There are approximately 28 million small businesses in the U.S. alone, many of which have likely not even scratched the surface of effectively using digital marketing to drive in-store activity.

The recent shift to real-time buying (RTB) and the growth of programmatic marketing has changed the way we buy digital advertising. With traditional forms of digital advertising, marketers had to pay large sums of money upfront in order to reach their target audience for a given campaign. In this situation, the challenge for small businesses was that they didn’t have access to the sizable budgets of large advertisers. However, because of the influx of data being captured around web and opportunities afforded by programmatic marketing, companies no longer have to put large sums of money upfront to reach their desired audiences. Today, businesses of all sizes can leverage audience data, digitally enabled devices, and online marketing to reach customers. All of these strategies will help small businesses capitalize on Small Business Saturday (November 29) in a similar way to how large retailers use search data and digital advertising to promote Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales to in-market shoppers.

Digital marketing helps get people into stores
According to Google’s 2014 Local Reach study, four out of five consumers search online to find local information and four in five consumers want ads customized to their local surroundings. Influencing customers along their path to purchase requires getting in front of them at the right time and with the right messaging. SMBs have multiple digital channels at their fingertips, including Search Engine Marketing (SEM), data-driven display advertising such as site and search retargeting, mobile advertising and social media. All of these channels now allow you to integrate relevant audience data such as geographic, on-site activity and search behaviors, which can be very effective for SMBs. For example, SEM and mobile advertising play big roles in influencing the consumers on digital devices, which ultimately assists in driving them to visit a brick and mortar store. If a consumer conducted an online search for “car repair,” you can serve them a relevant ad on their mobile device for a promotion from their nearby car repair store.

Small businesses should take advantage of geo-fencing, which allows them to reach consumers within a very specific location with advertising messages local stores. The beauty of real-time advertising and geo-based marketing is that you can customize ad messages based on a set of data points, which enables marketers to make their ads hyper relevant to their desired audience.

Understand which tactics to try and when
First, retailers must define what products and promotions are part of their Small Business Saturday strategy and create marketing messages and ads that can be used across desktop and mobile devices.

Second, advertisers must understand what data is available and work with advertising technology partners using multiple data elements, including search intent, to reach and influence customers. A majority of SMBs want to drive in-store traffic, which will require hyper local advertising efforts. In order to take full advantage of this strategy, you must define your desired goal and then look at how digital channels such as SEM, Facebook advertising, mobile targeting, etc., can assist you in your prospecting and customer retention efforts.

Third, businesses want to be where their customers are, which includes online. In order to cast a wider net across your target audience you should leverage mobile and laptop/desktop advertising (people that searched for keywords relevant to your store or what you offer), and layer in hyper-local advertising so you can reach consumers within a very specific set of parameters.

Timing is everything when it comes to getting in front of your customers. In order to make digital marketing work, you need to leverage it as a way to reach consumers early in the purchase cycle, before they make their buying decisions. Additionally, local and intent data elements are vital for connecting small businesses with relevant audiences. Your marketing efforts simply won’t work if you don’t have the right data strategy in place.

The world of digital marketing and available data is only going to get bigger, which means SMBs will have more and more opportunities to tap digital strategies as larger businesses do. However, this also means that smaller businesses will have to increase their digital presence, which might include creating or improving their online site, Facebook page, local review pages, etc. Consumers rely on information available to them on the web, and if you want to have a seat at the marketing table, digital has to be part of your business, beyond just advertising efforts.
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