Marketers and SMBs Disconnect over Online Tactics

March 27, 2009

Despite a continued preference among small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) for receiving marketing information via direct mail and in other traditional ways, major marketers to SMBs are cutting back on these tactics and switching to lower-cost, online marketing to save money, according to a study by Bredin Business Information (BBI).

BBI, which surveyed both marketers and small businesses about their online and offline media preferences, top concerns and brand ratings, found that marketers are most interested in using online tactics such as microsites/resource centers, webinars and webcasts, and social networking. Offline, tactics such as PR and telemarketing are most appealing to marketers, while interest in direct mail, print advertising and trade shows all declined.


These efforts are at odds with what SMBs say they prefer, according to BBI. As a source of information about products and services, SMBs rely most on newspaper and magazine articles (43.6%) and direct mail, including letters, postcards and catalogs (43.5%). Ranked last are phone calls (27.4%) and radio/TV ads (32%). Online, referrals from friends and peers rank first (71.9%) among SMBs, followed by search engine marketing (57%), educational websites (44.5%) and email newsletters (38.2%). Last are ads to cell phones (8.1%), videos/podcasts (19.2%) and forums/chat rooms (20.2%). SMBs rated social networking at 27.8%.


Though many marketers are cutting back on offline tactics and making efforts to join the “buzz bandwagon” with social networking, the survey results indicate that “business owners are not nearly as enthusiastic about social networking as the marketers are,” said BBI CEO Stu Richards.

Recent research from WebVisible found that 44% of small businesses do not even have websites.

SMB Priority: New Customers

SMBs’ top business challenges include finding new customers (76.5%), managing costs (71.2%) and retaining their current customers (51.7%). Ranked lowest are avoiding layoffs (2.9%) and keeping employees productive (3.3%), the survey found.


Additional findings among SMBs:

  • ?The most important purchase criterion in this economy is high value (61.3%) followed by low price (52.4%) and reliability (35.3%). Least important is buying from a leading brand (1.9%) and having a personal relationship with the vendor (6%).
  • Among 32 brands rated, Google scored highest (69.8%). The rest of the top 10 are FedEx (63.1%), UPS (62.4%), HP (61.6%), Microsoft (59.2%), Sony (51.4%), Dell (47.6%), Staples (47.1%), Office Depot (45.4%) and Sam’s Club (41.2%).
  • Among the social networks, SMBs rated Facebook highest (19.7%), followed by LinkedIn (15.6%), MeetUp (11.3%) and Twitter (11.2%).

Marketers Manage Limited Resources

Marketers say their biggest challenges in 2009 are funding new projects (24%), growing business with limited resources (15%) and increasing awareness (15%), the survey found.

To do this, many are attempting to capitalize on competitive weaknesses to gain market share, rather than on retention efforts. Nearly half (48%) say they are balancing their efforts, while 32% are concentrating more on acquisition and only 20% on retention, the survey found.

Other findings among marketers to SMBs:

  • In response to the economy, marketers are increasing their online activity for greater impact with less budget risk (17%) and targeting their efforts more (15%).
  • Marketers continue to shift their efforts to the internet. Offline tactics received an average rating of 2.6 on a scale of 1 (significantly decrease) to 5 (significantly increase) while online marketing increased, with an average rating of 3.5. Among offline marketing, PR ranked highest (3.5), followed by telemarketing (3.4), print newsletters (2.8) and direct mail (2.8). Receiving the most attention online are social networking (3.7), resource centers (3.7) and search marketing (3.6).
  • Marketers will spend less on research in 2009 than 2008, with an overall average score of 2.5. Online surveys (3.5) and online focus groups (3.3) are the only research formats marketers plan to use more in 2009.

About the research: The research is based on two separate studies completed earlier this year. “Marketing to SMBs in 2009” surveyed marketers at 50 companies who target SMBs, including those at Advanta, AT&T, Bank of the West, Cisco, Comcast, Dell, Harris Bank, HP, IBM, Intel, Intuit, NetSuite, Sage, SAP, Sun Microsystems, US Bank and Union Bank. The survey objective was to understand how marketers are targeting SMBs in this economy. The survey was fielded February 2-10, 2009. The second survey,? “SMB Media and Brand Preferences,”? surveyed 741 small-to-medium-sized businesses and had the objective of better understanding their marketing preferences and key business concerns. That survey was fielded January 28-February 25, 2009.

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