Small Businesses Adopting Online Marketing: Forrester

Midmarket companies are increasingly using Web-based marketing tools to boost competitiveness, with Facebook and LinkedIn among the most popular.

Small and midsize businesses have dramatically changed their marketing practices to adapt to changing buyer behaviors in a Web-centric world, and the new generation of top performing businesses has embraced online marketing with open arms, according to a Forrester Consulting study.

The report, commissioned on behalf of Act-On, a provider of cloud-based integrated marketing automation software, found SMBs are less likely to use scalable, cost effective digital techniques – like email and webinars – than their large enterprise colleagues. Overall, SMBs are investing more in marketing than large enterprises, with 61 percent reporting spending more than the large enterprise average.

While just 18 percent of respondents said they were using software to automate their demand management processes-- less than half the deployment rate reported by larger enterprises-- businesses that have adopted marketing automation are having more success with digital marketing tactics. Nearly three-quarters of those who are using marketing automation reported revenue growth above plan, compared to only 53 percent of those who have not deployed these process automation tools.

The report recommended SMBs steal a page from their counterparts in larger enterprises who have proven that “social” is not just an abstract and immeasurable buzz-generating tool and focus more on social marketing than aimless social media. “It’s an integral part of their lead-to-revenue management process – an engagement strategy that can have a measurable impact on lead generation,” the report said.

Use of social media was near the bottom of the list of deployed marketing tactics with only 69 percent of SMBs reporting that they use social media for new customer acquisition. Overall, SMB engagement with social media is far below that of their larger enterprise confederates, with less than half (48 percent) of SMBs citing the use of Facebook compared to 66 percent of larger enterprises. Just over half (51 percent) employ the business-oriented social networking site LinkedIn compared to 66 percent of enterprises, and 51 percent of SMBs are using Twitter compared to 74 percent of enterprises.

Although nearly all (84 percent) of respondents are using online marketing tactics, perceptions about the value of these tactics vary. The majority of respondents said online marketing was important, but no more important than the rest of the marketing mix. However, slightly more than a quarter said online marketing was a “game changer” that allowed them to compete more broadly.

The online survey of 208 business stakeholders involved in marketing at midmarket businesses (those with 50-2,499 employees) began in June 2012 and was completed in September 2012.