With marketing technology, much of the emphasis is focused on enterprise. Here at TechWyse, the majority of potential and current client partners I speak with on a daily basis fall into the small and medium-sized business (SMB) category: Trades, professional services, and other niche local businesses.
Small business owners are bombarded with cold calls (sometimes skillfully from me) peddling new digital platforms and strategies to help their business. The key image describing the sheer volume and complexity of options available, the Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic (check out AdLuge in the Marketing Automation/Campaign & Lead Management segment!), was developed by Scott Brinker, Co-Founder of ion interactive and Editor of chiefmartec.com. He found inspiration in the story of investment banker Terence Kawaja of LUMA Partners, who compiled a list of advertising techs who were reaching out to him. Scott’s chiefmartec.com blog has been a leader in attempting to explain the coming together of information technology and marketing since 2008, and his book Hacking Marketing is a must read for leveraging agile marketing practices in a digital world.
While there are more options and possibilities than ever before, I managed to catch up with Scott while he was busy curating the San Francisco MarTech Conference to try and make sense of the current marketing technology environment in regards to the small business owner.
Q: Thanks for taking some time away from the Martech Conference to answer some questions today, Scott!
With the abundance of options available and the increasing levels of complexity and implementation time, as well as many solutions aimed at the “big fish” of business, what advice would you have for a small business owner who now has to operate as a CMO in their own right?
A: Actually, I believe there’s never been a better time to be a small business marketer. Most digital marketing technology is incredibly democratizing, and there’s an incredible array of free or cheap tools built expressly for SMBs.
You don’t need a huge marketing budget to have an effective website, good email communications, genuine social media engagements, and so on. You can compete with much larger businesses in digital channels by leveraging your agility and authenticity.
My advice to the small business marketer is to really focus on that agility and authenticity in the way you apply marketing technology. Those are the dimensions on which larger competitors struggle — and the technology can’t solve those challenges for them.
Q: The core supporting services for a small business have been accounting/bookkeeping and insurance (which in some ways have had digital disruption). What do you believe the priority level is among MarTech companies to provide digital marketing solutions to mom-and-pop and one-person operations?
A: There are hundreds of marketing technology vendors who see small businesses as their primary customers. If you add “small business” to your Google search for a particular marketing technology tool, you’ll generally finds plenty of hits. Sites such as Capterra, GetApp, G2 Crowd, and Trust Radius will help you find many alternatives.
Small businesses might not be the focus of large marketing clouds such as Adobe or Oracle, but there’s no lack of options from other innovative providers. There are plenty of “Quicken”-like solutions for digital marketing at the SMB level.
It’s the golden age of marketing software, and I’d argue that small business marketers proportionately benefit more from the creative ferment in that space than their counterparts in larger organizations.
Q: We had an exchange a few weeks ago on Twitter regarding user experience in the sales process (particularly the backwards focus on the seller and not the buyer: #AlternativeUX). As someone that must get cold approaches all the time and with the era of AI digital marketing around the corner, how do you see “customer-first” evolving in a digital world?
A: Buyers want control of their buying process. They want information and sales support on their terms, and on their timetable. Businesses that are able to use marketing technology to deliver that kind of helpful, friendly, and personalized content and experiences that the empower the buyer are going to win. We see this happening with all the major digital disruptors — Amazon, Netflix, Uber, Airbnb.
Consumer advocate Doc Searls, who will be speaking at the MarTech conference in San Francisco this May, pointed out to me the disconnect with being customer-first in the way that marketers talk about data.
There’s first-party data that we collect on customers directly. And then there’s third-party data, that other companies collect on people and sell to us.
So who’s the first party at the center? The marketer.
To be really customer-centric, you’ve got to recognize that it is the customer who is the real first party. After all, ultimately it’s their data.
I believe that most small businesses understand this better than larger organizations, where it can be all to easy to treat data about customers separately from how one actually treats customers.
Q: Building upon that “customer-first” approach, the number of channels available to a small business owner are increasing and the spaces they think they need to have a presence in can seem daunting. How important is it for a small business owner to understand their ideal target market than appeal to everyone?
A: I subscribe to the philosophy that it’s better to do a few things well than many things poorly. Small businesses should hone in on a handful of digital touchpoints to their customers and focus on engaging those audiences really well there. That’s where you can really shine with the authenticity that larger competitors struggle to deliver.
Of course, to find which of those touchpoints are the right ones will likely take some experimentation. Here’s where the agility of a small business comes into play. Continually try new channels and spaces, but on a very small scale — just enough to get a taste of what’s possible and how your presence can resonate there.
Ask your customers where they like to connect and how you can be of most value to them. But then be disciplined about prioritizing only those touchpoints that have the greatest impact.
Q: Among CMO’s, the idea of juggling 2-3 digital marketing platforms from multiple vendors for different areas of their business seems to be an attractive option. However, a small business owner (even with agency help) could be looking for a more streamlined approach.
Have you seen any movement towards a central, single platform, user-focused solution which could tackle the main problem of MarTech: Complexity of integration?
A: I think most marketers at companies of any size would agree with the idea that the fewer different pieces of software they need to use, the better. And for small businesses, many of them are able to rely on products such as HubSpot, MailChimp, Infusionsoft, Constant Contact, and so on to address the majority of their marketing technology needs.
But some of this is perception. Marketers tend to use much more software than they realize, because so much of this “software” is simply provided through web services and mobile apps. If you post on Medium for your business, that’s a content marketing tool. But most people don’t freak out over it exclaiming, “Oh, no, one more marketing tool!”
What matters to marketers more than anything is that they can be effective and spend their energy focused on their customers. When software becomes a distraction to that mission, it’s bad. But if a collection of tools can still be easy to use, interplay together nicely, and help you kick butt in reaching and engaging customers, who cares if it’s one piece of software or ten?
Q: Lastly, a line from a recent article on Chief Marketing Technologist Blog by Jeremy Epstein regarding blockchain (the technology behind Bitcoin) and its digital marketing potential really stuck with me: “You have to pay for customer attention at every touchpoint.”
How close of a reality do you believe blockchain marketing is and how do you think it could affect small business?
A: Blockchain technology is fascinating. It has the potential to disrupt so many industries and professions. The ideas that Jeremy has shared in his series on chiefmartec.com on how block innovations may affect marketing are pretty exciting.
While I do believe the promises of the technology are fundamentally solid, I suspect it will probably be several years before this becomes something that most small businesses will need to address, at least in the context of marketing. Blockchain technology in finance and payment applications seems more relevant in the near future.
But the amazing thing about the world we live in today is how quickly things change. Best to have open eyes and an open mind as we go barreling into the future at a faster and faster pace.