Four out of 10 small and medium-sized enterprises are sticking their heads in the sand about the need for digital skills – and they’d realize that if they gave a thought to what digital marketing strategy can do for sales.

A YouGov survey for Amazon found about 40 per cent of SMEs thought they had no need for digital skills. I’d argue that’s short-sighted at best and a threat to their existence at worst.

The stats were based on Scottish businesses, but I’d be surprised if there was much variation UK-wide.

And the survey didn’t break down the figures by sector, but my 15 years’ experience as a digital marketer makes me suspect they would mainly be in B2B industries.

If they are, they likely rely on relationships, personal connections and offline marketing to drive sales. This is a typical trend that I’ve seen throughout my career – B2B is slow on digital while B2C is not.

Start-ups use ecommerce

B2C is perfect for digital and most companies in that sector have realised that in addition to selling to consumers offline, they also can do this online through their website. That’s why the survey found 74 per cent of small retailers and 44 per cent of start-ups use ecommerce.

However, 28 per cent of the SMEs said online sales are not important.

Now, SMEs can vary in size up to 250 employees with a £250million turnover. I’m willing to bet that not many of the firms at the top end have no digital, or digital marketing strategy.

But the smaller firms – maybe a family-run engineering company, a garage or bodyshop, a plumber or cattery – who neglect online marketing are shooting themselves in the foot.

A colleague was looking for kennels recently at short notice after his regular place had to shut. He found dozens online but wrote off several of them right away because they couldn’t even be bothered to post photos of their facilities on their Google My Business page. How can any business be prepared to let new clients walk away when bringing them in is so easy?

Benefits of online marketing

The thing is, we can actively demonstrate the benefits of online marketing to our clients. Because digital marketing is fully transparent from end-to-end, we can track everything we do and provide our clients with a specific ROI.

And while non-ecommerce brands might not see the value in directing people to their websites, there’s huge potential for them to learn about their consumers and re-target to their consumers, just by first directing those people to their site.

Every button on a website can be tracked. And every engagement on a website can be co-opted so that we can learn about on-site behaviours: content likes and dislikes for example. This can all be rolled into content and improve digital marketing strategies going forward.

We can also drop a re-targeting cookie on every user who leaves the site after their initial visit and follow that person around with ads – reminding them of the brand.

As technology and digital marketing continues to merge into our everyday lives, the lines are blurred between what is marketing and what is online browsing.

Ensure user engagement

As a marketer it’s part of my job to ensure that users see and engage with my ads even when they don’t realise it.

I think we’ll continue to see more and more people adopt digital – regardless of their industry – as the offline-to-online switch becomes seamless and realisation dawns about the dangers of being left behind by the pace of change.

SMEs have to take heed of the effect the rise of online marketing has had on large companies – look at the store closures at leading brands such as Waitrose, or the recent closures of Maplin and Toys R Us, for example.

If brands as huge as those – whose very size should protect them – are experiencing difficulties, can a niche business afford to ignore the changes in commerce? I think not.

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