Meeting the digital challenge: Marketing-as-a-Service for small business

Can marketing automation remove the barriers that face small businesses seeking to exploit digital channels?

This article is sponsored by Zymplify

Within the last decade, digital channels, such as Google ads, Facebook, Twitter and the stalwart – email, have exploded in both diversity and share of marketing spend.

In 2017, global spending on internet advertising will for the first time exceed that of traditional television advertising. In the UK, total ad spend is forecast to increase 3.2% in 2017 (according to the Advertising Association) with “internet spend” accounting for almost 50% of the market.

For smaller businesses especially, this represents both an opportunity and a challenge: The opportunity comes in the form of exploiting new marketing channels with attractive and genuinely measurable returns on investment and being able to market to prospects anywhere in the country or beyond, without having to pay to access traditional ‘national’ media. These new channels also allow businesses to more cost-effectively stay in touch with their existing customer base and encourage repeat business.

Whilst the vast majority of small businesses report that marketing is important to them, they face several obstacles, with 40% saying a lack of budget is the biggest barrier to more marketing, followed by lack of expertise (25%) and time (25%).

The expertise gap

Digital marketing is also perceived to present those same challenges of expense with the dilemma of how to acquire the specialist multi-channel marketing expertise needed to utilise all relevant platforms, without a large upfront investment or over-dependence on expensive third-party providers.

The expertise challenge is not simply operational (“how do internet ads work?”) but the rapidly changing landscape of digital platforms, which require both agility and close monitoring (“which channel works best for me?”) and awareness of an increasingly onerous regulatory environment designed to address consumer privacy concerns.

For those small businesses that have embraced digital channels, they typically struggle with the fundamentals of turning leads into customers and generating web traffic in the first place. And, according to one US survey, when asked if their marketing efforts are effective, 48% said they didn’t know.

But there are enough success stories out there to inspire business owners not to give up, but instead find tools and approaches that are better geared toward small business needs, rather than just re-badged corporate solution providers.

Marketing-as-a-Service

One example of an innovative approach is ‘Marketing-as-a-Service’, or MaaS for short. This emerging concept is a bundling of marketing automation with advisory and operational support.

Marketing automation software is an established and relatively mature offering from mostly US based companies providing cloud-based software platforms. Whilst those solutions are superficially successful at automating (and therefore removing cost) from digital marketing, most come with licence fee structures that put them above the affordability thresholds of the vast majority of UK small businesses.

More fundamentally, the expertise gap remains, which risks leaving many small businesses with the marketing equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife, where only the corkscrew opens.

Tackling this problem requires a fundamental rethink around what role in marketing the small business best plays and how third-parties and the right tools can deliver ‘the rest’ in a highly affordable manner. If businesses can focus on strategy, identifying target customer segments and an appropriate value proposition, then the challenge of digital marketing becomes defined around how to simplify, automate and make cost-effective all of the ‘other stuff’.

This MaaS model delivers highly standardised and technology-enabled marketing operations, partnered with digital expertise in an advisory and/or executional role. The client’s content (brand, messages, etc) varies infinitely, but the design, execution, results monitoring and analysis is made as simple and automated as possible.

To overcome the “expertise gap”, digital marketing experts are part of the proposition; with expertise in search engine optimisation, pay-per-click, landing page set-up, etc. Costs are kept down through automation and adopting a fixed-price pay-as-you-go model. This allows the small business owner to easily calculate the full cost of a particular campaign and see the returns tracked back to the investment. It also gives them the freedom to ramp up or ramp down their marketing investment in direct response to campaign or channel performance results or, for example, business seasonal factors.

From banking, insurance and investment services, to airlines and hotels, technology has enabled a business model that consumers and small businesses appreciate: focus on what the customer truly values, simplify and automate the rest and take out all unnecessary cost. Marketing is ripe for this approach and MaaS may well be the future.

Zymplify is a marketing-as-a-service solution, providing enterprise-level marketing at small business prices. Visit www.zymplify.com or call +44 (0)28 90785871. Click here to read our e-book on “Marketing on Demand”.

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