MUMBAI: Traditional methods of marketing , though still prevalent , are not the sure shot way to reach the right target audience , especially for the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), for whom money is always a constraint.
It is imperative to not only be there where the customers spend most of their time but also communicate in a language best understood by them. And for the SMEs, which plan to grow at a rapid rate, ignoring the World Wide Web is a mistake that they cannot afford to make.
Connecting with the customers is a pre-requisite for any business and there is no better way to bond with the customer but marketing through the Internet. While there are a lot many tools to choose from, they all aim at making the right connect with the customer base.
The Internet is a great equalizer and a great boon for the small and medium businesses, feels Dr. Shyam Vyas, president and managing director , Shyam Vyas Marc Pvt Ltd.
He says, “Social media should form an integral part of the marketing plan. It is a great equalizer – what you are doing is putting out wonderful truthful information out there for all to see. Those that come to your website and social media pages are all ‘active searchers’ of information rather than being ‘passive receivers’ of information (as in case of many that are exposed to a firm’s ad efforts). Hence, they are very much more interesting and responsive set of customers.”
Adding to the view, Vinod Kumar, senior partner-India operations, Sustainable Development Research & Consulting, shares, “In order to scale up their reach and increase networking amongst clients, internet marketing has become a must for SMEs in India. Internet plays an important role in reaching out to the prospective customers irrespective of the location and helps to showcase the products and services in the practical world.”
Kumar opines that the traditional marketing methods are becoming both ineffective and expensive , and by neglecting to market their business online, the SMEs are missing out on the powerful business results that an effective internet marketing strategy can bring about. Similar views are expressed by Vyas who feels that those not using internet marketing are losing out on the opportunity to reduce costs and be more responsive as an organization.
But are the SMEs ready to embrace technology and incur the cost associated with it? Surely, says Dinesh Agarwal, Founder & CEO, IndiaMart.com, “SMEs are gradually realizing the need to adopt ICT technologies which bring them mobility and seamless business operations too. Contrary to what most believe, technology is not expensive. In most cases, SMEs have the option to use internet applications , for marketing or any other business function, for free.”
“Paid options are also available which too may not be that expensive. Besides, SMBs can pay for what they use and decide how much they want to use. Currently there is lack of awareness about their availability, ease of use and cost-effectiveness . A continuous push is required from all stakeholders to build this awareness. For many SMEs, initial hand-holding is required.”
According to a survey jointly conducted by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and estates India, 73 per cent of MSMEs in India have their own websites, while 99 per cent of MSMEs use online B2B marketplaces to generate business.
The survey found that in the domestic market last year, the surveyed companies generated 4,842 orders and business worth Rs 50.9 crore through B2B emarketplaces, while in the international market the companies recorded business worth Rs 15.9 crore generated from 1,428 orders through e-marketplaces.
If there is one thing that reduces customer risk perceptions – it is communication . And there is no other channel more popular than social media to do so. Social media provides a platform for direct communication between SME customers, prospects and employees. What is more, it is a key driver of content distribution and brand visibility online.
Vyas proposes, “SMEs should follow the strategy of “crawl , walk & run” as they adopt and adapt to Internet marketing. Begin with simple things like designing a simple website – putting out information about the SME and its products and services and expertise and USP for all to see – at the same time creating database of possible potential customers and making initial contacts – generating traffic on social media introducing their product and services, devising a Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter account to disseminate information about the enterprise and begin a dialogue with prospects.”
Kumar avers, “For cash crunched SMEs, best way to reach out to their target group is to use social and business networking and blogging sites, which can easily help them reach out to a large prospective customer base, cost effectively.”
To this Agarwal adds, “To keep up with the changing times, social media has to be incorporated into the marketing strategies. It certainly has the potential to provide adequate exposure , build a brand, gauge behavioural aspects of prospective clients, keep them engaged, bring traffic to own websites, generate leads, and others. What SMBs need to keep in mind while venturing into social media promotion or engagement is to be sure of the communication they want to pass on, avenues (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogsites, document-sharing sites such as Slideshare.net, etc.) they should utilise and know how to present their messages. Social media is public.”
“It is to be managed constantly, avoiding any miscommunication. It involves a lot of two-way communication to engage your audiences which could be very beneficial in terms of building brand, spreading awareness about company products and services, upcoming events, major news, handling online queries, establishing trust, among others. This also includes complaints or inappropriate comments which have to be handled carefully.”
Internet marketing is no longer a may-do but a will-do area for startups which allows comprehensive low cost communication with the stake holders and broadens the horizon for the SMEs.
FROM A MARKETING PERSPECTIVE
Facebook serves as a powerful platform for building a community of advocates and increasing word-of-mouth marketing. LinkedIn a network of over 150 million business users is a major player in the lead generation game, especially for B2B companies.
When setting up these profiles, remember to optimize your information by adding links to your website and blog and take the time to make the descriptions of your business interesting and an accurate reflection of your experience, knowledge and passion. Further SMBs can engage their customers via new social networks, like Google+ and Pinterest to showcase their products.