By Dr Azar Shahgholian, senior lecturer, Teesside University Business School
Most companies, including SMEs, are moving large part of their businesses over to IT to capture more information about themselves, customers and customers. This impacts the precision of customer acquisition, retention and selling activities utilising digital marketing techniques. Digital marketing epitomises how marketing can be co-created with digital technologies and social media platforms to deliver SME marketing objectives. It enables marketers to easily measure, analyse and figure out their online marketing activities and move from passive monitoring to active targeting. To be able to do this, marketers need to understand how to work with both technologies and data efficiently.
We are fortunate that there is an enormous number of free or low-cost tools that can be utilised to help in various digital marketing tasks. Each of these tools helps to provide some insights related to customers, competitors and the overall market. These include Google Analytics, Google Ad words, SimilarWeb, Google sitemap, XML sitemaps and Yoast. Digital skills and creativity are deeply intertwined. It is important for marketers to use these tools and then interpret the results to inform their decisions.
This is where academics like myself can help, and I have recently completed a knowledge exchange project with an SME to establish a data-driven approach to digital marketing. Although data science is here, and it is very hard to pretend that marketing and data science are two separate fields, there is still a gap between the implementation of theory about data-driven marketing into practice. For SMEs, it is important to keep users at the centre of their attention, and the goal should be to understand their customers and their needs. This can be achieved by using both internal data collected from sales portals as well as external data collected from various social media platforms.
Internal data is mainly used to retain current customers by using their buying behaviour for email marketing purposes, promotions and discounts. We are witnessing huge improvements in both market segmentation and personalised marketing. External data is used to listen to online users and understand user-generated content, to engage and create brand awareness in various social media platforms with the aim of increasing conversion rate. Insights produced from internal data can be used to inform social media activities as well as developing a strategic digital marketing plan to apply these insights.
Frankly, data alone is worthless. It is the insights derived from data that help SMEs to focus on customers and not simply deliver intrusive messages to everyone. The aim of data-driven marketing is both in proving the value as well as improving marketing itself and helping SMEs to find a desirable approach rather than linear one.
We must find the patterns among our customers to target specific segments, taking into consideration not only geographical location and demographic characteristics but also personalities and value of customers. In addition, running various cost-effective online campaigns helps to bring on-time control to the overall sales campaign by measuring KPIs and running A/B testing. Two-way communication on social media platforms helps SMEs to listen to online users. This can then improve a business’ internal sales portal and most importantly improve its products and services.
Digital marketing for many SMEs means improving their presence on social media, which is a short-term plan. In the long-term, successfully implementing digital marketing helps SMEs grow and expand nationally and internationally.
Dr Azar Shahgholian is a senior lecturer in digital marketing and digital business at Teesside University Business School