The Digital Marketing Gap: Why Most Small Businesses Are Invisible Online

In digital marketing there exists a gap.

It is a gap that separates small businesses from achieving substantial visibility online OR from being destined to a future of mediocre digital results. The area in the middle, which I call the digital marketing gap, is what I’d like to discuss today.

For most small to medium-sized businesses digital marketing presents a unique challenge and opportunity. I would suggest that most business owners understand the necessity of marketing their businesses online, and the positive impact it can have in generating new prospects, increasing brand awareness, and building trust with their audience. However, there are three areas that prevent business owners from achieving success.

Limited practical experience and expertise

The first issue for business owners is that they have limited practical experience in digital marketing and in many cases limited experience in the web in general. Speaking from personal experience, I’m more likely to teach my father (who has owned a small business for 35 years) to walk on water, than I am to teach him to build a Facebook page.

Limited experience highlights a few fundamental problems in the digital marketing industry today.

  • Training and courses for business owners are not regulated or readily available.
  • Technology outpaces one’s ability to produce new educational programs or acquire new skills. Once you’ve learned a skill its implementation is likely to change (as is the case with Google algorithm updates in SEO).
  • Misinformation is rampant in digital marketing. There is an unlimited supply of never ending BS!

This concept isn’t new and extends to many corners of managing a business. Be it accounting, human resources, marketing, or IT. However, digital marketing is especially difficult, due to the ever changing and evolving nature of the industry.

Sticking with my analogy, this represents the first few feet of the digital marketing gap.

Limited amount of time

As any small business owner quickly comes to realize, time is his/her greatest commodity. It becomes something that we covet because we have so little of it to distribute between our friends, family, business and hobbies.

Anyone who has taken a stab at understanding digital marketing or potentially had the initiative to manage a campaign their self will quickly realize, it takes a tremendous amount of time to do the job well.

The impact is typically that we realize we are in over our heads, don’t have the time to manage the campaign effectively and eventually things start to slip.

  • Publishing to social media stops or becomes infrequent
  • Blog articles grind to a halt
  • Adwords campaigns go unoptimized
  • SEO initiatives start to falter
  • And, don’t even get me started on the state of the newsletter

As the digital marketing initiatives start to fall off, it has a trickle down effect. The business generates less leads, foot traffic, purchases and ultimately fewer sales.

The digital marketing gap has just widened.

Limited budget

Digital marketing can be quite expensive when outsourced. In my experience it’s not uncommon for a small to medium-sized local business (think 5-50 employees) to pay on the level of $25,000 – $200,000 per year in service fees and media buy. I may be old fashioned but that’s a lot of money! And, as any entrepreneur knows cash is a precious thing.

The problem is exacerbated by an unfortunate truth of the digital marketing industry, many companies charge more than the value of the services they provide. Whether you are investing $10,000 per month or $250, the value of the services (not just the price) needs to be considered. I know I’d personally rather invest $10,000 per month if it is generating $50,000 in sales, then invest $250 per month because it’s “less expensive” but generates $0 in sales.

The challenge is that most small and medium-sized businesses do not have the budget required to hire a digital marketer to do an adequate job, let alone an exceptional one. So things get missed, work is sloppy, results are minimal, and your marketing investment is squandered.

As a business owner you now stand before an expansive gap, without a bridge in sight.

Where does that leave us?

Although I’ve presented these three items in a linear fashion, the process is actually cyclical. It looks something like this:

  • Step 1: We attempt to learn the digital marketing industry ourselves, how hard could it be, right?
  • Step 2: Once managing a campaign we realize the amount of time required to do a great job. It’s more than you likely anticipated.
  • Step 3: Understanding the limitations of our time, we search for a service provider but quickly realize that the price you pay, doesn’t match the value you expected.
  • Seeing little value, feeling frustrated (and potentially ripped off) we return to step 1 and the process continues.

I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer but this is a very common. Fortunately, as business owners there are things you can do about it.

How to close the marketing gap

You didn’t think I was going to leave you hanging did you? Of course not! Although I provided a rather bleak outlook in the digital marketing gap, I want to express that there are ways to bridge the gap for ambitious, motivated, hardworking entrepreneurs. I have a few tips for closing the distance in the marketing gap.

  • Increase your personal equity through education: Risk, in any situation, comes from not knowing what you’re doing. If you own a business, it is your responsibility to understand the qualities you should be looking for in outsourcing your digital marketing to an agency, hiring an employee or managing the campaign yourself. If you’d like recommendations on specific courses please feel free to ask a question in the comments below.
  • Prioritize and focus your time on the items that have the greatest impact:Your time is a precious and valuable commodity, remember! You need to invest it wisely. Focus your efforts on the decisions that are of the greatest importance, outsource or hire for the items that are of less consequence.
  • Be ruthless in establishing the value of services you are purchasing:Please, I beg of you, always, always, always evaluate the value of the services you are purchasing. Paying a low price for services that generate no return doesn’t make practical business sense. Remember, price is what you pay, value is what you get.
  • Don’t fall for miracle cures to your digital marketing problems: This builds upon the previous point but it is your responsibility as a business owner to logically evaluate the services you purchase. If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.
  • Don’t believe everything you read on the web: The sky isn’t falling, content may or may not be king, and SEO isn’t dead. Although it can be difficult, please collect your information and form your opinions from credible sources.

I personally ask you to join us.

This article is only the tip of the iceberg. If it has struck a chord with you please considering joining my newsletter for more great information and marketing advice.