With all the talk of economic recovery it might be easy for people who don’t run businesses to believe that we have arrived on easy street, but nothing could be further from the truth. The realities on Main Street remain very tough and businesses are working harder than ever to acquire and maintain clients and customers. In the past decade, businesses have watched as their “go to” marketing tactics evaporated before their very eyes leading many to cut back on their marketing simply because they are unsure what will work in today’s economy. But it seems like 2015 may provide a little stability and clarity in the area of marketing. We have witnessed some remarkable changes that have the potential to make 2015 a banner year. Here are some of the top changes we saw in 2014 that SMBs can leverage in the coming year to grow their businesses.
The Rise of Native Ads
While most would consider 2013 as the rollout year for Native Advertising, 2014 was the year that the business world bought into it. From global brands to mom and pop shops, businesses of all sizes now have access to affordable advertising options through Native Advertising systems. The term remains a little nebulous, but in essence it encompasses everything from sponsored posts in social media to sponsored articles in major periodicals and news outlets. These insertions into “native” ecosystems allow businesses to present consumers with their products and services in a way that is less obtrusive than traditional advertising, while at the same time providing unprecedented access to tailored audiences at affordable rates. Social media platforms have seen the most success and overall acceptance, Sponsored content is proving to be a little more problematic as consumers are becoming aware that what they are reading in their chosen news source is actually an article written by a business who paid to have it published. This will continue to evolve but in the meantime, Native Advertising on social media platforms is a big winner and merits careful scrutiny for businesses in the coming year.
Mobile Ready is No Longer a Question
Smart phones are everywhere and they are becoming the primary means of accessing the internet for more people everyday. A report from comScore this past year showed that smartphones and tablets combined now account for 60 percent of all online traffic. Businesses must have a mobile ready website, period. While the fight still goes on about what the best approach is (app, responsive, adaptive) the reality is that if you don’t deal with it as a part of your core marketing, you are losing upwards of 50% of your total audience. This year, make sure your website is ready for every user’s screen.
Google is always the gorilla in the room when considering online marketing strategies. Their algorithm updates and UI changes to SERPs can send shockwaves through marketing programs and leave businesses scrambling. But the changes that we’ve seen this year have helped improve search results (no I’m not kidding) and shape the form and design of websites in some positive ways. The trend away from keywords and the requisite “SEO Copywriting” means content is first and foremost about the consumer. This has bolstered Content Marketing and helped smaller sites compete where there was once little hope.
We also saw Google pull the plug on Authorship which, on the surface was a great way to pin the origin of content to an author. Unfortunately it was just too much to manage and the entire system was scrapped. No more author photos next to search results.
As search continues to try to serve consumers what they need, opportunities continue to expand for businesses to market with content. Thanks to algorithm improvements and automatic geographic results, robust Content Marketing strategies offer businesses a way to engage consumers early in their buyers path by providing valuable information.
Spam Me Not
Email marketing is the granddaddy of online marketing and remains a powerful tool to connect with consumers, but spam is becoming unmanageable. This year we saw Gmail change its interface and start auto sorting email into tabs for “Primary,” Social,” and “Promotions” as a way to mitigate the spam in users inboxes. Panic set in as marketers worried that this might erode the reach of promotional opt-in emails. Fear not, for all is not lost. Initial observations indicated there was a slight decrease in open rates but nothing catastrophic. It’s also important to note that many gmail users set their account up to forward to a primary account and in that case emails seem to come through regardless of tabs.
From a marketing standpoint, all of the energy put into this reveals that email is not only still relevant but that it is critically important. It remains a conduit of connection that retains higher authority than other types of media and can maintain connections with customers well beyond their initial purchases. We have seen great advances in the tools that are available for conducting email campaigns and they continue to be an important element for marketing across many industries.
Time to Get Serious About Marketing Your Business
The internet brings many opportunities to reach new customers but it has been an inordinate challenge to leverage effectively in the past decade. The demise of traditional marketing tools and outlets has left even the brightest business owners guessing as to where they should invest their marketing dollars. As we enter 2015, the landscape seems to be solidifying and offering better choices for marketing. At last we are seeing the real potential of search and social media and these opportunities present a bright future for businesses of all sizes in the new year.