This post originally appeared on Forbes.
Owning a small business can be a real drag. Sure, you get to be your own boss and realize a dream, but you’re probably working ’round the clock and crying yourself to sleep each night.
OK, maybe not that last part. But, you are bone-tired, with no break in sight. That’s the reality many professionals commit to when launching a business.
Luckily, there is a boring but totally useful tool that can help you boost sales, save time and garner brand awareness: marketing automation. Unfortunately, a lot of small business owners don’t get it.
The “2019 Small Business Marketing Trends Report” found that “48% of small businesses plan to use social media as one or more of their marketing tactics in 2019.” Not that there’s anything wrong with this, but there is an underlying problem: Only 7% said they plan to budget more on marketing automation this year.
In my opinion, businesses that choose to ignore the benefits of marketing automation do themselves a great disservice in the long run. They limit themselves to one-dimensional marketing strategies because they just don’t have the time to do more.
Understanding the Marketing Movement
Back in 2011, Google published a study called “Winning the Zero Moment of Truth” (download required). It stipulated that back in the Mad Men era, advertisers could better control consumer’s impulses to buy a product through advertising. It was a one-touch conversion from viewing the ad to purchasing at the cash register.
But with the onset of digital media and smartphones, behavior has changed. Today, the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) suggests that when buyers hear about a brand, they carry out a series of actions before deciding to purchase. These actions may include reading reviews, exploring websites, validating if the brand is highly rated, comparison shopping and more.
That means a few things:
1. Consumers are empowered more than ever before.
2. It takes a longer time to build brand awareness.
3. Purchases are often delayed (if completed at all).
But, this can be used to your business’s advantage.
Customers Crave an Experience
Because the approach to purchasing has changed so much in the last decade, there is inherent value in a company’s ability to tell stories and to be authentic. Companies are going bolder to create an emotion-centric experience.
Consider Patagonia’s (first ever) television spot in 2017 that defended public lands. Or, Nike’s “Believe in Something” ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, which appeared in 2018. We’re already off to the races in 2019 with Gillette’s “We Believe” commercial, which is stirring up major emotions and conversations over the #MeToo movement.
Now, outdoor enthusiasts and athletes are not just wearing their favorite labels, they are placing money in the hands of companies that care about protecting nature and fighting systemic racism. A historically male razor company is challenging the “boys will be boys” debate that rages between the sexes. Whether celebrated or scorned, these companies are trying their product and purpose together, and it’s having a larger impact.
While small business owners surely do not have the marketing budget of Patagonia, Nike or Gillette, they can borrow some of their tricks.
What’s Your Why?
Successful brands continue to thrive often because they understand who they are. Do you know who you are? Does anyone care?
While you ponder this, think about your why. Why did you get into the business? Why do you pour your heart and soul (and free time and cash) into this work?
As Simon Sinek would say, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
Help your customers find a solution through your product. Simple touches can go a long way here: Send emails from a person (like the owner) rather than the company name, and make sure your messages pass the “so what” test. Place the customer’s needs over the company’s wants — always.
1. Focus on Owned Channels
Although it seems more exciting to jump in and start tweeting, there is more value in setting up a website and establishing an email marketing system.
Today, companies like Squarespace and WIX offer great website templates for beginners, for those unable to outsource this work to a consultant or professional group. Having a standalone website ensures an owned space where people can find critical information about your company, products and talent.
Moreover, websites are a great place to collect information about your customers. By inserting various conversion points (like an email sign-up prompt), it is easy to build out lists, and thus, relationships with people who care about your brand.
2. Establish Connections
Based on my perspective, the most consistent and effective way to automate leads and increase return on investment is with email marketing — a direct-to-inbox experience for people who have opted in to receive information from your company.
MailChimp and Constant Contact have easy-to-use platforms, with affordable monthly pricing options. With email, contacts are owned and reachable anytime, unless they unsubscribe.
Ultimately, investing in anything else before creating a website or email functionality will risk brand engagement.
Find the Path Forward
After establishing a web presence and email marketing, brands can explore broader marketing goals like advertising and creating social media profiles. Today, simple ad buys are a relatively easy procedure, made even stronger with knowledge of one’s customer base — information already gleaned from email marketing. In fact, there are so many marketing and technology tools out there for marketers, it’s a bit mind-blowing.
Be sure to establish your message, remember your why and then build your marketing arsenal. In other words: Do the work and then let it work for you.
Successful adoption of automation alleviates time suck, helps establish customer relationships, improves your storytelling ability and ties together your purpose and product. Marketing automation may play second fiddle to your everyday operations, but it can’t be ignored as a useful tool that will have a direct impact on your future growth.