In the past, marketing was one of the advantages that larger enterprises held over small businesses that really couldn’t be overcome. Bigger budgets and more manpower translated to more robust, widespread, and effective marketing — which, naturally, led to more business and growth. Small businesses, even if they were particularly clever about their marketing efforts, couldn’t quite compete at the same level.
To some extent this remains the case, and likely always will. However, the revolution we’ve seen in big data and its uses in marketing in recent years are at least giving small businesses more of a fighting chance than they’ve had in the past. By asking the question ‘How Can Marketing Extract Value From Big Data?’ several years ago, we actually covered some big business advantages that now apply to small businesses as well. The idea of using data to generate greater insight and develop better business decision-making was once relatively exclusive to larger companies that could afford the data operations. But these same practices are now the ones helping small businesses to compete.
So how exactly are small businesses catching up?
Improving Customer Service
Customer service is arguably one of the top things small businesses have going for them in the first place. Entrepreneur looked into how small business compete in an excellent article, and spent some time on this point. As that article put it, small businesses have the ability to interact with customers directly, removing the “bottlenecks and bureaucracy” of larger businesses. Basically, small businesses can devote more personal time and attention to customers.
Data-driven marketing, though, can enhance the quality of that personal time and attention. To use an example, a small business owner without a data operation may recognise a regular customer and welcome that customer back to the business. But the same owner armed with data (about past purchases, demographics, general interest, etc.) can not only greet the customer, but ask about past purchases and recommend new products or services aimed specifically at that customer. It’s a bit of a simplistic illustration, but this speaks to how data can help a small business better serve customers — and all while retaining that personal touch larger companies can’t match.
The same Entrepreneur article just mentioned the ability to “niche down” as a perk some small businesses enjoy. This is basically a way of saying that a small business can pick a given “niche” to zone in on and dominate, ensuring strong, steady business in a particular area rather than sporadic or unreliable growth and expansion. And here, too, data can be of great assistance. With a data-driven marketing operation, a small business can thoroughly research the consumers and general market related to a chosen niche, and come to know all relevant factors inside and out. It becomes easier to dominate the niche after choosing it.
Boosting Content Marketing
Content marketing plays into the categories already mentioned here, in that it can be used to reach targeted customers and help to establish a brand within a niche. But it’s also important to point out that relying on data can also help improve the quality of a small business’s content production itself.
This is actually a particularly important point, because smaller operations often struggle to sufficiently optimise content strategies. To this point, Ayima Kickstart discusses digital marketing for startups and states that a lack of optimised content (due to insufficient resources or technical SEO knowledge) is one of the “biggest hurdles for small business websites.” Putting this in simple terms, small businesses don’t often have the resources or know-how to make their content effective at attracting attention online. Data collection, however, can largely solve this problem. With adequate data relating to page views, conversions, and other aspects of engagement, a small business can begin to recognise what makes for effective content, and adjust as needed.
Driving Product & Service Development
Finally, small businesses can also benefit from data by using it to inform the development of new products and services. This is a multi-faceted idea, but the core concept is explained well in a post on data-driven product decisions on Medium. In that post, a writer with experience in product management at Shopify noted that managers can use data to understand the state of a user base and “what’s important to them.” This gets at the main idea here, which is to use data from consumers (gleaned through comments, feedback, social listening, and direct interaction) to determine what they might want in future products or services. The same approach can also be used to measure the effectiveness of past or existing products. But primarily, it can help small businesses to ensure that their limited resources for expansion and development are applied strategically.
In all of these ways, data is gradually helping small businesses to compete in ways they haven’t always been able to in the past.
by Brittany Jared