Staying ahead as an SME

Staying ahead as an SME

Marketers in small and medium businesses are under daily pressure to keep pace with change and stay ahead of the competition. We spoke to three SME marketers about how they ensure their firms are resilient, and how this informs their marketing priorities.

Small businesses face something of a dilemma: on one hand, they need to build a recognisable brand and offer a consistent service for customers. This is essential if the organisation is to establish a market presence and differentiate itself from competitors. But on the other hand, the quick-moving small business environment requires the brand to be responsive to risks and opportunities.

Samantha Patten, ISL Recruitment

Samantha Patten is the internal recruitment manager of Bristol-based ISL Recruitment, with responsibility for marketing. She explains her approach: “In our marketing and messaging, we consistently uphold and promote our values and core promises. We have different audience segments, and actively tailor our content to those segments to show understanding of their specific interests and challenges. But, in all of this, our underlying values do not change.”

Christian McAleenan, Christian Benedict

This view is echoed by Christian McAleenan, managing director of shirt subscription service Christian Benedict. He says: “We value the message our brand communicates; but that isn’t to say it can’t be improved, played with or changed.”

According to McAleenan, this could be “by adapting how we present ourselves and our service. This could take the form of changing textual and visual messages, or the channels we use.”

He adds: “But these changes don’t affect our core principle – to place the customer at the centre of our business.”

Adapt to global markets

Another challenge is that many small businesses operate in more than one global market. This complicates matters further and necessitates a delicate approach to brand identity, according Sonia Dorais, chief marketing officer at Compleat Software. “There is usually not a one-size-fits-all solution. Our strategy for brand is to adapt culturally to the market in which we plan to promote our products and services. For example, the UK market does not respond well to the ‘hard sell’ in the same way the American market does.”

Sonia Dorais, Compleat Software

Indeed, some of the largest brands in the world have suffered embarrassment for failing to take account of local cultural norms. When the American Motors Corporation launched a car named ‘Matador’ into Puerto Rico, they ran into trouble. Although research suggested consumers would associate the word with virility and excitement, within the American territory, ‘matador’ was linked to the Spanish word for ‘killer’ – hardly the best advert for a car.

However, since adapting your message for dozens of different countries is, for most SMEs “unrealistic”, Dorais emphasises the importance of consistency when using multiple social-media platforms – many of which may be viewed outside of the intended market.

Boost resilience with technology

For Dorais, staying resilient means being prepared for change. This involves “using technology to help automate our processes, by keeping our teams happy and engaged, and by removing ‘corporate red tape’ as best as we can,” she says.

It’s not surprising that technology is key to maintaining resilience at Compleat, since the company’s core offering is invoicing, procurement and budgetary software for small businesses.

However, the same is also true for Christian Benedict, which delivers new shirts to subscribers on a flexible basis. According to McAleenan, technology offers small businesses the means to test their marketing strategy, with the aim of keeping abreast of shifting consumer demand.

“We tend to test a lot, from the wording of the campaign to what type of shirt cuff our customers prefer,” he says. “Consequently, we react to change guided by what we’ve discovered through experimentation – or we’re initiating the change as a result of our discovery.”

In fact, according to Dorais, technology can define the entire ethos of a business. “By embracing technology, we can create a more collaborative and flexible working culture, not only by streamlining processes that ‘continue’ during staff absences, but also keeping things moving, no matter the change.”

Invest to save money

But the downside of using technology to maintain business advantage is the cost. How do small businesses realise the benefits of technology, when every pound must be carefully accounted for?

“We definitely have a smaller budget, that’s for sure,” says McAleenan. “But there are so many services that are levelling the playing field that you no longer need deep pockets. Social media – paid and unpaid – provides ways to test your strategy.”

Indeed, in terms of cost-effectiveness, Dorais argues that investing in technology is more effective than paying for one-off marketing campaigns. “One of the choices many marketing leaders make is whether to invest their budget in advertising, design or promotion. This can seem like the obvious choice when you’re building a start-up or brand. However, once the ad or promotion is finished, you need more money to either keep it going. It’s a consistent running cost.

“My strategy has been to invest in technology that enables us to automate and personalise marketing processes so that we can free up time to focus on value proposition design, content product, sales enablement, communication and demand generation.”

Essentially, being a small business marketer doesn’t mean you can’t become an expert at managing change. Indeed, it can give you an advantage, says McAleenan. “I think small businesses are a little hungrier,” he concludes, “and that can open up more possibilities.”

Read more about how to make the most of your SME marketing spend.


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