Yellow van converted to a coffee truck
Micro businesses need to embrace multi-channel marketing. PHOTO: Dmitry Nucky Thompson

More than a quarter of small business owners do not market both online and offline, leaving them lagging in an omnichannel world.

That's what Vistaprint Digital discovered from a survey 1,000 US micro businesses, which it defines as companies with fewer than 10 employees. The report, released today, found 28.9 percent of these small business owners don't market to businesses both online and offline.

The findings come as small business owners prepare for year-end holiday shopping opportunities as well as Small Business Saturday, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Missing Engagement Opportunity

According to the US Small Business Administration, the 28 million small businesses in America account for 54 percent of all US sales. Small businesses provide 55 percent of all jobs and 66 percent of all net new jobs since the 1970s. 

The fact that one out of four of the smallest of these businesses don't take advantage of all available channels surprised D. Scott Bowen, vice president and general manager of Vistaprint Digital.

D. Scott Bowen
D. Scott Bowen

"Consumers are now used to interacting with businesses across multiple touchpoints," Bowen told CMSWire, "and by not having a strong digital and physical presence, small businesses are missing out on engaging with potential customers. For those businesses that only market online, or only market offline, they have a huge opportunity for growth simply by expanding their marketing mix."

While 68.8 percent do market their businesses online and offline, not all of them are satisfied with their results. A third said they'd like a more "visually consistent online and offline marketing identity." 

That essentially means branding, Bowen said. 

"One of the first steps that an entrepreneur needs to take when starting a business is establishing a consistent brand, or marketing identity. Consistent visual elements, such as a unique logo or signature colors and fonts, can turn a business into a brand. No matter how good the quality of a website, social media page or business card, a cohesive look across the digital and physical worlds is what really makes a business stand out and look professional."

Social, Websites Rule Day

The survey found 53.3 percent of micro businesses prioritize social media and 32.7 percent prioritize websites over other channels. Online ads (6.6 percent) and online directories (5 percent) significantly lag behind. 

"These micro business owners are right on target when it comes to the marketing channels they prioritize to find new customers and grow their business," Bowen said.

In previous research, Vistaprint Digital found 36 percent of consumers find new businesses through online research: one in four millennials reported finding a business for the first time on social media, and nearly 45 percent of respondents said they were unlikely to buy from a business with a poorly designed website.

This shows that success doesn’t just depend on getting online, but also having a strong and professional presence, Bowen said.

"Social media, in particular, is a great and cost-effective way for small businesses to engage their target customers in a proactive, personal manner," he added. "Business owners are likely to have been marketed to on social media themselves, so social as a primary engagement tactic looms large. Websites are another must-have in today’s digital world, and they’re easier than ever to create — so much so that over a third of respondents listed their website as the primary means of marketing their business."

Though respondents downplayed online ads and directories in marketing, Bowen said they should not be ruled out entirely.

"We usually see business owners take a 'crawl, walk, run' approach to marketing," Bowen said. "They start with the tactics that are most visible and accessible to them — like social media and websites — and then as their businesses and comfort with digital marketing matures, they are more likely to try marketing on local directories or running online ads."

Handshakes Still Matter

In the era of digital transformation, offline marketing isn't going away. According to the Vistaprint Digital study, business cards serve as the primary offline marketing tactic (51.1 percent), with print advertising (11.3 percent) and signage (6.7 percent) trailing behind. 

Isn't that a funny thing about business cards: you never think of them until you're out in public needing to hand them out.

"Business cards are still a powerful marketing tactic because micro business owners are great at selling their own business in person," Bowen said. "Even in the digital age, hand-to-hand marketing and word-of-mouth are still incredibly important, and when an entrepreneur hands their business card to a potential customer, their passion for what they do gets transmitted as well. Business cards are also key to getting your information in the hands of high-value referral customers, because if you simply tell someone your business name or URL, they’re likely to forget it before they can pass it along to a friend who might be interested."

So what's the bottom-line advice for small business owners without robust resources that struggle finding their marketing identity? An offline and online presence is a must, Bowen said, and investment in mobile is a good idea, too. 

"Getting in front of a mobile-centric audience is still a challenge for many small business owners," Bowen said. "Most don’t have the time, skills or resources to make sure their business can be found on mobile devices and channels, but it’s one of the most essential elements to marketing today."