Internet Summit 2014: marketing advice for small businesses

About 2,000 people in the region took time away from their work to attend two days long Internet Summit conference, which speaks volumes about the value of the information shared and presented. As people shuffle from one are to the other, I like to engage in people watching. From my observation, I can estimate that most people in the audience are working for small regional companies and are performing some type of marketing activity as part of their job. Most of the attendees are either entry or mid-level career professionals that work in marketing, web development or design. Yes, there are some senior level managers, but not many. Because of the audience composition, most of the presentations are focused on practical techniques that can be implemented to improve company’s marketing strategy.

The ultimate goal for all businesses is to have paying customers. To that end, most presentations and panel discussions were designed to help digital marketing managers convert more of their web site visitors to paying customers. Regardless of the type of business your company is in, the process from product concept to a sale is the same.

Four steps to customer acquisition: 

  1. Product — market fit. I am making an assumption that company has already done extensive market research, prototyping, customer discovery and beta testing to be confident that the target market segment is significant in size and attainable. In other words, the product or a service that is being offered is something that people are willing to buy.
  2. Content Management. Communicate to your audience what value would they get from buying your product.
  3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The first thing people do is to consult search engine when they intend to buy something.
  4. User Friendly UI — make it really easy for people to want your product and easily find the “BUY” button.

Content Marketing is still the Most Important Customer Acquisition Tactic

People evaluate 10 different products of service providers before the make a  purchasing decision. They start their search process online, talk to friends and family, evaluate comments from other users at social media. Because of that, your digital content (web site, blog, social media channels) have to beat your competition and clearly articulate the value of your product to the potential customer.

The best way to speak to the customer is to use their language, conversational, but informative tone of voice geared toward different personas that represent different market segments that you target. Since most of my blog readers don’t have an MBA, so they may not understand the previous sentence, let’s illustrate that point with an example most of us homeowners in Raleigh-Durham area can relate: lawn care.

Content Management Scenario: Lawn Care Company

Competition between lawn care companies is stiff because it doesn’t require a lot of money to start one. A pickup truck, few lawn mowers and you are in business. Every few weeks I get a flier at my door from a new company in the area advertising their services on colorful letter size paper. But, does this advertising channel work? Further, most lawn care web site showcase beautifully manicured lawns and a phone number to call. From that perspective, if you invest in content development, it will be easy to become a regional expert on this topic and get that recognition from search engines as well. First, create an easy to navigate web site. Then focus your writing energy on Q&A for different type of customers that you serve: people without a green thumb, people who are clueless about anything related to plant life, people that know their yard well, but are too busy to take care of it. Write short articles about different types of laws that grow well in your region and provide a picture! How in the world do I know what’s growing in my yard? Grass seeds don’t come with bar codes. Explain what works well for a small yard, big yard, shaded yard, fully sunny yard, sloped yard… the combinations are endless. The more stories you have, the more content you have to offer to even hungry search engines which in turns builds your credibility in the eyes of the (potential) customers. Make sure your office manager asks weekly for any interesting stories from your people in the field and share that on your web site, blog or social media. If you have at least one customer with that particular problem (document it with photos), there must be hundreds of people in with the same issue.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Multi-Channel Attribution & the Digital Media Food Pyramid - Dan Golden
Multi-Channel Attribution & the Digital Media Food Pyramid – Dan Golden

Now that you have written valuable content, it has to be found. Only a quarter of marketing managers spend their time actively distributing the content they have developed, missing out on the opportunity to reach more leads. Organic search is vastly preferred, as 82% of users trust more organic search results over paid search results (The ‘Next’ SEO: Evolve Your Approach to Customer Acquisition or Risk Extinction by Seth Dotterer, Conductor). Hence, you are better off spending your resources on writing engaging stories for your customers than blowing your budget on paid advertising. Paid advertising is still a useful tool for new companies that just have to raise brand awareness in the market place. Presentation on “Getting the Most Out of Paid Search” by Diane Pease, Cisco has a number of actionable recommendations and free tools that business owners can use.

User Friendly User Interface (UI)

You have spent time developing high quality content, engaged with other social influencers to distribute it and search engines now show your landing pages on the first search page, so people can now find you easily. Now, you want them to stay on your web site, not leave immediately, i.e. the goal is to minimize the bounce rate and maximize the time they spend at your web site. If your content is not easily readable, people will simply move on no matter how good is your written content.

Having a content that is easily consumable on the mobile device is the key. Have a font size 14 or 16 points large, focus on single column layout with infinite scroll as people on mobile devices can’t easily read a web page that has two or three columns worth of text.  Images are important part of your content. Human face is the most powerful image you can put on the web site, so forget about generic stock photos or amateurish clipart. Even better, take pictures of your own employees in their work environment so your customers can see who are the people behind the company. After all, people buy from people, not from machines. In terms of layout, most people read web pages in upside down L pattern: they read the headline, then skim down to another headline below. Next, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars paying web developers to test your web site and perform A/B testing. You can get by with a low budget by inviting friends or colleagues to interact with your new web site and observer their behavior, see how easy or hard for them to navigate the web site and ultimately go trough shopping cart. Then apply interactive process and LEAN project management to your web site development process and supporting marketing activities. Finally, don’t forget to keep your sales team as part of the ongoing conversation.


It would take a 100 pages long book to write all recommendations and best digital marketing practices following the Internet Summit conference. They key takeaways for small businesses that don’t have need or a budget for a full time marketing manager is to engage with external marketing expert, experienced in the latest trends and best practices, once or twice per year so that person can develop for you customized marketing strategy plan that works the best for your industry, region and company. The plan should have the guidelines for the optimal budget and frequency for paid advertising, most popular social media channel for your business, strategies for organic search and overall customer acquisition process. Then, your employees can work on executing this marketing strategy as part of their job, with the emphasis on content creation based on their first hand integration with customers.

Recommended presentations (search for links in

Dragana Mendel, a management consultant for startups, small and medium size businesses develops and executes growth strategies for her clients. Please call for 30 minutes complimentary discovery session to assess your business current situation and market development needs.


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