SME's (Small and Medium Enterprises) existential challenge

By Himanshu / October 4, 2021

The advent of eCommerce and newer channel's for doing business, has created a paradigm shift in the way business is conducted. While bigger corporates with larger budgets (and other resources) at disposal are relatively better positioned, to adjust to the changing needs, SME's have often struggled, dealing with the nuances of eCommerce. SME leaders, particularly entrepreneurs, have diligently tried, however success has been limited, at best. This often at the cost of draining existing critical resources, with limited incremental value, while trying to sell online.
Standing at the cross road, the SME leaders wonder, how their companies could be relevant and compete in this new market place, let alone thrive. This while newer online channels breathing down their neck and direct competition not budging an inch, all this while revenues continue to shrink and margins evaporate steadily. Most agree, on the need to start implementing eCommerce, to cast a wider net, for customers and prospects. If only there is an effective way to respond to the newer channels and gain greater market share, this is an existential threat most SME's leaders ponder increasingly.
Before we try to solve it, let's also look into the strengths. To be fair, among other things, most leaders understand their domain remarkably well and are capable of offering significantly incremental value to their end customer, but only if they knew how to market effectively using the new channels/eCommerce.
All agree that the benefits, if done well, are enormous. To highlight a few, ability to reach a much wider prospective client base, better clarity of customer needs and greater customer satisfaction, just to name a few. All of which resulting in greater revenues and increased profit margins.
The million-dollar question is, how do we get there. Though there isn't one exact answer, most people will agree, the most prevailing argument would be effective digital marketing. This due to its ability to cast a much wider net, while trying to reach customers and prospects.

Digital Marketing
To put it simply digital marketing is your online marketing effort, to pursue existing and future customers, while achieving your organizational goals. For now, let's stick to this modest definition.
There are various means to realizing digital marketing, such as online searches, social media, advertising or even your own website, to broadly outline a few. However, before we delve further, its important the we clearly answer the why. Why you want to pursue digital marketing, eventually evolves into your overall marketing strategy, which articulates your goals, methods (to reach there) and timelines.
Having a clearly defined and measurable goal is critical for any digital marketing effort. This could be in the form of increase in leads, customer conversions, revenue growth or brand awareness. Having measurable metrics tied to the goals makes it easy to communicate, set expectations and ultimately achieve them. As an example, 30% increase in leads or 25% more conversion, from prospects to customer, could be measurable considered as goal. That being said, its important to mention, that any goal being defined, should eventually impact the ROI, based on factors defined by the management.
Before we outline various techniques, it important to understand your Digital Assets. These are marketing tools used online, such as your website, blogs, YouTube video's, testimonials or social media pages (on Facebook or LinkedIn). Which you would continue to build during the journey.

Digital marketing techniques: Next let us try to answer the how, of getting your organization there. I will articulate a few key marketing techniques

SEO (Search Engine Optimization): is the process of getting targeted traffic, to your website or eCommerce store, from a search engine's organic ranking (organic refers non-paid).
Search engines such as Google, Bing or Yahoo, typically rate results based on relevance and authority. Factors such as relevance between search query and contents on the page, keywords, quality of the content and presumed authority of the page (based on overall popularity of page), play a significant role, while ranking the page, during search results.

PPC (Pay-Per-Click): is a form of internet marketing, where advertisers pay a certain fee each time, an advertisement is clicked by customer. The platform allows you to create content, which is shown in relevant searches and then charged, when action (such as clicking on ads) is initiated. While organically ranking your company link, using SEO, is time consuming and has its limitations, however comparatively PPC is a faster and effective way to reach customers, albeit with some additional cost overheads.
We will highlight the top 2 PPC's, which garner a significant portion, in terms of usage and subsequent revenue generation. Google Ads and Facebook ads. Though some could consider them as competitors, it is important to mention, that they are a bit different from each other, in terms of their reach and impact. Broadly speaking, Google is more about finding new customers, while Facebook helps new customers find you. What is equally worth highlighting, from a customer perspective, both could be effectively used in conjunction, to maximize the impact to your brand, organization and services, you might have to offer.

Social media marketing: With the advent of social media, there are plethora of platforms to showcase your organization, brand and service offerings. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to name a few. Each platform has their unique offering, often catering to specific segments or niches. As you evolve further, within each of the platforms, there are paid services, similar to Facebook offerings, highlighted above. Which helps further broaden your customer base. As an organization, you would have to analyze, identify and invest only in those social media platforms, which closely align to your existing and prospective customer base.
Email marketing: One of the older forms of marketing, has its own unique importance and relevance. As an example, it is often used to cultivate existing customer, by reaching out in terms of updates, offers, announcements or even newsletters. Compared to the paid advertisement, it is relatively cost effective, can be customized and, if implemented well, helps cultivate lasting relationships.
Native advertising: These are paid advertising that generally align with the look and feel of the page/website they appear in. Often times users, unless explicitly indicated, consume it as part of the wider content. Overall user experience is uninterrupted, unlike display advertising.
Display advertising: Display ads, or also originally called as Banner ads, usually stand out, in terms of the display, compared to the over site or page preceding it. It usually breaks the flow of the user, browsing the sites for information. With the advent of newer formats, the usage and resourceful of this format has receded, in recent time.
What next: Here are a few steps to get started with your digital marketing journey
1. Define measurable goals, that align with your overarching vision:
Defining clear and measurable goals is critical, at the outset of the initiative. Not only does it help communicate the goals, to the team, but also helps measure them, over time. For example, increase in prospects by 25% or customer conversion, by 30%.
2. Build customer persona:
Building a persona of your key customer's is important to help organize and direct your investment and effort. Your persona could generally be organized in 3-5 groups, please ensure you rank your personas, even within those identified groups
3. Analyze your brand value to customer:
How you are perceived by your customers (and prospects), eventually decides your worth, in the marketplace. Often times, what you bring on the plate, is what decides the brand value. Some of the questions you need to ask are, what services specifically do I offer, how am I able to differentiate myself from my competitors, how much does the customer value my services. No better place to start, than talking directly with your customers.
4. Analyze competition and brand positioning:
In eCommerce, it is important to understand the ever-evolving competitive landscape. Your competition is not just limited to your direct competitors, but also indirect competitors and comparators. For example, for Macdonald burgers, though Wendy's is a direct competitor. We need to be mindful that a Dominos or Subway is an indirect competitor, as also are Uber Eats, Zomato or Swiggy, in India. This understanding is important, before deciding how you would like to effectively position yourself, in a competing marketplace.
5. Create plan (with goals, targeted audience, CBA, techniques and timeline), review and kick-off:
Once the analysis is completed, put a plan together and review it. Additionally, do a cost benefit analysis (CBA) of your marketing plan, to ensure you get bang for the buck, being invested, with reasonable timeline. Finally, Kick-off the initiative and regularly monitor progress.
To summarize we believe, if planned well and with a little support, Small and Medium Enterprise (SME's) can not only compete in the ecommerce marketplace but, over time, exponentially grow and thrive. All they need is arm themselves with the right tools, knowledge and, above all, people.