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Digital channels are levelling the playing field for small businesses

Technology & Data

Digital channels are levelling the playing field for small businesses


Modern consumers are savvy and know what they want. They prioritise personalised products and tailored services. Businesses are battling for attention in competitive and growing markets. With consumers’ ever-changing habits and preferences, businesses should know how to react. One-size-fits-all approaches won’t resonate today – marketing approaches must be considerably varied and flexible, writes  Vijay Sundaram.

In today’s digital-first world, digital marketing is now the most attractive to connect to the modern consumer. Combining integrated techniques and technologies with unprecedented data access, businesses are reaching new highs of innovative consumer engagement. But how are consumer traits today guiding marketing techniques? How can small businesses remain relevant to their audiences and compete with brands with deeper budgets and resources?

The future of marketing guided by the consumer of today

Consumers spend, on average, over six hours online every single day consuming content. That can include browsing websites, watching videos, and absorbing social media. At the same time, they’re spending less time reading physical newspapers and magazines or glancing at billboards. Perhaps most significantly, they’re becoming more conscientious in the brands they engage with. Consumers are becoming strong advocates of ‘local’. These habits are changing the ways businesses market to them. Small businesses should treat this as an important opportunity, not a daunting challenge.

Traditional marketing methods often came with hefty price tags that were unaffordable for small businesses. According to Forbes, however, 64 percent of companies report lower costs for digital marketing when compared to traditional marketing methods. For small businesses, it provides a more cost effective and accessible way to cater to audiences on the digital channels they frequent. Digital transformation has already helped businesses survive the pandemic. It also has the potential to help them thrive and compete with bigger businesses. It can unlock innovative marketing capabilities that for so long were inaccessible. 

Data is a small business’ best friend

In today’s climate, the vast majority of small businesses have masses of customer data not being utilised. In this data is every insight and trait needed to understand their audience and deliver tailored marketing. With an integrated, CRM-driven marketing platform, small businesses can unlock that data and deploy a ‘PACT’ – profile, analyse, create and track – framework.

Profiling through data helps businesses understand customers’ attributes, interests, background and goals. When a consumer feels understood by the brands engaging them, and not just a sales target, affinity to that brand grows. Marketing must be about listening and prioritising a customers’ needs over brands’ wants. Data allows businesses to listen with a clear understanding of these wants and needs. It can then be interpreted how, where and when to engage with their customers. It is from this profile that businesses can analyse what digital channels are most appropriate and determine attention grabbing content. 

As a fundamental shift in marketing, the collection and analysis of data is vital in providing immediate insight into how well a marketing campaign is performing. Data can be tracked and analysed at both a macro level (how many people opened my email) and a micro level (at what point did I lose customer x from the funnel). With it, results are no longer an abstract concept but tangible and measurable. Then growth strategies are not guesswork but data-driven. Data also acts as an eliminator, so particular formats can be refined swiftly and spending can be more prudential.

The PACT framework is not linear but a reinforcing loop. For example, the more a small business can utilise data the more targeted it becomes in its marketing; the more targets its marketing, the more it resonates with the audience; the more it resonates the higher the ROI; and the higher the ROI the more a small business can invest in its products, services and customer experience. Flexibility is crucial today. At any point that loop is breaking, businesses can analyse data to understand why and adjust marketing strategy accordingly. 

Levelling the playing field

Marketing moves at rapid rates, and it’s easy for small businesses to feel overwhelmed with the pace of change. However, while big businesses are exploring NFTs, experiential marketing and influencers, small businesses don’t need to reinvent the wheel. It’s about just doing the basics well and playing to strengths.

When it comes to marketing, small businesses will always struggle to compete when it comes to budgets, resources and adoption of the latest cutting-edge campaigns. Channels may come and go, but the customer-centricity of marketing never has – and never will – change. Small businesses have an inherent ability to appeal to consumers on a more meaningful level, by, for example, sharing their story, talking about their locality and understanding their customers. 

Previously, local businesses would struggle to engage with anyone outside their physical radius. However digital marketing is levelling the playing field. With data and accessibility, small business mar-tech is able to perform to the same standards of larger corporations. It’s why an independent high street retailer can be just as prominent as a global fashion empire today. Modern consumers want to be listened to rather than talked at. By listening to data, tailoring responses and remaining flexible, small businesses can be just as loud as competitors and provide the marketing strategies that consumers love and demand. 

Vijay Sundaram is the chief strategy officer at global technology platform Zoho.


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