Online marketing: How to market SMEs and SMPs online

By Nick Pendrell

Since the dawn of the internet as a viable medium for promoting a business, some 15 years ago, much has been written regarding how it can best be utilised for marketing purposes. However, it is important for the prospective online marketer to realise that, when it comes to internet marketing, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Instead small and medium practices (SMPs) and entities (SMEs) will need to engage in very different marketing tactics in order to achieve all of their marketing goals.

By way of example, below is a comparison of the marketing goals for a hypothetical SMP versus those of a hypothetical SME:

Smith, Jones & Associates (SJ&A) are based in Hobart and provide general accounting services to SMEs across Tasmania. Tamar Valley Vineyards (TVV) is a client of Smith, Jones & Associates. It sells premium wines direct to consumers both domestically and internationally.

How would these two hypothetical companies differ in their requirements for an online marketing campaign?

Location vs market size

SJ&A’s market is virtually every SME in Tasmania. Any efforts or funds it spends on marketing elsewhere in Australia or internationally is likely to be wasted.

TVV’s market is a small, niche one (connoisseurs of premium-priced wines from independent vineyards) but one which covers a vast geographical area – all of Australia and internationally. Any effort or funds it invests in attracting the attention of anyone who is not passionate about wine is probably going to be wasted.

Needs vs wants

SJ&A’s clients ‘need’ their services, even if they may not ‘want’ them. Their potential clients know what services an accounting firm typically provides, why they need them and will actively be looking for an accounting firm when they require one.

TVV’s clients don’t ‘need’ their products, but hopefully some might ‘want’ them. Few of their potential clients will know of their existence and so the company will need to look for websites that wine connoisseurs frequent and inform prospective buyers as to why their wines merit their premium prices.

Required results

SJ&A’s desired result from their online marketing is a phone call or an email from a potential new client asking for an initial consultation or more information regarding the services that the company provides.

TVV would like potential new clients to visit their website to make an online purchase of some of their premium wines.

Relationships vs quick sales

SJ&A realise that not every business in Tasmania requires their services today – most potential clients will already be working with a rival accounting firm. Therefore the company’s online marketing activities need to focus on the long-term so that when a potential client is ready to change accounting firm, SJ&A are at the forefront of their minds.

TVV’s potential clients are likely to be impulse buyers. The company needs to capture a potential client’s interest quickly and persuade them to place an order. If potential clients are not prepared to buy their wines today, it is unlikely they will be any more interested in buying three years from now. So, as can be seen from the above examples, not only are the marketing needs of SMPs and SMEs very different, in many cases they will be diametrically opposed.

Below are details of the online tools that will form the major components of an ‘internet marketing toolkit’, with details as to how they should be applied by the two hypothetical companies in order to achieve their very different marketing goals.

Social media

While there are benefits to SJ&A in having a Facebook page and a Twitter account, the most useful social network for them is going to be LinkedIn, as this service is designed purely as a networking tool for business professionals. Clever use of LinkedIn would allow SJ&A to concentrate on starting a professional relationship with small business owners in Tasmania, avoiding those located elsewhere.

Wine connoisseurs tend to be fanatical and proud of their hobby. As a result, both Facebook pages and Twitter accounts could be useful tools for TVV to obtain brand loyalty, repeat business and referrals from existing clients. As is the case with most companies in the B2C arena, there would be little benefit to TVV utilising LinkedIn as a promotional tool.

Google AdWords

Google’s AdWords service allows advertisers to bid on keywords that their users are searching for in order to position simple text advertising at the top of, or to the side of, the regular search results.

SJ&A would need to use Adwords’ ‘geo-targeting’ function to ensure that their AdWords are only shown for Google users in Tasmania in order to avoid any wastage. Here, competition for the main keywords should be small because only other accounting firms covering Tasmania should be bidding against them. It should be bidding for every keyword, and key phrase, that is relevant to their business, eg ‘accountant’, ‘Chartered Accountant’, ‘accounting firm’, ‘bookkeeping’, ‘payroll services’, etc.

Conversely, as it wants to attract wine connoisseurs globally, TVV would not need to use geo-targeting. It would need to take care to avoid general terms such as ‘wine’, as this would attract too many general wine drinkers who are not potential clients for their premium-priced product. Instead it would need to select very specific key phrases, such as ‘buy Tasmanian wine’, ‘premium Australian wines’, ‘Australian chardonnay’, etc. TVV would probably need to start small and pay meticulous attention to the results of the advertising campaign to ensure that it is getting value from its advertising in such a competitive field as the global wine market.

Search engine optimisation

All businesses will benefit from potential clients visiting their websites, which they are likely to find by making a search on Google. Obtaining visitors from Google’s ‘organic listings’ also has the added advantage that it is free. Because of this, competition for top rankings is intense and a whole industry of ‘search engine optimisation’, or SEO, has evolved in order to assist business in achieving high rankings. SJ&A only needs to rank highly for local users who are searching for terms such as ‘Hobart accountant’ or ‘CA Tasmania’.

SJ&A would only need to compete against other accounting firms in Hobart to get a top ranking, which means that the bar is set relatively low so that an amateur with just a basic understanding of SEO tactics should be able to achieve a first page listing.

TVV, conversely, would have an uphill battle to rank highly against an intensely competitive key phrase such as ‘Australian wine’. While it might be possible for an amateur to obtain good rankings for specific key phrases such as ‘Tasmanian chardonnay’, it would probably require professional help to achieve good rankings for more general phrases.

Online advertising and promotion

Other online marketing opportunities will again differ depending upon the business focus of a company.

SJ&A should ensure that it is listed with all local directories that list accounting services. Most important is a free listing on the Google Local service, as these results will be listed on the first page of relevant searches. It should also ensure that it is listed with the other major free local directories such as True Local and Yellow Pages.

Local advertising will be of little benefit to TVV, however. Instead it would need to seek out popular websites that large numbers of wine connoisseurs visit on a regular basis. Depending on the site, it may be able to get some publicity for free by submitting interesting articles. Otherwise it would need to pay for some display advertising on the site.

Before you start

The SMP and SME in the above examples are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of the marketing methods they should be looking to utilise. Once again, there is no single concrete solution for all SMPs and a completely different one for all SMEs. If an SMP were to specialise in one particular industry on a nationwide basis compared to focusing on a defined geographical market, it would require different tactics. Similarly, a purely locally focused SME would need to utilise methods similar to the ones that I mentioned above that are relevant to the majority of SMPs.

After reading this article, however, it should now be understood that, before commencing with any online marketing activities, it is important to first identify an organisation’s niche in order to select the right tools to reach the desired audience with the minimum amount of wasted resources.


Want to know more?

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Nick Pendrell is the author of Internet Marketing Bible for Accountants, available through Amazon.

Article last updated 31 July 2012