Small businesses, big impact: 8 lessons from our Economic Impact Report

Ken Wheaton December 2018 Mobile, Search, Video

Earlier this year, Google released its annual Economic Impact Report. It’s a fascinating read, one that highlights one or two businesses in each state. Their stories, along with the ones we share through Grow with Google, run the gamut of American industries, from digital startups to mom-and-pop travel services to manufacturers. There are upstarts and legacy businesses. Those who provide services and those who still make actual things.

Despite their size — or because of it — these stories are a treasure trove of digital marketing lessons. For many smaller companies, digital marketing is sometimes the best and only option.

The companies featured in the Economic Impact Report are not just surviving. They’re thriving. How? Some are mastering online-to-offline (O2O) practices and becoming omnichannel marketers. Some are redefining what it means to be creative. Others are using digital to transform 100-year-old businesses. And all of them are discovering ways to help their customers (and their communities). I’ll be writing more in-depth about some of these, but, for now, here are some of the key digital marketing lessons I’m taking away from these inspirational, growing businesses.

 

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If you help them, they will come

It’s one of the oldest maxims in business: Find a need and fill it. After trying to find flood-proof tiles for her own home in Alabama, Lundy Wilder knew others were doing the same. So she founded Villa Lagoon Tile, launched a website, and began offering custom cement tiles to residential and business customers, figuring that folks who were doing internet searches for such a product were very likely to buy. And helping is also about customer service. The website of Georgia’s Carousel Designs features an interactive tool that lets expectant parents design and visualize their own unique nursery. Digital “allows us to connect with customers in various parts of the buying process, from when they first learn about our products to when they make their purchase,” said CEO Jonathan Hartley.

Master O2O

You’ve got to make the connection between online and offline aspects of your business. In many ways, small businesses are at the forefront of O2O. For some, it’s a matter of winning at both e-commerce and in-store. Montana Silversmiths operates four brick-and-mortar stores while also fulfilling over 35,000 online orders each year. Even when e-commerce isn’t an option, digital advertising pays off. For electronics repair shop Wise Guys Technology, for example, its digital presence doubled in-store foot traffic. “It’s given us a lot of growth, and allows us to be shown to more people who wouldn’t normally see us,” said founder Justin Johnson.

Decipher your marketing data

On any budget, knowing how to get the most out of your marketing dollars is important. On a tight budget, it’s paramount. “It’s kind of a game of finding our opportunities in nooks and crannies,” says Brian Barber of Langston’s Western Wear. “You take Google Analytics and add in a little intuition, and things start to become a little clearer. The importance of analytics can’t be overstated.”

Spend your money where it matters

After you’re done analyzing everything, make sure you’re directing your dollars to the most effective means of marketing. Noosa Yoghurt has turned to YouTube and Adwords to “effectively reach a highly targeted audience of people who are interested in super-premium, delicious-tasting yoghurt,” according to Vice President of Marketing Christine Dahm. “These tools allow smaller companies like us to be really targeted and efficient with our dollars,” she added. “That just isn’t possible with other forms of marketing, like television, which reaches so many people who have little to no intention of buying our product.”

Expand your definition of creativity

The word shouldn’t only be synonymous with 30-second ads or print campaigns. Apply it to all aspects of your business. Not only did Amanda Dailey have the vision to build an entire business around cork products, her company, Queork, partners with local youth-empowerment programs, a creative way to help the community and to promote the company. And Julia Collins created Zume, a pizza delivery company with no physical storefronts.

Video is for everyone

Even if you’re in an industry that most might not consider sexy, your customers want to hear your story. Video is a great way to do that. It’s also a great way to provide how-to material, highlight new products, and keep customers engaged even after a sale. With over 500 videos and 25,000 subscribers, the YouTube channel of speed shop Speedway Motors has been “a great tool for capturing who we really are, sharing our passion, and demonstrating to car enthusiasts that we get them — that we’re here to make their dreams come true."

Legacy isn’t limiting

Don’t let your history hold you back from embracing change. Even businesses with 100-year legacies can benefit from smart use of digital tools. We’ve seen it with companies as big as L’Oreal and with companies like Merz Apothecary in Chicago, which calls itself a “143-year-old startup.”

Act globally, think locally

Distance isn’t the obstacle it once was. Think beyond your hometown. Companies like Honolulu Cookie Company show how digital can be used to grow a seemingly local business well beyond the borders of your town or state.

Such a list isn’t a comprehensive playbook, but it can serve as a jumping-off point for those looking to grow their businesses. Consider it, like the companies featured in the Economic Impact Report and those who tell their stories through our Grow with Google program, a bit of marketing inspiration.

Creativity is more than just an ad campaign: Big lessons from small businesses