What Changing Digital Marketing Trends Means for Small Businesses

  • August 24, 2019

The top digital marketing trends can propel small business growth. But as a small business, it’s often unclear how to effectively use these online marketing tactics. Many seem too risky or cost-prohibitive.

As a business leader, you need the answer to some important questions.

Which digital marketing trends just aren’t worth the money for small businesses? Which ones help you get the best return and conversion rate on a small business marketing budget? Can the large-scale marketing campaigns that big companies use be scaled and still get results?

From artificial intelligence software to chatbots to segmentation, let’s explore some of the most popular marketing trends blowing up the digital marketing world. Let’s look at how a small business like yours can use them and succeed.

Top Digital Marketing Trends for Small Businesses

1. Getting Smart About Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is a hot topic these days. It’s especially effective in beauty, fitness, fashion, sports, and other similar industries. These are strongly influenced by important figures.

In influencer digital marketing trends, you pay people who matter to your target audience. In return, they use, mention, and/or promote your brand to their followers. Your objective is to go viral through their fans and followers.

We’re usually talking big names in entertainment, sports, fitness, or fashion. These kinds of people sharing your brand even once with their fans can give you a massive boost.

These influencers know what their name is worth.

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You’ll pay a lot just for a brand mention or post share on social media such as on their Instagram, SnapChat, YouTube channel, even on TikTok.

Often it’s cost-prohibitive for small businesses. There’s a chance it won’t work. Small businesses can’t afford to take risks like that with large celebrity influencers. However, if you know a local influencer or someone on a smaller scale that still appeals to your potential new customers in a big way, try partnering with them or giving them a mention. They may just reply.

You can also get smart about influencer marketing in the following ways.

  • Track Brand Mentions

Know who’s talking about you. If an active user with some influence (even a little) is already talking about your brand, thank them with a gift. Leverage their existing interest in your brand to get a more manageable price.

They may even do it for free.

  • Seek Out Micro-Influencers

These aren’t household names. But they have a lot of followers who match your customer profile. These are often niche yet loyal fans. You can “borrow” or “buy” their influence to further build your brand.

You’re probably asking, why would you want to work with micro-influencers? Here’s the thing about them. Even if they have fewer followers compared to macro-influencers, they still have higher engagement. As a matter of fact, the lower the follower count is, the higher engagement will be. And since the cost of collaborating with influencers usually depend on the number of followers, these micro-influencers will therefore cost less than macro-influencers.

In the local arena, this might be someone like a beloved high school basketball coach. Or you could work with a respected businessperson or other “local” celebrity.

If you’re in eCommerce, look for an Internet technology guru, Instagram personality or someone else who people respect. Always screen and choose someone who makes sense for your brand.

Reach out. Share what you do. Offer them free samples to try your product.

  • Look for Win-Wins

How can you help each other? Look for mutually beneficial arrangements. For example, you may have a non-competitor who does well with a demographic. You struggle with this group. But you’ve built a strong reputation with another group that they want access to.

2. Escaping Your Own Sales Funnel

The old idea of the sales funnel was that you funnel customers in until they buy something. Not much thought was put into how businesses kept those customers.

But there’s been a huge shift in digital marketing trends. They now recognize how people actually make a buying decision and what they do afterward.

Much of the decision-making process now happens online even if you’re a brick-and-mortar business.

Modern Customer Experience

68% of consumers read and view online content from brands they like, and here’s what they’re saying about those reviews:

digital marketing trends

70% of the buying decision is done before they even visit the product and service part of your website – let alone your physical store.

50% of mobile searchers visit a local business within 24 hours of visiting their website. They are reading reviews. They’re evaluating your online presence, especially on social media platforms. They’re getting a feel for who you are. They do all of this before they even start a “formal” sales process.

They’re reading reviews. They’re evaluative of your online presence. They’re getting a feel for who you are. They do all of this before they even start a “formal” sales process.

You make the most of these shifts by:

  • Creating compelling branded content
  • Building an online brand… not just a website
  • Having a responsive website that provides great user experience
  • Making it easy for customers to interact on their smartphones

After the Sale

If you delight customers after they buy, they’ll bring in more customers.

As a small business, you already knew and respected this. In this regard, you’re way ahead of your big box competitors who may churn through customers like they’re commodities.

You can leverage this fact as a small business by:

  • Listening to customers
  • Treating customer complaints as growth opportunities
  • Reminding customers to write reviews
  • Building a brand that people want to share

When people share what you do both online and off, 1 customer can become 5, and 5 become 25. And so on.

3. Understanding the Power of Invisible ROI

In the old days you could take your ad spend, subtract it from your increased revenues over a given period, and you had a digital marketing ROI. But in a highly competitive marketplace, this just doesn’t work anymore.

You don’t just tell 1,000 people to buy your hamburger. 100 buy a hamburger. And you’re done.

You may have the best hamburger within 100 miles. But without a brand built around it. There’s no reason for someone to buy your hamburger instead of the inferior one down the street.


Branding has always been important. This is especially true if you want your digital marketing strategy to succeed. But it’s changing fast as companies have new technology and ways to interact with their customers. Customers are easily distracted. They’re bombarded by messages from the competition’s marketing team.

As a small business, you need a brand that stands out in some way so that it can be differentiated from all of the others.

Repeated studies show that without a brand behind your promotions, customer acquisitions skyrocket. Ad budgets go through the roof. Fewer people convert.

Get the best ROI on your marketing budget by investing in something that’s harder to measure — the power of your brand.

This isn’t to say that you won’t see measurable, financial results. They just won’t look neat and tidy on an ROI worksheet.

4. Realizing That Content Is an Asset

One of the digital marketing trends we can all get behind is recognizing that online content is an asset. It’s not an expense.

Let’s look at the difference.

An expense pays for an immediate need. Once that need is met, what you paid for goes away. It’s just money out. It doesn’t bring in any kind of return over time.

Electricity is an expense. It serves a purpose by keeping the lights on that day. After that, it’s gone. You have to pay for more electricity to keep getting the benefits of power.

Ads also become just an expense if you don’t have a brand behind them.

An asset lasts a long time. It is often appreciated. It pays you back over time. It pays you back more than you put into it.

Content does all these things. Whether it’s a blog post, an infographic, or video content- once you create it, it’s yours.

Reuse it. Repurpose it. Revitalize it. If you decided to sell your business down the road, that content would have value in the transaction.

It continues to work for you.

As a small business, if you treat content as an expense, you find yourself:

  • Hiring the lowest bidder
  • Not concerned with how this impacts customer relationships long-term
  • Not thinking about how this content works in your long-term strategy
  • Not setting clear long-term and short-term objectives
  • Impatient when you don’t get instant results

If you treat it like an asset, you:

  • Build a brand people love
  • Create a snowball that starts gathering snow as it starts down the hill
  • Maximize your marketing ROI
  • Reap the rewards long-term

5. Having Many Faces, One Brand

Someone wise once said, “you can’t be all things to all people”. But that was before segmentation became so accessible to small businesses.

Relevancy wins in marketing. A piece of content must be relevant if you want to influence a person. They’re more likely to click, view and connect with your brand.

But being highly relevant means knowing who you’re speaking to and offering personalization. You have to understand that person’s goals and challenges.

What are their emotional triggers? What are their interests and needs related to your business?

This level of segmentation once took a one-on-one, hands-on salesperson. Or you had to spend millions on multiple 30-second spots on daytime TV.

But today, small businesses can gather and store data about customer behavior. Similar customers can be segmented into groups automatically. Each group is a type of target customer.

Build your content around each segment to be more relevant to the people in that group. Set up email marketing automation tools that will send content only to the segments that will find it highly relevant.

You can segment by:

  • Location
  • Industry
  • Job Role
  • Buying Behaviors
  • Age
  • A recent action is taken (trigger-based)

And many more.

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Once you have a lead, nurture that lead. Use analytic tools to learn more about that lead. Further segments that lead to increase the relevance of content they’re receiving.

An Accenture survey found that 81% of customers want brands to use data to learn how best to approach them. Garner Research Group has high expectations for technologies that make content more relevant. Their research indicates that these developments increase business profits by 15%.

What could your business do with a 15% profit increase?

6. Rethinking Email

Email may seem ancient. But it’s ever-evolving and has the staying power to outlast decades of marketing fads.

Still, think it’s old school? 89% of millennials prefer businesses reach them through email over any other format. 59% primarily check email on mobile devices.

But irrelevant emails go straight to junk. They get flagged as spam. Or worse, they annoy consumers.

Small businesses who rethink email win. They use analytics, segmentation, automation, and high-quality content. These make everything they do more relevant to customers.

As a small business,

  • Diversify your email marketing strategy
  • Leverage automation to reach customers at critical moments
  • Segment to become more relevant
  • Engage people with high-quality content, not just ads
  • Stay out of the spam folder by continually adding value to the customer’s life
  • Use email to nurture leads into loyal customers.

7. LinkedIn Becoming More Relevant

Have you been on Twitter recently? It’s largely become an automation nightmare. As new tools came on the market that could automatically like, share, follow, unfollow, post, and post it again over and over, people appeared to be tuning out.

While Twitter can still reach customers and help boost your brand awareness when done right. It’s getting harder and harder to do so without specialized knowledge from a professional digital marketer.

Active Twitter users are in steep decline. And posts only have a 17-minute “shelf-life” compared to hours on other platforms.

LinkedIn isn’t new. But as Twitter falls, LinkedIn rises as the way to reach professionals. Often thought of as a B2B platform, brands are coming to realize that professionals are customers too.

Here’s a look at LinkedIn’s growth over the past several years based upon data gathered by Statista.

digital marketing trends

The Wall Street Journal surveyed small business owners across the nation. 41% believe that LinkedIn has the most potential to drive revenues when used effectively.

Ecommerce and local businesses alike are leveraging their LinkedIn presence to connect with both B2B and B2C customers.

Check out how Nordstrom, a clothing retailer, appeals to professionals through LinkedIn. This technique isn’t reserved for large retailers.

digital marketing trends

Use LinkedIn to:

  • Connect with those interested in the business behind your brand
  • Build credibility among peers
  • Show commonalities across industries
  • Form influencer partnerships
  • Network with local businesses
  • Market products and services to professionals
  • Build an employer brand that resonates with customers

On top of this, LinkedIn made great improvements to its ads tool. It’s now easier and more effective to target professionals who are most likely to be interested in your brand.

8. Beating Ad-Blockers

Businesses are now losing $12 billion collectively due to ad-blocking. Their use doubled last year. Websites that limit access unless the ad blocker is turned off simply find that people leave. They don’t come back.

Take a look at the top reasons people use ad blockers as gathered through PageFair. 29% don’t want to be interrupted. 30% are concerned that ads represent a security threat.

digital marketing trends

Digital marketing trends today are tackling this new reality head-on by changing how they advertise online.

As a small business, choose ad platforms that are less likely to get blocked by ad blockers.

  • YouTube, Amazon, Hulu Video Ads
  • Search Advertising
  • Content that people are looking for
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Expanding brand visibility across the best social media platforms
  • Nurturing leads through relevant email marketing strategies

It never pays to try to ram your head up against change. Instead, embrace it. Discover new ways to connect with people. Those ways should encourage engagement, not the urge to block you.

9. Protecting Privacy

Facebook is facing a firestorm. Founder Mark Zuckerberg is being called before Congress to answer questions. They want to know how gathered data was used to inappropriately target people.

In response, Influencers like Elon Musk (Tesla CEO) and Will Ferrell (Actor) have publicly deleted their accounts.

The hacking of credit reporting agency Equifax exposed millions of people to identity theft.

Events like these betray trust. Companies betray trust. How you protect your customer data matters.

The European Union implemented rules regarding how businesses can gather and use data. It redefines what data privacy means. The US and Canada may soon follow suit.

The fact is that most people want you to gather data on them. 53% say they would give you more personal data if you use it to create a personalized experience.

But how you use their data matters.

As a small business, put security measures in place to safeguard data. Screen employees. Train employees on what is and is not okay to do with customer data.

Show customers you can use their data wisely, by applying it to create a more seamless customer experience.

10. Mobilegeddon, Part II

You’ve already heard about the Mobile First movement. Over half of website visits now come in through mobile devices. Mobile can no longer be an afterthought. It should be your first consideration.

Search engines like Google have set up algorithms to heavily favor mobile-optimized sites.

Businesses who haven’t invested in mobile have seen their traffic slashed and marketing costs go way up.

That was part I.

Part II hits mostly small local businesses. This isn’t one of those digital marketing trends being driven by Google. Your customers are driving the semi-truck this time.

While it may seem like an apocalypse to some. Those who innovate will find it the beginning of a brave new world. Mobile and brick-and-mortar businesses unite to create something amazing.

Increasingly, customers are using their phones as a form of machine learning tool or augmented reality with your store.

They’re in the parking lot using voice search ordering their take-out. They’re looking for online or Google ads as they walk down your aisles. They’re checking product reviews, features and compare prices in your store.

They chose to visit your shop because they received a text for a discount as they were walking past the store.

They’re even visiting competitors on your free wifi.

But you don’t have to worry. Integrate your online and physical presence into one seamless experience.

11. Brands Become the Media Companies

Some digital marketing landscapes have been in the works for a while. But people are just now catching on to what these digital marketing trends really mean for business.

Successful small business brands are becoming their own media company. They now control the conversation. They channel the flow of information that consumers need to make smart buying decisions.

If you’re a local roofing company, you’re the one informing your potential customers not just about what roof to buy. It’s how to make a roof last. It’s how to spot a leak. It’s safety tips for DIY patching. You establish when it’s time to replace a roof.

digital marketing trends

You’re the voice on roof trends.

How you manage the conversation through content not only brings you to the top of your mind. It establishes you as an authority in the customer’s mind.

12. The Chatbot Invasion

Live chats or messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, and etc. get the highest customer service rating of any method. 73% of customers are highly satisfied compared to 44% when people call customer service.

As a small business owner, you have to squeeze water out of a stone with your budget. You have to maximize every dollar. You may have people wearing many hats. You probably don’t have a 24 hours customer service team.

Your customer service department is likely 1 person answering the phone and responding to emails.

But you still need to delight customers, meet customer needs and answer questions that help you make that sale in real-time.

Chatbots are getting smarter and more accessible to small businesses. They help you do more with less. They optimize productivity.

Are you a little hesitant to pass your customers off on a robot customer rep and worry that they might notice it’s not using a natural language? We get it.

But know that A.I. digital marketing trends aren’t going away. This marketing technology will only get better next year and in the years to come. Businesses that start integrating it now will get the best rewards.

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Maybe you’re not completely sold on chatbots. Realize that there are many ways to start using them. Small business can use chatbots to:

  • Help customer service find answers faster
  • Answer common customer questions instantly
  • Refer people to a human if the chatbot can’t answer the question
  • Act as personal assistants to you and employees (e.g. Alexa or Siri)
  • Direct customers to resources they’re looking for on your website.
  • Be there 24/7 so you never miss an opportunity to help

As digital marketing trends go, this is still a luxury by today’s standards. Within a few short years, we expect your customers to go elsewhere if you don’t have 24/7 chatbot assistance.

13. “Really” Managing Your Reputation

Don’t look! Someone just gave you a bad Yelp review. Your heart starts beating erratically. You get angry. You feel your company was misunderstood.

In response, you’ve just stopped looking to see what people are saying.

Is this how you feel and respond to online reviews? If so, you’re like a lot of small businesses. And it’s slowly killing your business.

One of the digital marketing trends that have quickly moved to the forefront is reputation management. And it’s even more important for small businesses. It can take months for a small business to “bury” a bad review.

It can take a lot of business minutes.

According to HubSpot, 90% of people now check reviews before considering a business. The good news is that over 80% of people expect you to have some bad reviews. They’re suspicious if you don’t. But you need 12 stellar reviews for every bad 3-star or less to get the most out of your reputation.

What should you do to master your reputation?

  1. Monitor reviews. You can do this manually or get the software.
  2. Track brand mentions. Thank positive mentioners. Seek to help negative ones.
  3. Reach out to resolve the issue if you know who left the review. Many customers leave a bad review just because they want to be heard.
  4. Treat all bad reviews as learning opportunities. Take a deep breath. Think objectively. What could you have done differently?
  5. Ask customers to leave you reviews before and after providing services, products, or assistance.

14. Embracing Your “Smallness”

You’re a small business. You don’t have to look bigger than you are. People connect with people, not companies when it comes to branding. It’s easier to connect with 1 or a handful of people than it is to 10,000 in a huge company.

This is great news for you as a small business. Work what you’ve got instead of trying to be something else.

You can leverage the small business digital marketing trends by:

  • Offering a more personal touch
  • Having a personality especially on live video marketing content such as Instagram stories
  • Showcasing your employees in content
  • Being active and visible in the community
  • Being clear where you are so locals can find you
  • Talking about local events
  • Developing a responsive website that is integrated into your business

It’s okay to be small. In fact, it can be a great competitive advantage. It’s easier to turn a little speed boat around than it is to turn a cruise ship.

Digital Marketing Trends for Small Business

As a small business, you want to get the most out of the latest and greatest digital marketing trends. But if those strategies aren’t built around a small business, they just won’t work.

Small businesses can leverage some of these top trends to generate more leads and grow like never before. We can help. Contact us to learn more about how we help small businesses thrive.

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