The UK is a thriving marketplace for SMEs, and despite the doom and gloom surrounding the global economy, there are strong indications that small and medium-sized businesses are investing in marketing activity and ramping up sales.
Central to marketing success for dynamic and profitable SMEs is getting their marketing strategy right for their business. In this article, we explore how SMEs navigate the UK marketing landscape with key marketing strategies and approaches to sales.
Introduction to SMEs in the UK
SMEs account for 99.9% of the business population in the UK - equating to 5.5 million businesses. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, SMEs also account for three-fifths of the employment and around half of turnover in the UK private sector.
The role of marketing in SME growth
Marketing strategies are fundamental to SME growth, helping them to highlight their unique selling points and communicate them to their target audience. Rather than relying purely on the kind of reputation that big businesses benefit from, start-up and scale-up organisations thrive on establishing their reputation and placing themselves where the right audience can find them. That's what makes their digital marketing strategy, in particular, so vital.
As an indicator of how essential SMEs still consider marketing to be to business growth, in September, The Guardian reported on research by American Express and Small Business Saturday, which questioned 1,000 UK small business owners and decision-makers. They found that "nearly one-third (30%) of businesses questioned plan to ramp up sales and marketing activity."
They continued: "The research found resilience and optimism among small businesses despite significant challenges in recent years. Eight in 10 (79%) of small business owners expect to grow their business over the next 12 months."
Challenges and opportunities of SMEs in the UK
The challenges and opportunities facing SMEs in the UK relate to perennial factors and issues involving the current market. In general terms, challenges at the top of the agenda include:
- The rising costs of materials, labour and services which affect profit margins and running costs.
- The cost-of-living challenges facing consumers, which impact buying habits.
- The difficulties in finding funding which have been further impacted by economic headwinds.
- Finding and retaining top talent to meet business requirements.
- Sourcing materials and services as supply chains are impacted by global events.
That said, SMEs are typically more agile than their larger counterparts, allowing them to adapt to market changes more swiftly and gain a competitive advantage. Consumers are far more willing to purchase from smaller organisations as long as they prove trust and integrity, and smaller teams with shorter communication lines are often more productive and less inhibited by bureaucracy, leading to faster growth.
Common Marketing Challenges of SMEs
Specifically within marketing, SMEs face challenges. In particular, the growing options for marketing platforms and capabilities can result in an endless capacity to spend money without necessarily seeing much return or knowing what's working. Rising market competition levels make it far more critical to have a defined marketing strategy based on clear goals rather than casting a wide net in a vast ocean of opportunities and competing against organisations with far deeper pockets.
Financial constraints shouldn't necessarily be seen as a bad thing. Instead, they can be the root of intelligent and strategic decision-making that keeps your business streamlined. Instead of spending on everything, SMEs can use their budgetary limitations to become highly focused and informed when developing a marketing strategy that's bottom-line driven.
The digital landscape arguably means there's more competition than ever before as local businesses not only compete with other local companies but large organisations with a national or international reach. Much like budgetary constraints, however, competition can also be a positive thing for SMEs, nurturing a laser-focused mindset and a marketing strategy that targets a specific target market instead of trying to be all things to all people.
Having a digital marketing strategy within your overarching plans is fundamental in today's business landscape. On the downside, more prominent firms often have bigger budgets and can pay higher salaries with more benefits. However, smaller businesses usually have the upper hand in terms of offering job satisfaction and opportunities to grow with the company. For young people who identify with the technologies businesses use, SMEs can also be a fantastic opportunity to gain experience quickly, making them more attractive than larger organisations.
Data privacy regulations
Along with digitisation have come increased measures to protect consumers and their data. SMEs often need help to allocate sufficient resources and expertise to data protection and privacy matters. Where large corporations may have dedicated staff, systems, or budgets to implement and monitor data protection practices, SMEs may not. However, finding a solution is imperative to business success. The good news is that more and more solutions are more available, affordable and reliable than ever.
Measuring ROI (return on investment)
Measuring ROI is another area in which many SMEs struggle. This results from a lack of departmental coordination, the absence of specific, measurable goals and an established and workable ROI plan. Often, when SMEs have had a certain level of success, they have been able to operate simply by talking to one another for a while. A more formal strategy may be needed as the company grows - it's a sign of your success and a necessary evolution to continue growing.
Marketing opportunities for SMEs
Where there are challenges, there are also opportunities, and for SMEs, there are many advantages when it comes to their marketing strategies, giving them a competitive edge against larger businesses.
When it comes to your digital marketing strategy, SMEs can take advantage of connecting much more authentically with their audiences. A digital marketing strategy can be extremely cost-effective and highly productive in finding and connecting with target audiences, as well as opening a space where potential customers can find them across multiple platforms and tools, including content, SEO, social media and email.
By investing in local SEO, small businesses can level the playing field with larger competitors, especially if they leverage their digital marketing strategy alongside the merits of a physical local presence. Local search results are often less saturated, providing an opportunity for smaller businesses to gain visibility and compete effectively within their target market.
A strong content marketing strategy is a powerful marketing tool for any business. Still, it can establish you as an industry leader for SMEs and differentiate you from others in the market. Tying this in with your local SEO and social media strategies builds out a marketing approach that big businesses won't readily be able to compete with.
A strong email marketing strategy is an excellent way for SMEs to maximise customer engagement, foster loyalty, and drive sales. When emails are tailored to target groups and campaigns, small businesses can cultivate meaningful relationships, helping them to stand out in crowded markets.
Social media marketing
Having a social media marketing strategy is vital for gaining the most out of these highly usable and popular platforms. Choosing the right social media platforms for your businesses and target market, as well as a carefully considered approach for what you're sharing, when and how, can help you maximise time and budgets and nurture brand advocates. Social media is an excellent place for potential customers to find you and for existing customers to continue to engage with you.
gigCMO marketing tips that actually work
gigCMO's fractional CMO services are rooted in highly informed, bottom-line-driven marketing strategies. Our approach is focused on making your business grow - here are our top marketing tips that actually work.
1. Know how to target your audience
To target the right audience for your business, you have first to know who they are. Every marketing strategy is rooted in information, and thanks to digitisation, there's been no better time to understand your customers, potential customers, competitors and your place in the market. Always begin with your market and competitor analysis. Then, use that to develop your marketing strategy, including customer segmentation.
2. Leverage cold email marketing
Cold email marketing is used to reach potential customers who don't know you yet. It's the email equivalent of cold calling, but it can be a great way to introduce yourself to customers likely to benefit from your services. Getting that right means returning to that all-important research we mentioned before and targeting people you know are right for your business.
3. Advertise your business online
Having a digital marketing strategy is an inescapable part of modern marketing. Almost everyone will either go online to find a solution for their needs or research a personal recommendation. A fundamental part of a digital marketing strategy will include online advertising, which comes in various forms, from Google ads to PPC and social media adverts (within each platform).
4. Use influencers to build brand awareness
Influencer marketing has always existed, but with the rise of social media, it's become more defined and embedded into marketing strategies. Working with people who resonate with your audience and have a trusting fanbase on social media and beyond can be an influential association for your business to leverage its marketing.
5. Connect with local businesses
One benefit of being a local business is that you may know other local businesses, and you can achieve great things together. By sharing resources, pooling budgets, and combining the reach of your respective platforms, you can access new markets with an established level of trust in who you are and what you do.
6. Offer incentives and discounts
Incentives and discounts can be a great way to get new customers through the door, boost your brand reputation, build customer loyalty, meet sales objectives and give you a competitive edge.
7. Build an email list
Establishing a mailing list for your newsletters is integral to staying in touch with existing customers and potential customers who have already shown an interest in your organisation. When your mailing list is qualified, email marketing can help you share new offers and products directly with your audience, tailor communications to specific market segments and lower the cost per lead/sale.
8. Automated marketing
Automated marketing, designed carefully within a marketing strategy, is a helpful part of your marketing suite. It offers efficiency, internal alignment, improved customer experiences, actionable analytics and increased ROI.
9. Invest in search engine optimisation (SEO)
SEO is the foundation on which digital marketing strategies are built. Google is constantly updating its algorithm, so once your basic SEO is done, there's always more to stay on top of. Being on page one of search engine results is essential for two reasons:
1) 75% of people never scroll past the first page of a search engine
2) As Google rolls out its AI-driven Search Generative Experience, it will pull its predictive results from the first page of search alone. That means gaining space on the first page of search results is more important than ever.
Find out how to unleash strategic power for growth with gigCMO
The key to modern, cost-effective marketing that delivers a return on investment is having a focused, well-informed marketing strategy to carry you forward. That's where we can help - respecting your budget and your goals and helping you to achieve growth for your business.
Want to find out exactly how we can make marketing work for your business?