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Why You Don’t Need a Gargantuan Communication Budget

If you read a lot of market and communication case studies, you might come to the conclusion that the only effective businesses in the digital space are big businesses. McDonald’s experiments with Snapchat filters, JCPenney uses Periscope to live-stream celebrity events, Gatorade tests full page mobile ads on Facebook.

Stories like this are so commonplace that some people might conclude that you have to have a gargantuan budget to compete in the digital space. While a large budget is helpful (understatement of the decade), there are some areas in the digital space where even non-Fortune 500 companies can earn a lot of attention and sales.

Of course all small- and medium-sized businesses aren’t alike, but at a very basic level we’ll assume that they need to use digital that is:

  1. Affordable
  2. Has a high probability to generate sales / interest

What I want to do in this posts is to demonstrate five ways that businesses of any size can compete favorably in the digital space by those criteria. In the unlikely event that you brandish a huge budget, this list will help you to spend it more effectively, too.

1. Email Subscriptions

Email CommunicationWith all the chatter about the newest hottest social platforms (“I’m doing a Scope of all of my Snaps and then posting a GIF from the YouTube of my Scope on my Tumblr”), one of the most effective digital communication platforms is also one of the oldest: email. In perspective, the numbers are pretty compelling:

Because email is one of the few platforms that delivers a one-to-one message from sender to recipient, its mechanism is more effective than social media to communicate with people.

Social media has an important place in the a marketing and communications mix. Customers frequently tend to seek resolution on social, and social following and activity tends to lend credibility to the public. But measured by tangible outcomes, email is far more effective.

2. Online Reviews

Ninety percent of people read online reviews to make a qualitative judgement about a business. Think about that: some of your most important messaging is out of your control. Or worse, you could lose business because people aren’t judging you enough.

Online reviews are another aspect of digital content that goes widely under-reported but is exceptionally important. This is because reviews not only aid in discovery, but they inform purchase decisions. Some of the most notable review sites are:

  • Google
  • Yelp
  • Amazon (and most eCommerce platforms)
  • Facebook

One cool aspect of online reviews is that they often benefit smaller businesses at the expense of bigger businesses. So, encouraging customers to leave reviews is an important tactic to generate business and positive word-of-mouth (almost 90 percent of people trust customer reviews as much as recommendations from their friends!).

3. Targeting / Simplification

Targeted Communication

Targeting is an important aspect for any marketer or PR practitioner, but small- and medium-sized businesses need to be especially precise about it. You can conserve a lot of budget by using targeting mechanisms on AdWords or social ad platforms to reach your target audience.

Targeting isn’t exclusive to paid media, however. You can be just as shrewd about the social platforms that you use. For instance a Pinterest audience is demographically quite a bit different from a Snapchat audience. A Meerkat audience is so small and its content is so difficult to effectively archive, that you may opt to produce content on a platform like Hangouts-On-Air where the content can be replayed on your YouTube channel.

There are so many options for marketing and communication, and it is imperative that SMBs focus in on where they gain the most for the money that they spend.

Want to see how to effectively use Periscope and Meerkat? Click here for our free white paper!

4. Qualify

Another thing that smaller businesses can do in the digital space is find opportunities to qualify their digital prospects early in the conversion funnel.

A really great example of this is AdWords. I have a friend who shared this best practice: his company relies on AdWords for a large portion of discovery, but their keywords were getting so competitive that he was getting priced out of search. What he did was to include pricing information in their AdWords copy – this served to qualify the people who clicked through increasing their conversion rate relative to click-through and making AdWords more profitable for them.

The same mechanism can be applied to many different forms of paid digital media. Giving customers more pertinent information upfront can help you to spend more time and resource on the people who are truly interested in your products and services.

5. Slow PR

Turtle - Slow PR

The precise monetary value of a media placement depends on many variables, but we can agree that positive press is a good-to-great scenario for all businesses who want to stay in business.

Journalists get to a nearly unmanageable level of pitches due to the ease of communication. Adding to the noise are the businesses that try to use online press releases as an SEO strategy. The result is chaos that many journalists can’t possibly sort through.

Slow PR is the development of relationships with journalists where you understand their beats, act as a resource and ultimately find a way to work together for mutual benefit (as opposed to perpetual pitching). By developing key relationships and providing exclusive, useful content to your sources, you may be able to tell your story in a genuine way to a wider audience.

Need pitching tips? Click here for 10 pitching do’s and don’ts now!


In his book David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell tells an alternative version of 1 Samuel 17 explaining that David was tremendously advantaged relative to Goliath both in armament and in speed. It’s probably not the way that you learned the story but it makes a lot of sense when he explains it.

The same can be true for digital marketing and communication. It may be daunting to think that you can compete in the same space as the Goliaths of your industry, but by looking at where you are advantaged in digital communication you may be able to win more often than you expect.

About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.

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