Marketing can be one of the most creative, dynamic and fulfilling activities you can do -- when you have the luxury of doing it as your full-time job. For most of Canada’s small and medium-sized business (SMB) owners, that’s not an option.
Instead, running an SMB means focusing a lot on areas like sales, where gaining every new customer can mean a significant boost to the bottom line, or customer service, where keeping customers reduces the time spent cultivating brand-new prospects. Marketing, on the other hand, might feel as though it falls somewhere in the middle in terms of the effort required and the value it provides.
While most SMBs want to build a strong brand, for instance, and need to ensure they are generating enough awareness and interest in their products and services, doing so may not be among the organization’s biggest strengths. As marketing has become more digital, the skill sets required might also seem difficult to master. This is where the notion of SMBs outsourcing their marketing comes in, but that brings its own challenges: what kind of work do you farm out, and how do you make sure you have the right partner?
As with any other major area of outsourcing, like IT, there are all kinds of agencies and third-party services ready to step up and take over key areas that aren’t their client’s core competency. Before you sign any agreements, though, make sure you’ve considered all the following marketing tactics and how involved you really need to be.
As many SMBs have come to recognize, maintaining a high-quality blog is a key channel for getting the attention of potential and existing customers, offering an ongoing platform to weigh in on important industry issues. The question is whether, as an SMB, you need to author every post directly. Some agencies, for instance, can brainstorm with a client to come up with high-level topics, interview an SMB’s subject matter experts and even ghostwrite posts to run under their byline.
At the end of the day your audience will still get lots of insight, but if your team doesn’t already employ seasoned writers this can leave them free to focus on more critical tasks. Look for an agency or partner with a track record of creating blog content in your sector or field, or one that is willing to demonstrate how they would help manage an editorial calendar and bring forward relevant topics. Confirm (along with the costs) if they will be merely producing content, or if they are also able to manage the entire process from writing to revision to approvals and posting on your blog.
This was one of the earliest areas where SMBs began outsourcing marketing, and for good reason. In the early days of a company, all it might take is a good hosting service and some basic templates to set up a site with all the necessary pages. As firms grow and become more sophisticated about how they capture leads through their site, however, their marketing needs can change dramatically.
Think about the landing pages you might need to set up as you build up a resource centre with assets like white papers and case studies, for instance. If you’re beginning to use video, online calculators or other interactive content, consider whether you have the right resources to integrate those experiences into your site.
Most web sites can’t stay static but increasingly require a lot of personalization to convert visitors into customers. If you decide to outsource in this area, make sure you also ask potential partners and agencies about how they might manage the ongoing measurement or analytics of your site’s performance, and how they can continue to evolve it as search engine optimization (SEO) needs change.
There may be no better channel for directly reaching out to your database than smart content delivered to their inboxes. A strong e-mail strategy will often require more than simply pressing a “send” button, however.
Do a self-assessment of your e-mail tactics today and what you might need in the future. Are you sending out a regular newsletter that needs fresh material, or content repurposed from your blog and other assets? Do you have other e-blasts to alert customers about new products, services or promotions? Are all your e-mails set to a schedule, or will you need to have e-mail campaigns created on the fly?
Again, a great agency or partner for e-mail marketing should be able to discuss how to personalize what you send based on segmentation, which can help you build better marketing journeys for your audience while making more efficient use of your database or list.
Just because it represents a newer area of technology and marketing, don’t make the mistake of giving social media strategy to an unpaid intern or extremely junior-level staff person, especially if your customer base spends a lot of activity on those channels.
In some cases, there may be simple tools for the scheduling and promotion of social media posts that serve to amplify your other marketing content, like your latest blog post. In other cases, social media may require more of a responsive approach to answer questions or criticism -- all in a way that has to remain “on brand” in terms of tone.
If you’re already outsourcing other areas of marketing, it can make sense to talk to an agency or partner about what kind of social media services they have, too. Also be sure to see how a third party can help you identify opportunities within new social media platforms as they emerge, or deal with any changes in the way a social media algorithm might affect the performance of a particular campaign.
Marketing on the web is no longer just a matter of coming up with a great image or tagline for a banner ad. SMBs can now compete with much larger, more established companies by making use of programmatic tools that get their ads seen on the right sites, or retargeted to those who may need to see something more than once before they can convert.
Ad formats are constantly changing too, which means any partner you work with should help your firm make the most of the digital real estate available. And again, an ability to assist with reporting and tweaking campaigns for better results is critical .
The main thing to remember about outsourcing your marketing is that you, as the SMB, are still in control of your destiny. You provide the direction. Just arm yourself with the resources you need to make sure you’re headed in a direction of success.