When it comes to digital marketing, bigger isn’t always better. Just ask those in small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Many are doing more with less, whether it’s smaller budgets or fewer employees, to optimize website, social media, and email for marketing/promotion. Despite their size constraints, a Vocus-commissioned Inc. magazine report found an overwhelming share of SMBs total marketing budget is exclusively spent on digital.

The Role of Digital Marketing Within SMBs

We spoke with You Mon Tsang, Acting CMO at Vocus to help us better understand the drivers of digital marketing within the SMB market. In the report, The State of Digital Marketing for SMBs, four emerging trends caught our attention.

Large Share, Small Investment

While the report shows that a majority of companies use websites (86.6%), social media (77.3%), and email for marketing and promotion (65.8%) to execute its digital marketing strategy, just 14.6 percent of SMBs allocate 50-74 percent of their budgets to digital marketing, while almost 22 percent allocate less than 10 percent of their marketing budget to digital.

Poised for Growth, Still Going it Alone

Though SMBs have traditionally lagged behind larger companies when it comes to employing more sophisticated marketing technologies, Vocus is convinced that because of the increasing availability and affordability of many prominent marketing tools, digital marketing usage among SMBs is “poised for significant and meaningful growth in the near term.”


However, tell that to those that are currently managing SMBs’ marketing efforts. You won’t have to yell too loudly,  though. After all among companies with more than $1 million in sales, two to five is the most common staffing level (36.3 percent); among all companies surveyed for the report, it’s one (35.3 percent). Additionally, slightly more than 20 percent of all respondents have no full-timers overseeing digital marketing, but 5.3 percent outsource. If the SMB market is poised for growth, let’s hope it involves hiring more people.

The Content Marketing Disconnect

In the report, companies are asked to identify the tools they currently use in its digital marketing strategy. Then they are asked to identify those which have been most effective. Not surprisingly, the tools they use the most seem to be the most effective -- website (33.9%), social media (24.9%) and email marketing (19.6%). Further down the list, more than half of the companies indicated that they use blogs, video and photos, but only about 13 percent say that they’re effective.

If most companies say that their websites, social media and email marketing efforts are effective, then what content are they using, if not their blogs, videos and photos, which they have said are less effective? Somehow it seems that content marketing’s impact on digital marketing has not yet been proven. Or rather, it’s simply not understood.

Sales Dominates Success Metrics

For most smaller businesses, if you don’t have sales, you don’t have a business. So it seems reasonable that’s how most small businesses measure the success of their digital marketing strategy. Yet, we know that a lot can happen on the way to making a purchase, so it’s interesting that when asked “What does marketing success look like to you in digital?”  53.7% said lead generation and 33.5% said “comments and a social network following” -- which were the closest customer experience related responses listed. However, to be fair, perhaps optimizing the customer experience was implied, because without it, sales won’t happen. Still, it might be an indication that SMBs are fixated on outcomes without focusing on the nuances that influence them.

The Future of SMBs and Digital Marketing 

Overall, when it comes to SMBs, it can be a drastically different environment compared to larger companies. Larger companies can invest more in digital marketing because they have more people, more resources, and more wiggle room to experiment. However, as more start-ups start up, more and more businesses are going to be small before they get big. They may have the luxury of being able to collaborate more easily, but in the long term, it may serve them better to focus on the smaller components of the big picture and bottom line.