For Australian small and medium businesses, marketing has always been fairly straight-forward. Advertise in newspapers and magazines and perhaps invest in local billboards and you get customers.  As a rule, SMBs don’t have the budget for large scale advertising on television, or at sporting events, but the return on even small scale advertising always seemed worthwhile.   Until now.  As circulation figures have dropped, advertising effectiveness has dropped with it.  And as content channels have fragmented, and there is a growing sector of the Australian population that are relying on overseas sources for their entertainment, the battle to access audiences for Australian SMBs is tougher than ever.  

There are two primary lessons that Australian SMBs need to learn about marketing in this country.  The first lesson is to realise that traditional marketing strategies of advertising and awareness raising are probably not your most efficient means of accessing audiences for products and services. These now almost-outdated marketing tactics are ignoring where the attention of audiences is being drawn, and indeed how consumers choose to engage with content. Australian audiences, in particular, strongly distrust messages in advertising. The most effective form of advertising in this country (if it can really be called that) is what the industry describe as “earned media”.  For you and me, that means, “recommendations from friends or family”.

Ban_a3D30000000Ctai_au_linkedin_image_how_to_grow_smallThis is crucial: word of mouth and trusted networks are the most powerful form of influence in Australia. Spending money on traditional advertising rather than trying to facilitate advocacy is not just wasteful, it ignores how Australian audiences want to engage with ideas, products and brands.  And if you’re an SMB, looking to grow your business and improve performance, you need to respond to that consumer behaviour trend.  

The second lesson SMBs need to learn is that even digital advertising strategies are flawed in this country.  Yet because of the way that marketing agencies prioritise advertising over content strategies, we keep relying on ads, rather than building armies of advocates.  I lay the blame for this trend on the way the marketing sector in Australia has bolted digital on to traditional agency work.  

For a start, marketing firms that tell you they are “full service agencies” usually aren’t.  They’re often ad agencies who think they understand digital, because they have a couple of hipster staff members who grew up with Facebook.  And they have a tendency to treat digital as just another advertising channel.  Here’s another thing about Australian audiences: we click-through to ads on digital media less than most other countries, in spite of the fact that we spend more time online.  And while our click-throughs on mobile devices and from emails are high on a world scale, the cost of each click-through is the highest in the world. Again, this is an example of outdated marketing tactics being applied to social and electronic media by organisations who just want SMBs to keep believing in them, when we business owners should probably be cutting those agencies loose.

The challenge for SMEs is to consider how best to harness digital and emergent media to capture the interest of advocates as well as to facilitate recommendations.  For the most part, it’s a pretty simple exercise: identify influential people who talk on social channels about your products, and engage them in activities that reward their advocacy. Also, set up an alert system so that anyone mentioning they might need your product, or is seeking advice in your product category, and then respond to those people in a timely manner.

Of course, the implementation of such tactics is not quite so simple.  But if you find a marketing partner who can facilitate these activities, rather than relying on advertising as the lynchpin of an overall strategy, then you’re on the right path.  

The key for SMEs is to acknowledge that what they think they know about marketing is worth questioning. If agencies and internal marketing staff members are prioritising advertising over a content and engagement strategy, then you may want to review their contracts.  What matters for Australian audiences is a recommendation. And they way to get that recommendation is to deploy listening tactics on digital media.

Download the How to Grow Your Small Business with Marketing ebook to understand how implementing modern marketing techniques can make a big impact on your marketing team’s productivity and effectiveness, the growth of your small business, and ultimately, your bottom line.