A Small Business Online Marketing Strategy for the Rest of You

My bias, and therefore my approach to marketing a small business online is that customers, and especially best customers, are more important than prospects.

iStock_000007486064XSmallDelight your customers and they will stay with you longer, buy more from you, buy from you without being bribed, cost you less to service, and bring in prospects just like themselves.

Don’t delight them and you have no choice but to focus on prospects to keep refilling the leaky bucket.

Prospects are definitely important, but customers rule.

And where are these customers? More and more they are online. Prospects are also online.

But online marketing is hard. It’s foreign to me. I know how my traditional channels work. But they are getting more expensive and less effective. I don’t understand how online marketing for small business can work for me.

We hear this frequently from small business. They understand that online marketing is what they should be doing but they don’t know where to start. Marketing a small business online is hard.

We ask them to not get caught up in the technology. We suggest that for small business, online marketing has two parts: a hub, the website, and the spokes, the various online media channels.

The Hub

With the hub and spoke marketing strategy the website becomes the center around which all the other marketing activities, the spokes, rotate.

If you own a retail store you might think that your store is the hub. This was true in earlier times, people considered the store as a source of knowledge and information. Now consumers are doing their research online, so from a consumer’s point of view, the store is no longer the center. Obviously, sales are very important. But your store delivers a functional benefit to your customers. This creates mutual value, but your store doesn’t add value. What your store is selling, and your customers are buying, it’s functional, it’s a transaction, and it’s probably not that different from what they can find elsewhere. If you consider the store a spoke and use it to build online connections with your customers, you have the opportunity to use online marketing to create value that goes beyond functional benefits.

The website is the center of this activity. It’s where even the smallest business can create incremental value, value that goes beyond the transaction, the functional benefits delivered by your store or product. This is especially important for the customers who care and who matter most, your best customers.

Use your interactions with customers to encourage them to visit the website, to sign up for your e-newsletter, to like your store on Social Media.

Why is this important?

Your best customers are only a small percentage of all your customers, but they are a large percentage of your sales, and they’re especially important to your profits. Creating value beyond function benefits is how even the smallest business can generate loyalty and competitive insulation among its best customers.

And where are your best customers?

They are online.

Online marketing and your website can do this.

This makes online marketing important for small businesses.

The Spokes

With an apology to George, when it comes to the hub and spoke strategy,

All spokes are created equal, but some spokes are more equal than others.

Spokes are the activities, the channels, the tactics you use to connect with your customers and prospects online. Spokes are also how they connect with your business.

Advertising is a spoke. So is Social Media. Email.

Each spoke works, with varying degrees of efficiency and accuracy, to connect with customers and prospects, and to generate sales. Sales are great, they pay the bills, and the best way to build your brand is to have customers try your product, but with the hub and spoke online marketing strategy for small businesses you can go further.

Use online marketing spokes to draw your best customers into your website. Use the website as a fulcrum, use it to create even more value from your business, value beyond functional benefits. The spokes provide a conduit through which you can both generate sales and attract your best customers to the hub, where you can deliver additional value.

How do I go about Marketing a Small Business Online?

Small business online marketing falls into three main buckets: online advertising, social media marketing, and email marketing. Online advertising is the most expensive and the most difficult to master. Social media marketing isn’t expensive, but it’s a bit arcane, it has its own unique way of doing things. It can be very efficient, but it can also be a waste of money. Email marketing, yes boring old email, is the least expensive and when used properly the most effective of the online channels.

Email marketing, an excellent vehicle for marketing a small business online. It’s especially effective for customer marketing. And marketing to your best customers will always give you your best return. Your best customers are more likely to buy from you again, they will spend more, and they are more likely to recommend you to others just like them.

The best email newsletters are not sales flyers in electronic form. Marketing a small business online using the hub and spoke strategy means using email marketing to drive customers back to the website where incremental value can be created. A newsletter, delivered through email, can describe, inform, entertain, reveal, and uncover new information and insights about your products and services. It’s a spoke that provides value that interests your best customers and attracts them back to the hub, your website, where you can create even more value. Email marketing is a low-cost way for small business to engage with customers. This further insulates these high-value customers from the competition.

The essence of strategy is sacrifice — David Ogilvy

Don’t try to boil the ocean. Start online marketing with one thing. We recommend email marketing because it’s efficient, it’s focussed on customers and it can lead to the other channels, but get it right first. I’m not the only one who thinks this is a good plan. MailChimp, our preferred partner for small business email marketing, added social media and online advertising to their platform. How cool is that?

Once you have email marketing down, social media marketing can be an efficient way to get a simple message out to lots of people. It can target consumers in a specific geography. This makes it an efficient prospecting spoke. Why prospecting? Because advertising is a unidirectional medium, which is why it’s better suited to prospect marketing. Use it to draw prospects into your website.

online marketing for small businessConclusion – Hub and Spoke: an Online Marketing Strategy for Small business

Design your small business website to attract your best customers, make it easy for your best customers to connect with your business. Use email marketing to nurture and reward your best customers. Use online marketing to find prospects and bring them to your website.

Marketing a small business using the hub and spoke strategy takes the mystery out of online marketing. It’s no longer “technology.” Small business online marketing is spokes that draw prospects and customers into your hub, your website.