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Three Things Small Businesses Really Need

For nearly a decade, we have watched small businesses steadily shift their marketing spend from offline to online, but it is only now that we are coming to a key realization: unlocking the local opportunity is not just about capturing transitions in small business spending; rather, it is about understanding the unique pain points of the local business, and how we can address those through a newly-conceived, and well-defined product set.

One only has to consider the sophistication of how consumers are using the Internet in 2010 to discover and make decisions about local businesses to understand how challenging it has become for the small business owner to keep pace with this brave new world. Consumers find local businesses through rich mobile search and mapping applications; share their recommendations and experiences on blogs, Twitter and Facebook; upload and exchange pictures and videos of local businesses; and actively—and easily—leverage the network to find discounts, offers and coupons for locally-offered services and products.

From a handheld device, a teenager can find the nearest Japanese izakaya restaurant; confirm through reviews that it’ll sate their yen; make a reservation and earn points toward future meals; find a coupon for a free dessert; get directions to it by foot or public transportation; see its storefront and interior in pictures and video; and then Tweet about, rate and review it before even paying the check. That’s a serious information advantage.

Given the disparity of information advantage, the pain points we need to solve for local businesses—through a newly defined product set—are simple, but of extraordinarily high consequence:

  • Small businesses have scant control over their digital footprint
  • Consumers make key spending decisions based on that footprint
  • Marketing to consumers is less effective than having a dialogue with them

It is our view that we need to go back to the drawing board and take the small business product set, which in the past half decade has advanced from the obvious to the slightly less obvious (the bucket of clicks, performance click packages, performance leads, website creation, business profiles, etc.), to help local businesses maximize the basic realities of the digital and mobile age, in ways that far exceed acquisition marketing alone.

The digital marketing product set of the future will address three primary local business needs:

1. Lead Generation

Selling performance search marketing packages to small businesses has helped define a market in which the measurability of results is critical. In that definition, any product that does not supply leads, on a measurable, performance-oriented basis will not serve the local business as it should. The new local business product set must deliver leads in the forms most useful to local businesses, and while driving traffic to websites and profile pages is of solid value, only providing a broader set of performance-based leads (phone calls, form fills, emails, coupons, etc.) can truly help local businesses get the most out of their online marketing spend. Of all the lead types in this set, we believe phone calls are the real performance leader—and the lead source small businesses care about most.

2. Online Presence Management

Technology has helped consumers gain a significant information advantage, but it has not yet done the same for small businesses, for whom an online footprint, and the reputation it conveys, can make the difference between success and failure. Managing online presence has three distinct aspects:

Data: we have to help local businesses understand where and how they are represented online, to determine and correct the accuracy of their listings, and to maximize the ubiquity of those listings.

Content: local businesses need to understand how they are perceived in the minds of customers, the better to market and operate.

Competition: The above two views of the online footprint are best leveraged in a comparative fashion, to let small businesses understand how they stand with respect to their own competition.

3. Relationship Management

In a world where the value of dialogue is becoming key to high-strength relationship building with customers, and in which consumers are now more vocal than ever about their interactions with local businesses, it’s essential to help the 85% of businesses who today leverage email to connect with consumers. Cultivating relationships with customers is all about leveraging the heterogeneity of online communications today: Facebook updates, tweets, email itself, coupons, blog updates, and other forms of proactive and bi-directional communication with customers.

Finally, our experience—both direct and gained through our reseller partners—has revealed an essential attribute of the winning product set. Given the time constraints facing the average small business, tolerance for complexity is low, and the willingness to leverage multiple toolsets, each with their own credentials, interfaces and vocabularies is practically nil. This is why a product set that unifies the many tasks required to manage small business marketing, in an easy-to-use, simplified presentation, will ultimately capture the greatest share of small business adoption. What we need provide to local businesses are time-saving, simple toolsets that return to them a modicum of information advantage that translates to new and better business.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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