Small Medium Enterprises (SME) don’t need to shudder at the thought of everything becoming digital. In fact it is an opportunity to succeed beyond your wildest dreams. Think about Amazon – who were they 15 years ago? Established book shops like W.H. Smith and Blackwell’s realized they had to change their game as a result.

So having cut my teeth in digital advertising working with budget-strapped SMEs, let me share some thoughts for all those budding local entrepreneurs to make sense of this ‘tinterweb’ and show that I haven’t forgotten you…

What would your key advice be to any SME that is taking its first steps with online marketing?

Don’t follow your assumed competitor, but learn from the brands that have arisen in the online space such as Amazon, eBay, etc and seek to replicate some of key learning’s. These are the success stories, not necessarily your local competitor. How each page is relevant to the user searching for a product; what else they need, how it compares, who has one and what is it like… This is their key jump point, not the homepage on – it goes back to how users find them through search.

Don’t be bamboozled by technologists and designers but keep it simple; will it add to my bottom line by doing it this way, how do I keep existing customers up-to-date, how do people find me and then what are the steps they would go through to conduct business with me? As a small business entrepreneur, you alone know your business, technologists are there to automate it, not sell you a new fangled pretty animated-brochure that is pointless from a sales perspective – a website is a tool, not a painting!

A lot of things you do online – finding out about product or service – happen in areas other than client direct website. How do you control that for your advantage? Digital marketing is not just about banners online pointing to a website… its being front of mind and ahead of the competitors all over digital media – and remember, often many of these places can actually be free.

Search marketing seems to have come of age over the last few years. How can even micro businesses take advantage of this kind of online marketing?

Think about your business, you put your shop on high street for reason – passing trade. Online is a dessert and you don’t want to be stuck in middle of no-where people can’t find you without help. People search mostly for your service, such as “double glazing” not your company name… so where would they start to find you? Don’t focus on your homepage or company name. Amazon tried this and failed. People bought books from Amazon. Books, specific books or whatever people were looking for just happened to be brought to them via Amazon. Apply that thinking to your business – your product or service are more interesting to everyone else then your company name.

Your website should be build around each and every product and specific searches should point direct to that product or service, NOT your homepage. What happens when I type in “Double Glazing”, or “double glazing in Kent” or “recommendations for

[company name]” – this is where people start, how do you lead them on the next step? And with Google, it’s easy, cheap and manageable to make those first steps – and by being specific, you may unearth phrases people search for that your competitors are not bidding on, so maximise ROI.

How can SMEs integrate their offline promotional activity and their online marketing?

Think of conversion life cycle; you become aware, then inquire and research then purchase – ultimately people then become advocates for your company. I may see sign on side of van, I may just remember a name or a buzz word. As a result I will search online for it. I may search looking for information about someone/something. I may have a particular specialist need for washing machine part – all this drives search online. If it’s a repetitive business – a restaurant or something that you can up sell/cross sell, can you encourage people to come back with offers, get them to sign up and then keep them up to date by email? What about classified ads online in local press or even Craigslist or eBay? Can I use display adverts online, in local press taking them though to an offer?

Set up an Amazon store – can you use free information out there to add to the experience of people visiting your site – such as nutritional information of food – so it keeps the site sticky? Even if people see your van on street and ultimately buy in store, the chances are they will have looked around before converting, and a lot of that “research” is happening online now, so make sure you are part of price comparison sites and review sites. Remember online is personal – so use it to your advantage to develop actual two-way relationships with your audience beyond just digital brochures and ads. Always respond back to those ‘negative’ reviews positively and incentivise them to come back to try your restaurant. People buy from small businesses as they feel the person “listens”, so show you do. Then take those positive comments and integrate them into your website. And as for your van – stop putting your email address there – people don’t care and won’t remember: you need a simple website URL.

Do you think the future of online marketing is mobile via smartphones? Will it become the mobile Internet that everyone is predicting, or a different kind of commercial platform that SMEs can use for promotion and advertising?

You see something you are interested, you want to know more – “nice dress, where did you get it?” Online it is replicated as a natural conversation between display advertising and search. If I see a bus shelter display sign, I may now search on my mobile – as it is right there with me in my hand. That’s a natural behaviour change and a use of the technology, before we get to the ‘point your phone at a billboard and download information’ or whatever. Think small natural steps. If I searched on my mobile, how does my website look then? Maybe then I could make a simple offer for mobile users to say, come now and get a discount – even put a picture of a bar code you could scan in your POS at store to see how it works. Can I link the contact details to the Google maps to give people directions how to get there by walking or driving? Things like this are simple with iPhones and the like.

At Eyeblaster, we already see the future of online marketing is the digital signs on sides of buses or bus shelters being video, the TV in your home being accessed over the Internet and being more personal – touch screen kiosks or interactive window displays in Estate agents, the table in your restaurant or bar-top being interactive… and yes the mobile internet will be key to a lot of this interactivity. A sixth of the global population is currently online, yet two-thirds of the planet already have mobiles – and replace them every 18 months. Think about it, do you text your friends and family, take photos with your mobile? 10-15 years ago you probably though only yuppies had mobiles… and an iPod or MP3 player or GPS system was reserved for James Bond.

Anything that is “digital” and connected to the internet can and will be used for advertising… your GPS screen in your car will be linked to your radio ad, and will blink an icon of the commercial for McDonalds and then show you how to get there, or your mobile will blink as you walk past a shop saying cheap offer if you come in now… There are myriads of potential advertising uses waiting to be discovered. But essentially it is just about using technology to enhance your relationship with your audience, and make it easier for them, somehow.

As consumers have become more Internet savvy how can SMEs position their enterprises to take advantage of this massive commercial channel?

Majority of customers will be online looking for deals or qualification of product prior to purchase – and more so in time of credit crunch – so how can you find their points of confidence and reach a wider audience? SME’s have usually specific targeted products that people look for, or offer a service that larger companies often don’t. If someone needs something desperately, they may choose you over someone else just because you have it in stock and will personally deliver it, for example. These are key value propositions that need to be highlighted. Even if you are not advertising online, I guarantee your audience is already searching online and probably discussing your product or company somewhere. You need to be part of that conversation. What are they searching for, where are your audience hanging out online, what are they doing, and what are they discussing?

Think how you would find your company and the questions and process you would go through, and go do it. You will be surprised at the multiple touch points you recognize and think – gosh I should put a banner ad just there, or wouldn’t it be good if they offered a discount by email if not been back in 24 hours, or why is my product not coming up on the search engine – or I could sell these on eBay or whatever. People talk on blogs or forums and read reviews – how many stars has it got, whose got one and is it good – is there an alternative? A lot of what you can do is fairly cheap if not free – just posting a comment as a consumer, seeing someone talk about anyone know where I can get X or a better alternative to X? Sign in with a personal login and post comment saying “yes I saw one on special offer on so-and-so site”… word-of-mouth is best form of advertising, and its free!

No business can ignore the social networking space that has rapidly developed with Web 2.0 technologies, but marketing to this sector has proven very difficult. How or even should SMEs place social networking within their digital marketing? Or is it still too early to commercialise this space?

Nope, it’s easy. It’s not about banner ads, it’s all about conversation. People love to talk – and they are talking about your product or brands, writing reviews and comments… as I said, find out where they are talking and infiltrate it for your advantage – subtly. If someone says something negative, learn from it. Say “thanks for that, we will feed it to our R&D team – by the way would you like to become part of our testing group”, or “sorry you had bad experience at our restaurant, we had an unexpected rush as Valentine’s Day, but pop back and we will give you a free bottle of wine with next meal”. These people will feel appreciated and listened to and become your best advertisements!

Think of all the free social sites out there… FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter, whatever – can you set up groups of people who want to share ideas? Look at Cadburys and how they brought back Wispa after people signed a Facebook petition! What can you do with Facebook to get people to talk about your brand? They maybe a group of semi-conductor transistor fanatics who are your target audience, just wanting to talk about your latest T657-PX9 or see some product enhancement feature which is the difference between buying from you and your competitor.

Will it blend” is an internet phenomena where a small company in Utah, armed with $50 and half a dozen YouTube videos now are a world recognized brand, command 100MM YouTube views and $1MM turnover of blenders – after a couple of years. Anyone could replicate that, if you are clever enough. People loved the satire humour and even buy a DVD of those videos now. Not bad for a little company out west…

Nike did a fantastic campaign this last year, where users saw cool and humorous video clips in a banner advert, but what was incredible is they could then post the video content to their social network, like Facebook or their blog page. It was how a brand managed to get consumers to take adverts own them and tell others… and was hugely successful across 10 countries.

So it just goes to show, from both ends of the spectrum, people love mixing brands and social networks, if you get your message right.

Email marketing is the digital equivalent of direct mail but with spam still the scourge of the Internet, how can SMEs use this marketing channel effectively?

And equally as annoying. No one likes rubbish post through door or email. Email is best used as CRM (customer relationship management) and alerting customers of new releases or offers, or maybe encouraging them to tell their friends about new product, or why not introduce a friend to our service and win a free meal… people telling their friends by email will be far more effective then you sending unsolicited email. Better still, if you can encourage people to send mail via a form they fill in, or incentivise them to print a discount coupon on your website, you can start to collect the data and get them to agree to let you keep in touch with them. If it’s of interest, they will be happy to, if not, well why bother wasting breath on someone whose not your audience, anyway? Remember personal intros are always better than blanket buys of unknown addresses where email is concerned. And why not use things like Twitter to keep people up-to-date with what your company is doing or alert people to special offers? Email isn’t the only way to communicate now…

With masses of press display advertising moving online, the website banner ad seems to be the advertising channel of the day – at least at the moment. What are the key skills that SMEs need to master in order to get good ROI from their banner/display advertising?

Display advertising has had a lot of bad press, people today hate pop-ups for example, but that’s missing the point. All advertising will become digital eventually. It is more cost effective and targeted and relevant. Even printing national papers with localized ads of showroom in specific areas where they distribute the paper, will naturally get better response. Online display adverts work exactly the same. It is taking the message to the consumer… First you have to find your audience, could be local or national. Then distract them from reading – will animation or video or something offering discount draw the user’s eye away from the content.

10-20% people touch adverts by accident or intent as they are placed near a scroll bar, etc. So what happens when I touch, can it tell someone about the product, let them play around and learn about what you do, watch a video demonstration without leaving the page? Can the banner be updated automatically with latest offers? So then users want more information, well let them sign up or download more info or even purchase within the banner – you will be surprised how many people do! In fact recent data shows that you are 5x more likely to get people to respond right there in a banner, then expect them to click to your site and then fill in a form there – the more steps, the more people you will lose.

Technology today lets us take your website content and push it into the banners to show anything from latest flight information, to latest house for sale, to postcode search your nearest showroom – at press of mouse you are there on the specific page and ready to make contact. Always think how do I make this easy for my audience – then people do not get annoyed… as you have their interests in mind and you are offering them something of value. For best examples of display advertising from around the world, see Eyeblaster’s Creativezone or this year’s award winners.

Viral advertising has seen some of the most successful online advertising of recent years. But as with social networking promotions, viral seems to need a special understanding of the target market to be successful. How can SMEs exploit viral marketing in their enterprises?

We love to be entertained, and even my dad sends me a joke SMS text or email he thinks I will like. Yes technology is even for old people (sorry dad!) We love to laugh at ourselves. Have you got a funny story to tell? Someone doing something crazy with your product; using the DVD tray as a coffee-cup holder, a fat gardener using your garden spade as a sexy pole to dance around when no-one was watching, someone trying to shout through the window at her husband, but he can’t hear because the double glazing is so effective? Get a handycam, video something funny and stick it on YouTube! Think about the kind of audience and what touches them – humour, passion about a frustration, something people keep doing that seems so ridiculous and you have the simple answer… get people to talk about your brand. And they will send it to their friends – that’s viral. Who can take funniest photo of my product in strangest place?! That’s viral… suddenly any company can have more effect than the slickest TV advert with a tiny budget…

Successful online marketing is all well and good, but how can SMEs effectively track their campaigns to analyze if they are giving the expected ROI?

Effective online advertising doesn’t have to cost very much. You just need to be creative. Most of sites out there, YouTube, etc are free and you can use these to get people to talk about your product, your restaurant – whatever. Just get noticed! If people walk into your shop and say I saw this guy doing so-and-so with his Vacuum and I was so impressed I had to come and see you – that is ROI. We get over complicated with “analysis paralysis” where bottom line is concerned. We are just trying to sell things at the bottom of the day. Online is very trackable, you only pay when someone clicks on your ad on Google, for example, so you can control how much per month. The web stats package on your site can be free, you can see what is working and what is not and where people go – and if they don’t end up where you want them to do, then make changes quickly, as its losing you business.

Understand what people are doing and make sure you are working with web design companies who are prepared to work with you! Are you getting better responses from one banner advert or another, on one site or another? Just remember I see your adverts everywhere – side of your van to searches online are now replacing yellow pages to buying in your shop. It’s in your interest to understand both the data you can obtain, and how that relates to how people do business with you in order to be effective.

Here’s a real-life example. I called a local double glazing company the other day, I searched and found their name online – and before I called I researched and found someone had recommended them on a website, which was important as I wanted a company with credibility – and I would rather trust what someone said about them, then what the business said about themselves. So I phoned them up. You know, they never asked how I found them, and as I booked over phone and ultimately paid by cheque. I guarantee if I sat with them, they would not see the value of the internet for their business as I did not book online or fill any online form. They are probably thinking as a local double glazier, what’s online got to do with my business, and probably thought I found them through the yellow pages! But mine would have been a sale lost for them if they weren’t online.

Askinq questions is the best form of ROI out there, and keeping a track on things… you may be surprised how many leads come from the most unlikely places and show how to improve your advertising may help you save a small fortune. You may be able to get as much business online as you do out of the press. After all, yellow page ads are expensive, aren’t they!

As the publishing phenomenon of the last few years, the blog has taken the Internet by storm. How can SMEs use the power of the business blog as a marketing channel?

If I asked you to tell me about your favourite hobby – golf, gardening, whatever, you would not shut up for five minutes. If I was interested, we would still be there talking and debating half an hour later. There are people who want to talk about your brand and product – and surprisingly be kept up to date. How is something in the news relevant to your business? Why go out for an expensive meal, stay home with a take-away instead. Why should I buy double glazing during a credit-crisis – because it saves money on electricity which is going up… and is environmentally friendly. So write about it, bring your perspective on how or why people should do business with you today.

Or discuss ways in which you can get the best value, or a cool new feature, or how someone has implemented your product and the results they have achieved. Share case studies and stories. Help people to discuss and see value in what you are doing – and why? It’s free editorial and people who enjoy will even subscribe. And explore new micro-blogging like Twitter – it’s like a status update in Facebook, and you can update a line, even from your phone, “just found so-and-so spark plug works best in Ford Escorts”, people will follow you as they value your opinion and you share valuable insights from the field, and will in turn be the first person they call when they need a mechanic – blogs are free editorial content that you control.

And remember… we are just getting started.