April 1, 2016
In today’s marketplace, everything seems to happen at an increasingly rapid pace – and it’s all too easy to get left behind. New competitors seem to come out of nowhere, while the big companies can change their strategies and reshape consumer habits almost overnight. What can a small- to medium-sized company do to keep up in a situation like this? How can you ensure that your business is smart enough and adaptable enough to keep pace, or even get ahead?
The expansion of the online marketplace
Since the first ever Internet sales transaction was completed nearly two decades ago, the Internet has undergone changes that would have been difficult for many people back then to predict. Shopping systems have evolved to the point where almost everybody now feels comfortable with them. One-click payment systems, in combination with online banking, have made online shopping easier and easier. Alongside the rise of large online businesses selling direct, we’ve seen the rise of large online marketplaces with multiple small companies trading through them, whilst smaller ones have colonized niche areas like the arts and crafts sector. Meanwhile, many small businesses have moved online and begun selling directly, finding a mixture of ways to market their products. They mainly look to search engines to help customers find them. The trouble is, there are so many of these that it can be difficult to get noticed.
Leading marketing strategies
What do the big companies do to ensure they can hold onto their market share? There are numerous different strategies, but the following are currently the most significant:
- Mining big data – Improving computer capacity now makes it possible to process sales and customer data on a level never before possible. This is enabling companies with access to data on this scale to gain more and more refined customer insights, which in turn means they can target their advertising more effectively.
- Targeting mobile – With 78 percent of Internet searches now made using Smartphones, it has never been more important to ensure that marketing is tailored to suit this format. This means responsive web design and carefully developed keyword campaigns, because anywhere below the top three spots is too low.
- Developing customer loyalty – Discounts and special offers are old tricks, but the Internet has ushered in a new age of company focus on customer rewards. This includes everything from loyalty cards to exclusive competitions run on social media or access to exclusive product runs.
- Targeting developing nations – Looking beyond existing markets, many companies are seeking to capitalize on the rapid growth of internet infrastructure in parts of Asia and Africa, where markets are far from reaching the product saturation point that complicates sales in many parts of the west.
Taking on the big boys
How does a small company compete with this kind of thing? It’s impossible to fight on all fronts because of the sheer cost involved. Data, in particular, is highly expensive – and without an existing large customer base, you’re likely to be limited in your options anyway. Focusing on one area at a time, however, can give you an edge. New markets are particularly opportune for those who feel confident about trading overseas, although there is a steep learning curve involved because it’s important to adjust carefully to linguistic and cultural differences. In areas like Web design and social media promotion, comparative lack of financial resources can be made up for with sheer effort put in over time. However, it’s important not to go overboard with this and remember that time itself is a valuable resource.
Building a brand
In order to go beyond the single site visit or sale, it’s vital for a business to build a brand. You’ll need a distinctive name, logo and presentation style – so think about things like your font and signature colors. You’ll also need to think about the voice – the presentation style – in which you want to address potential customers. You’ll also need to think about the media through which you can do it. Sometimes this means combining approaches. Despite the success of the Internet, television advertising hasn’t lost its appeal. Sites like As Seen on TV make it easy to transfer between the two, promoting your product to a mass television audience with an easy link for them to follow and buy online.
Once you’ve built a brand, you’ll need to maintain it – much of what defines the value of any given marketing strategy is its sustainability. You’ll need a strong backbone to your marketing efforts to give you room to innovate without risking the loss of core support. Even if you’re not in a position to use big data, you’ll need to do ongoing market research to support your strategy as it evolves. In addition to what you can glean directly from your own customer base, it’s worth looking at studies of similar demographics, which are sometimes available for free or at a comparatively low cost. Keeping up with marketing journals will help you adjust to changing patterns in what particular social demographics they are interested in, such as the social media platforms they prefer to use.
Things to avoid
When starting out, many new companies take the understandable step of copying the marketing strategies they see used by the best in the business, along with copying their style too. The trouble is, even if this works to an extent, it does nothing to distinguish you company – it’s much more useful to develop your own voice, even if it takes longer to make it heard. Many companies also struggle because they take on too much, aiming to use every free or easily-accessed tool out there to reach their target markets. A much better approach is to simplify your strategy and focus on doing what you do well.
With a well developed and confidently applied marketing strategy, you still might not be able to beat your biggest competitors, but you will be able to get ahead of the pack and become a commercial success.