So many customers are online. Here’s how you find the needle in the haystack.
- Marketing technology platforms can break through the Internet’s noise
- Marketing automation can help better connect businesses with their customers
Finding your ideal customer among the numerous social and digital channels today is like finding a needle in 5,000 haystacks.
Facebook, just one of countless social media networks, for example, boasts more than a billion users. But now, various types of marketing technologies—software platforms that help companies promote and advertise themselves on multiple channels—increasingly are helping small businesses wade through the haystacks with smart, targeted efforts.
It hasn’t always been that way. Previously, marketing technology was fairly costly and something only large enterprises had the funds to employ. “Small-to-midsize business (SMB) marketers have relatively small budgets and teams. They stretch these resources to the limit, and there is little or no room for failure,” found a 2013 study from Oracle subsidiary Eloqua, a marketing automation company.
Now, small businesses are becoming more reliant on a new wave of relatively inexpensive, and quite capable, marketing tools. According to the same Eloqua study, 64 percent of SMB marketers cited technology-driven ROI as the No. 1 factor changing the marketer’s role, compared with 60 percent of marketers overall. “[Small businesses] recognize the value of technology, and are avid for its assistance,” the Eloqua study found.
We look at how five small businesses are using different marketing tools—some with the power to automate large quantities of data—and how the tools are helping them run their businesses more efficiently and profitably.
The Tool: Houzz
Price: 15 percent referral fee for vendor sales
The Small Business: Lone Pine Builders
The Industry: Construction
Ten-year-old Lone Pine Builders, an NFIB member and general contractor in Big Sky, Montana, has long relied on word-of-mouth marketing. Now the company is ramping up its use of marketing technology, using the social-community forum and product-sourcing website Houzz.
The appeal is that niche-specific consumers frequent such forums. Visitors to social communities that are focused on a specific topic are actively looking for education, expert advice and product suggestions within a certain, relatively narrow interest.
Houzz itself is enormously popular. Just five years old, the site claims more than 20 million monthly consumers interested in construction products and design ideas. On the supplier side of the platform that Lone Pine Builders occupies, Houzz boasts more than 250,000 designers and contractors.
Houzz’s array of product descriptions and images helps clients understand their options, says Brian Scott, president of Lone Pine Builders. When they visit the office, he often links to the site and shows clients various solutions on his conference room TV.
“We also encourage clients to set up their own Houzz account to look at examples of living rooms, tile options, flooring, bathrooms, cabinets and the like,” Scott says. “From a marketing perspective, this makes the process much easier for the client.”
Lone Pine Builders is now leveraging Houzz’s other marketing advantages. First, Scott has begun to display his own work on Houzz. It serves as another entry point, besides his company website, for Internet users to see his work online. Secondly, the site offers social capabilities, including a blog, for the company to send its own messages out into the world. “I’m considering doing construction updates with project photos,” Scott says.
As for results, Scott says clients find Houzz helpful in designing and making decisions, which makes them feel more comfortable with the building process.
The Tool: Pardot
Price: Beginning at $1,000/month
The Small Business: Field Nation
The Industry: Independent contractor services
Sometimes all it takes to get business is crafting one darn good email.
“At the end of the day, I don’t want to send 100 emails—but, instead, that one email that gets someone over the hump and drives them to our website,” says Billy Cripe, chief marketing officer at Field Nation, a Minneapolis-based company that connects independent field-service engineers with companies that need them for construction projects in remote locations.
Cripe is convinced that “one influential email” must be personalized and engaging. According to Experian’s 2014 Digital Marketer Report, emails with personalized subject lines have a 26 percent higher unique open rate than emails without them.
“A big challenge [for our marketing efforts] is producing high-quality, personalized content,” says Cripe, because Field Nation can’t provide personalized messaging without knowing whom it’s communicating with. But that’s the value of a marketing automation package, so in 2013 the company turned to Pardot to help identify quality leads and to deliver more personalized marketing content.
Pardot offers email automation, which sends specific communications when prompted by a digital “trigger,” such as when a prospect visits a particular landing page or fills out an online form. “Now we can get messages out to people at specific points in the process, and deliver content that speaks their language,” says Cripe. “We don’t have to do a shotgun approach to messaging.”
Pardot and other similar tools also allow companies to test two different marketing messages on landing pages to see which performs better in driving and converting leads, a technique Field Nation has used.
The effort is paying off. The company set up a marketing campaign through Pardot early this year to determine its impact on the time between an initial marketing outreach and final conversion. The result: Personalized emails gave Field Nation a big boost. For most prospects, the sales-lead time was reduced from an average of 18 months down to just two months.
The Tool: Hootsuite
Price: Free for basic usage; pro version starts at $8.99/month
The Small Business: Herschel Supply Co.
The Industry: Manufacturing
When Herschel Supply Co. was founded in 2009, the manufacturer of backpacks, bags, travel goods and accessories had one customer service representative who handled all inquiries via email or phone. But this didn’t inspire great customer satisfaction because of the perceived time lag; messages can languish in voicemail, and emails can linger in inboxes.
Unhappy customers would often make their points on social channels. Because they are so public, there’s an added incentive to respond quickly, showing the company’s other followers that Herschel has superior customer service.
“Our customers were asking a lot of questions, and we needed a platform to talk to them,” says Allison Butula, social media manager for the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company. “With social media, we’re able to answer questions about where to find our bags in, say, London or New York, or to quickly provide the dimensions of a bag a customer asked about. Responding in real time is huge. It takes away that perceived lag in communications.”
The small business has found other benefits from social media too. “It’s perfect for storytelling—not to make a sale but to tell a story about our brand and about travel in different countries,” says Butula.
Herschel needed a one-stop shop to quickly track and measure its marketing efforts in so many social platforms. It turned to Hootsuite, a social media management tool that connects Herschel’s different social accounts. It allows companies to schedule posts in advance and track analytics, helping Herschel gauge the performance of its product launches by tracking social buzz across different social channels.
“We can see who’s doing what, how people are talking about us on social and when people are responding to queries,” Butula says.
Hootsuite also measures spikes in brand sentiment to see whether conversations about a company are positive, negative or neutral, by particular social channel as well as overall. Through Hootsuite, Herschel Supply has been able to track a 20 percent increase in customer service satisfaction and a 60 percent improvement in positive brand sentiment.
The Tool: Ifbyphone
Price: Beginning at $100/month
The Small Business: Beacon Technologies
The Industry: Technology
The age of digital marketing has made campaign performance more transparent than ever. But some essentially non-digital channels, such as inbound phone calls, have not been easily tracked and analyzed. Beacon Technologies, based in Greensboro, North Carolina, helps companies automate the performance tracking of these phone calls to better gauge the performance of its lead-generation campaigns for clients. It uses technology from Ifbyphone.
“From a marketer’s perspective, call tracking is the critical next evolution of measurement. It gives businesses a better understanding of the overall attribution model, enabling marketers to understand where leads originate and to budget accordingly,” says Brad Henry, Beacon Technologies’ director of Web marketing.
Ifbyphone supplies dedicated phone numbers and analytics technology to measure conversions from inbound phone calls. This is particularly helpful, Henry says, when charting phone calls prompted by the company’s pay-per-click search ads online.
To do so, Ifbyphone integrates with the Web-metrics tracker Google Analytics, allowing the company to see in the Ifbyphone dashboard whether campaigns are generating transactions, registrations or phone calls, and which search campaigns are performing best.
For a campaign developed for a local law firm, Beacon used unique phone numbers from Ifbyphone to track incoming calls from such sites as Lawyers.com, FindLaw.com, Google Local and social media sites. The technology tracked both quality and quantity of inbound calls from these sites.
If the caller found the number on a search ad, for example, and that caller became a client, it was evidence that the ad was reaching the right potential customer base. With this insight, the law firm could shift marketing budgets to particularly well-performing ads and develop more of the same. By doing so, the firm experienced a 40 percent increase in conversions from all leads within a few months.
“A lot of companies don’t just get leads that take place on the Web,” Henry says. “Consumers often pick up the phone and call. It’s important to know where that lead originated in order to optimize marketing initiatives.”
The Tool: Constant Contact Toolkit
Price: Beginning at $45/month
The Small Business: The Buccini/Pollin Group
The Industry: Real estate development
Email communication with customers is among the cheapest forms of marketing technology. Further, it remains impressively effective: According to a 2014 report by consultancy firm McKinsey & Co., email is nearly 40 times more effective at acquiring customers than Facebook and Twitter combined.
The Buccini/Pollin Group, a Wilmington, Delaware-based developer and manager of condominium projects, had been using email for sending simple follow-up thank-yous to prospective renters. However, Julia Mason, residential marketing manager for the company, saw an opportunity to build loyalty with customers by using the Constant Contact Toolkit.
This marketing automation tool can create a centralized, email-based communications effort, including surveys and trackable events registration capabilities to help gauge resident sentiment and publicize communities’ amenities and activities.
“In response to queries from prospects, we’re reaching out on the individual site level,” Mason says of the company’s expanded email campaigns.
For example, Mason sends personal emails to each prospective renter, asking about his or her tour of the property and thanking each person for visiting. For condo residents, Mason develops surveys through the Constant Contact Toolkit and distributes them via the platform, which can track which residents open the emails and which respond to queries. It then automatically places this data into a report. The results inform the company how its customer service is performing and show the types of community activities that residents particularly enjoy. Mason also uses the Toolkit’s events registration capabilities to arrange community activities.
“When we hear from people who say they appreciate us reaching out to them, it makes all the difference in the world,” Mason says.
Because of its continuous series of emails, coordinated between sales associates and the central marketing office, the company saw 15 more approved applications for May 2014 than it did in the same month a year earlier.