Is Online Marketing Really Necessary For Small Businesses?

Social Media MarketingStarting an Online Business

Is Online Marketing Really Necessary For Small Businesses?

If you’ve a business owner and ever thought “we don’t need online marketing.” You may need to re-evaluate your marketing strategy.  Today, most business owners have at least made the concession of attaining a website, be it an off the peg DIY site from 1on1 or Yell.  But what about correctly indexing it with all the main search engines? Optimizing it for search engines? Developing a Social Media presence and strategy?  Designing it in line with a brand? Offering an e-commerce platform for online purchases? Engaging appropriately with customers on social media?

To the “traditional” business owner, these concepts often seem like fads, or otherwise like wastes of time. To the professional marketer, the benefits seem obvious. Where, then, is the root cause of this dissonance? Is online marketing really necessary for today’s traditional small businesses, or is it possible to survive without an online strategy?

Common Points of Contention

Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons why a traditional business owner would reject online marketing as a necessity (or even a value) in the first place. It’s important to recognize that not all online-resistant business owners have the same motivations or views. Furthermore, some of these points of contention are quite valid, while others can be dismissed with a bit of supporting data.

  • I don’t need more customers. This one’s pretty simple and hard to argue with. If you’re satisfied with your existing customer base and aren’t interested in growing, I won’t try to dissuade you. It’s a nice position to be in—just make sure you can count on those customers for the long haul.
  • All my customers are offline. This is the usual complaint of businesses that find customers through existing partnerships and networking. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s a representation of biased thinking—of course you’ll only attract customers offline if you’re only marketing offline! There are 5 billion Google searches every day and over 1 billion active Facebook users; don’t you think at least some of those users might be interested in your business?
  • Online marketing doesn’t work for me. If you’ve tried marketing before and have seen little to no success, that doesn’t mean marketing is inherently flawed—it means there was a flaw in its design or execution. It happens, even to the industry’s best, but the correct response is to make improvements by finding new partners, pursuing new channels, and increasing the quality of the data you work with.
  • Online marketing is a fad. This usually applies to a specific strategy, rather than online marketing in general: SEO and social media are frequent targets. Now that both fields have been around for more than a decade, traditional business owners are starting to take them more seriously, they may not be around forever but in one form or another they’ll transform rather than fade away entirely.
  • It’s too expensive. This is another valid point, but remember, marketing is an investment. If executed properly, you’ll see a positive ROI, meaning you’ll get back more revenue than you put forth in the first place.  It is also significantly cheaper than traditional marketing strategies and delivers more ‘bang for your buck’.
  •  I don’t get it. Just because you don’t “get it” now doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of getting it. The Internet is alive with communities willing and able to help you figure it out. Besides, you can always hire a contractor or agency to design, execute, and manage a campaign for you.

Now that I’ve addressed the common points for why online marketing isn’t valuable, I’d like to make a few points about why online marketing could be considered a “necessity.”

  • Point for Necessity 1: Consumer Expectations Have Changed.  Almost everyone has access to and regularly uses the Internet. Most of us, when we hear of a business for the first time, immediately look for a website or social media profile where we can learn more. We don’t stop in for a visit. We don’t look you up in a phone book. We don’t consult a rolodex. People expect you to have a website, and if you don’t, they may doubt your legitimacy or discard you as a potential option altogether. There’s a “bare minimum” standard that consumers expect to see of businesses online, so strive to achieve at least that.
  • Point for Necessity 2: Competition Just because you’ve been reluctant to adopt an online marketing strategy doesn’t mean your competitors haven’t. They could be conquering the digital landscape, poaching your potential customers and offering a better first impression to anyone searching for businesses like yours in your area. To make matters worse, every day they continue to follow these strategies is another day ahead of you they’ll be.
  • Point for Necessity 3: Rate of Change.  Finally, I want to point out the rate of change in technology accessibility, reliance on online stores and services, and of course, consumer behaviours. Big breakthroughs in technology, such as high-speed Internet and mobile devices, make us more dependent on the Internet and less dependent on physical structures every day. This means online marketing becomes more important on a consistent scale as time passes. If you don’t think online marketing is important for your business today, there’s a chance you’re right—but think about next year. This is a long-term investment.

All in all, I think it’s unfair to say that online marketing is truly “necessary” for every business. However, if you aren’t engaging in any kind of online marketing campaign, you’re definitely sabotaging your own potential and possibly setting yourself up for future collapse. Your business might be getting by just fine without a website or any online outreach, but that doesn’t mean you’re better off that way. Challenge your assumptions and change with the times, no matter what industry you’re in—you’ll thank yourself for it later.

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