SMALL BUSINESS GROWTH   |   7 minute read

Key takeaways from the latest QuickBooks Small Business Marketing Report

Leading cloud accounting solutions provider QuickBooks recently published a report on the main strategies and tips for small businesses. In conjunction with LinkedIn, QuickBooks surveyed 3,671 small businesses owners, diving into their budgets, marketing channels and consumer preferences to determine the most profitable strategies for accelerated growth.

The report is broken into 4 primary sections;

  1. Defining small business marketing strategy
  2. Benchmarks for marketing budgets, goals and results
  3. Determining the right marketing channels and customer preferences
  4. 3 tips to create a marketing strategy

This blog will provide a comprehensive summary of the report. For more information, read the full report.

Defining marketing strategy

The report defines overall strategy as one that drives awareness or sales, tailored to ideal customers and integrated with other communications. A successful marketing strategy is one that speaks to the overarching goals of the business. The report further cautions small business owners not to mistake marketing for advertising or promotions, as the terms are not interchangeable. 

A strategy is only as effective as the metrics by which you measure success. Therefore, before embarking on the digital marketing strategy a good place to start is to define the metrics that the campaign will track to determine success. Some key metrics commonly tracked by marketing campaigns are:

  • Overall web traffic
  • Click through rate
  • Cost per click
  • Conversions
  • Customer acquisition cost

Benchmarks for marketing budgets 

According to the survey run by QuickBooks and LinkedIn, small businesses typically spend 6-10% of their revenue on marketing. The survey discovered that the top three marketing channels that small businesses aspired to exploit were;

  • Word of mouth (WOM) marketing
  • Paid social media advertising
  • Search advertising

When building a marketing strategy, businesses look at spreading awareness across multiple channels. The more channels you cover the more complicated your strategy becomes and more often than not, the more expensive it becomes to run your campaigns. Let’s look at this top 3 wish list in turn:

1. Word of mouth (WOM) marketing

Some quick wins in this area include asking your happy customers to write reviews, each industry has its own comparison review sites. For merchants selling physical goods, picking an automated customer-review platform that integrates with your regular email provider and search-engine reviews—like Google Business—is crucial.

2. Paid social media advertising

Social networks such as Facebook make it easy for small businesses to start advertising. The first priority is to decide on what your business goals are, as your advertising campaign will be based on one objective. It's important to know what you want to achieve in order to choose the right objective. Below are the three broader categories, or goals, that your objectives may fall under.

Awareness: Increasing brand awareness is about telling people what makes your business valuable in order to generate interest in your product or service.

Consideration: Getting people to think about your business and seek more information by visiting your website to learn more.

Conversions: Driving purchase of your product or service.

As your business grows, your campaign goals will change. First, your campaigns may focus on building awareness and customer acquisition.

3. Search advertising

This comprises both organic and paid, although the reality is that ‘organic’ traffic is not free, it requires an investment in content on your website, blog and elsewhere to make your business discoverable.

If you are looking to extend into paid, many of the lessons from organic still apply in that what you pay is directly linked to your Quality Score (which in turn is based on a combination of keyword relevance, ad relevance, landing page experience and historic performance).
For those who aren’t familiar with the terms:


Keyword Relevance - How closely related the keyword you’re bidding on is to the search query entered.

Ad Relevance - Whether or not the search term is present in your ad copy.

Landing Page Relevance - Whether or not the search query is present on your website’s landing page

Despite the investment made by small businesses on marketing, many fail to measure the impact of their marketing efforts. A whopping 32.8% of businesses surveyed said they are unable to track how effective their ads are. Incorporate digital marketing tools to monitor marketing spend and performance across channels so that you stay within your budget and get the most bang for your buck.

Determining the right marketing channels and customer preferences

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When asked what were the top 3 most valuable marketing channels for small businesses, the list was pretty similar: 

  1. WOM recommendations
  2. Social media presence
  3. Website

Amongst those surveyed, 59% said the quality of products and services had the most influence on their decision to purchase. This was closely followed by the cost of the product or service at 58%. 

When purchasing something for the first time, half of consumers valued the recommendation of a known contact over promotions, Google searches and online advertisements. 

Furthermore, 42% of consumers reported buying “more” online now than they did one year ago, and only 18% reported buying “less.” The report then postulates that buyers are motivated by three factors that can be summed up in one phrase; “easy, fast and free”.

The goal of a multi channel approach is to reflect your target market’s existing habits to sell everywhere that your customers are and to sell more, more often. Some questions to consider when deciding on which channels your customers are on include;

  • Who are they: demographics, geographics, etc?
  • How do they shop: behavioral and psychographic information?
  • What value do they look for from brands when using a certain channel?

3 tips to create a marketing strategy

Based on the findings of the survey, QuickBooks puts forward three practical applications to inform and shape small business marketing strategies. 

1. Defining and measuring goals

The report recommends starting by defining objectives and key results for all parts of the business. Once those organisational goals are set, identify one to three key objectives for marketing, there are many marketing models out there, one such example is known as AIDA; which stands for attention, interest, desire, action. This free tool uses this marketing model and the report then ties each stage of the model to measurable results.

2. Investing in organic and exploring paid advertising

The report advises small businesses to dedicate the lion’s share of marketing resources to driving organic traffic and to rely on paid advertising as a secondary channel. 

For organic traffic the strategy should focus on two primary areas; (1) collecting social proof from existing customers—to create a repository of reviews and testimonials that you can use throughout your marketing—and (2) creating either written or video content that ranks via search engines and can be shared on social.

The report also stresses the importance of promoting original content regularly on the website blog and other content channels to optimize article rankings on Google and other search engines. 

3. Leaning in to the advantages of being “small”

From the survey results it is possible to deduce that customers choose small businesses because of better customer service and that word of mouth is a powerful influencer. Therefore the report advises focusing company wide efforts into driving word of word referrals, quality of product and exceptional customer service.

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As succinctly explained by AJ Wilcox, founder of B2Linked, “Big companies can definitely outspend you, but they can’t move with the agility that you can when you’re small. You can also say things that their three rounds of legal review wouldn’t allow them to, so use that opportunity to test rapidly to find out what works optimally!”

A few more quick ideas to consider when creating a marketing strategy are;

  • Create a list of marketing elements that could be improved with A/B testing
  • Creating collateral to remind people of items in their wishlist or cart
  • Launching a remarketing campaign on social media
  • Using exit offers to increase conversion rates

In conclusion, the small businesses marketing strategy report by QuickBooks, indicates that the upward trend of online buying gives small businesses the opportunity to grow at unprecedented rates. A measurable marketing strategy when paired with operational efficiency could be the secret sauce for your businesses growth. 

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