibly provide an inferior customer experience.
Once you’re online you should monitor your campaign to check that it is achieving your intended goals, and this will be the subject of my next post!
Having spent over a decade working in the motor trade, latterly as the Marketing Director of a large Scottish retail network, I have now set my sights on applying my knowledge to help other businesses succeed in online marketing. I specialise in online marketing strategy, and am particularly keen on helping our clients build their online presence using an agile process that starts with a Minimum Viable Product and then builds it up using a process of continuous development. This way their investment is always focussed on improving their online marketing based on efficient and viable stages. We aim to have a long term relationship with our clients, rather than simply delivering a product and then walking away.