Why advertising is great for SMEs – and how more of them can do it

By Siobhan Kenny, Chief Executive, Radiocentre

It’s an exciting time to be growing a small business; thanks to technology, we can now build our own glossy websites, curate our social media presence, organise our logistics and supply chain and even build a professional network – all from behind our laptop screens. However, would we expect an average small business owner to be an expert in legal issues, or a self-taught and fully competent accountant? No – we’d turn to a professional to ensure we get the job done right. So why is it that SME owners are somehow expected to know how to advertise their businesses effectively?

It’s complicated

It seems that when it comes to learning about the practicalities of advertising as an SME, support and practical advice are hard to come by. Somewhere along the line, it was assumed that the digitisation of our culture extended to simply ‘knowing how to do advertising’ – when in reality, it’s a very confusing world to enter into as a novice.

Of course, it’s a given that small business owners simply don’t have the same resources and expertise at their disposal as huge multinational corporations.

There’s also the familiar story of a small business dipping a toe into the world of advertising and getting burnt – either the ad was ignored, or didn’t deliver significant enough results, or the process of choosing how to target customers was simply too elaborate, with too much choice.

And surely when a small business is just on the cusp of growth, it’s natural that all their energies should be poured into actually growing, right?

Well, not quite. In fact, although it may seem counterintuitive, small businesses stand to benefit greatly from early investment in advertising – even more so than larger, more established corporations.

The potential for growth is huge

SMEs, the ‘engine’ of our economy, are severely underweight when it comes to advertising, meaning that not only are they limiting their own potential, but that of the whole country.

For every £1 spent on advertising in the UK, there is a £6 uplift in GDP – and when it comes to SMEs, this impact is even greater – up to eight times as much impact.

What is the prize if SMEs harness the power of advertising better?

According to recent research, it turns out that if smaller businesses were able to raise their exports to just the EU average, it would mean an extra £40bn boost to the UK – a prize worth fighting for.

Advertising can help to achieve this – particularly for home-grown brands looking to increase their exports.

Multichannel is the key

For the uninitiated, multichannel advertising is simply advertising spread over multiple channels.  It can lead to increased awareness of a product or brand and consistent messaging reaching potential customers from multiple sources.

While it might be tempting to stick to a single channel when implementing their first ad campaign purely in the interests of keeping things simple, SMEs should definitely be looking at a more diverse approach.

Research shows that 67% of fast-growth smaller businesses say multi-channel advertising has benefitted their business.

Ask the experts

While it can be daunting for a small business owner keen to have a crack at the advertising whip, help is at hand: there are a number of schemes out there aimed at reducing the barriers of perception (including fears about the risk, expense and complexity of advertising) and lack of expertise among the SME community.

One of these is AAccelerate for Growth – a ground-breaking pilot which is kicking off in Scotland and the West-Midlands before rolling out to other parts of the UK, to help SMEs advertise across multiple channels in a cost-effective way, enabling them to undertake bespoke multi-channel campaigns for a specific period of time.

The pilot will enable greater access for SMEs to professional advice and best-practice planning, campaign evaluation and recognisable success stories in the form of case studies, with a view to creating effective, bespoke multi-channel advertising campaigns.