Engaging with small business owners is a unique marketing challenge. The business they run is their personal pride and joy, and they need to feel like anyone offering them tech solutions truly gets what that means before they’ll come on board. Sometimes they might not even know what support they need, or where to look for it.
As is always the case with the small business community, the first step is to think it through from their perspective. What do small business owners need? Where do they gather and what do they respond to? And once you’re thinking about things from their side of the fence, what channels and opportunities are out there to help your marketing efforts to reach them?
1.The TikTok model
When you hear someone mention marketing on TikTok, chances are you’ll respond one of two ways – either you’re already aware of it and want to do more, or you’ll inwardly groan at the thought.
You don’t even have to be on TikTok to know how it’s changed the landscape of social media. The snappy, short-form video style that started there has already made its way to other places – just take a look at Instagram Reels and Youtube Shorts – and TikTok itself has grown far beyond a lockdown fad or a platform for teenagers.
As well as the filters and dance trends, TikTok has become a powerful marketing tool for small businesses. Even with a quick browse of the app’s feed, you’ll come across small independent shops using it to build their brand personality, crafters reaching out to potential new customers, and sole traders like builders and gardeners showcasing their expertise at work.
For the companies that support small businesses, that also makes TikTok an essential platform for reaching out to this community in the future. This year one of our partners in Africa started selling website builders to small business owners via TikTok – and with the platform’s reach, it’s been an easy way to showcase the tools on offer to the people who need them, and forge new relationships fast.
2. Forget going viral – aim for authenticity
If TikTok isn’t a good fit for your digital marketing strategy, remember that with other social media platforms adopting their own version of short-form video, it’s more about the model than the app itself. Creating TikTok-style content doesn’t have to mean jumping onto the latest trends and going viral. When you’re trying to reach any audience, it’s vital to focus on creating something authentic that they can relate to.
If you’re creating a video to showcase what your website building toolkit can do, why not get one of your small business customers to help? For videos to be engaging, they have to be relatable – if another small business owner can see someone like them talking about the same challenges they face every day, they’ll be much more interested in the solutions on display.
Spend some time thinking carefully about your customer base. Are you speaking to a single person setting up a bespoke arts and crafts business in their home, or someone trying to market a growing business with a handful of employees? The small business community is incredibly diverse, and what resonates with one owner might be alien to another.
The push for more authentic connections will likely become even more important next year, even beyond video content. Take the recent rise of BeReal, for example, which prompts users to share unplanned, unfiltered photos at random points throughout the day. BeReal is still new, but its impact has already been large enough that TikTok – despite shaking up social media themselves – have recently added their own version of the feature with TikTok Now.
Social media users today are incredibly savvy at spotting obvious attempts to sell, and they’ll quickly disengage if it feels like a company is only reaching out to them for their money. But if you can work to build genuine, authentic connections using content and stories your target audience can identify with, it’ll go a long way towards fostering trust.
3. The rise of virtual spaces
Another opportunity to be aware of is the potential for marketing through virtual spaces. You’ve probably heard of this already in the context of the Metaverse, a vision for social connections built through virtual reality.
Part of the Metaverse’s goal is to create a virtual space for both social and work meetings. With that emphasis it could become a key place for small business owners of the future to congregate and look for support – that in turn makes it worth watching for larger companies looking to champion those businesses.
But despite estimates that the Metaverse could grow to an $800 billion platform by 2024, at the moment it’s still speculative at best. However, there are elements of what the Metaverse is aiming to be already out there in the world of gaming. Take Fortnite, for example – what began life as a multiplayer video game has now evolved into somewhere people come just to hang out around a virtual campfire.
Fortnite is also presenting a new opportunity as a marketing tool via its collabs and crossovers – collaborations with major brands that see limited edition items, vehicles and character outfits added to the game. At first this was primed for companies like Marvel and Star Wars to promote their upcoming films. But in 2022 Ralph Lauren partnered with Fortnite to not only add their Polo fashion line to the game, but also sell real-life clothes designed in collaboration with Fortnite.
Although marketing to small businesses via a Fortnite crossover might not seem realistic, companies should start considering how the rise of virtual spaces within gaming fits into their long-term digital marketing strategies – even if the first steps look more like engaging with influencer marketing and game streaming platforms such as Twitch. As more millennial and Gen Z founders start businesses, these spaces could be a powerful way of reaching out directly through a world that matters to them.