The world is wired—heck, it’s even wireless. Consumer reliance on technology to find businesses, learn about them and buy their products and services had long been gaining speed. Then a global pandemic pushed the accelerator to the floor.
If your business hasn’t left a digital footprint at all yet, you are lagging behind, but you’re not alone. More than one in four small businesses in the U.S. don’t have a website. Of those that do, one-fifth complain about low traffic rates that may make them question the investment.
Having a basic digital presence is better than none at all, but it can’t improve your bottom line in and of itself. Businesses need to take advantage of all the online tools available and have an intentional strategy for optimizing them.
To get ahead of the game in the 21st century, you need a digital strategy. Here are three reasons why.
1. The Pandemic Made Everyone Digital
In case you missed the news, Millennials have overtaken the Baby Boomers as the largest generation. These 25- to 40-year-old consumers are virtually all on the internet. The oldest members of the next generation, Gen Z, are leaving college. They were born and raised with the internet and social media. These generations may not know they need to punch in a 1 to make a long-distance call on a landline, but they do know how to find almost anything on their smartphones.
If you think you’re OK without a digital strategy because your business caters to an older demographic, think again. According to a Pew Research study, two-thirds of those ages 75 and older and 54% of those ages 65 to 74 have little confidence in their ability to use tech devices or need help setting them up. Nonetheless, 82% of these tech-hesitant folk said the internet was important to them during the pandemic. Old dogs were willing to learn new tricks if they could see kids and grandkids without risking exposure to a deadly virus.
You might say digital technology was a trial by fire for a lot of people who never used it that much before they had to. Even those who did rely on tech pre-pandemic have developed online habits they may never break. From this point on, fewer people will actually be walking the aisles of stores to get their essentials. Now that nearly everyone has entered the digital age, your business needs to embrace it as well.
2. Consumers Just Aren’t Going to Work That Hard
Like me, you have probably experienced the online search letdown countless times. That’s when you Google something like “landscapers near me.” A map comes up with a list with business addresses and directions, but several entries lack links to a website.
No matter how many times this happens to me, the same question goes through my mind: What business doesn’t even have a website? Like the vast majority of consumers, I want to research my options online before I decide where I’m going to spend my money. The ability to learn about businesses online makes our consumer lives easier. If you have a digital presence, I’ll look at you. If you don’t, I won’t do the heavy lifting to find you.
If you do have a well-designed, easy to navigate and mobile-friendly website, that’s a good first step. But if you aren’t engaging your audience on more than one digital platform, that’s a missed opportunity. To establish your business as the go-to for whatever you sell, you need to expand engaging content across multiple platforms to reach as many people as possible. You will also be getting a bigger bang for your content buck when you do.
Savvy digital marketing practices have created convenience-oriented consumers but not complacent ones. A digital strategy that comes at them from multiple angles will get you noticed. Then content, links and shares will help instill the trust they demand so you can close the sale.
3. Digital Strategies Aren’t Built in a Day—and They Don’t Need to Be
If you could afford to hire an agency to design and implement an omnichannel digital strategy for your business in a few weeks, that would be great. Of course, not all businesses—especially small ones—have the resources to do that. But that doesn’t mean you don’t make an attempt.
Digital marketing strategies are highly conducive to incremental development. Businesses can layer one platform onto another then another until a full-blown strategy is up and running. Many of those layers can be handled by even novice internal employees capable of using a drag-and-drop website builder or setting up a social media account for the business.
The proliferation of DIY digital marketing tools makes establishing an online presence easy and affordable. That’s particularly encouraging news for startups and small businesses. Fittingly, it’s the digital age itself that has made the secrets of digital marketing readily accessible and budget-friendly.
Just don’t forget that a basic presence will require an upgrade if you want to compete at a higher level in your industry by, say, increasing website traffic with shrewd SEO. You may need to hire in-house talent to create engaging SEO content, adjust content for specific platforms and keep it fresh and on schedule. Or you may decide it’s worth the investment to work with an agency that has a successful digital marketing track record. Don’t worry if you need to pace yourself; at least you’ll be in the race.
Online platforms are the great equalizer among businesses of all sizes. They are how brick-and-mortar stores can be profitable despite the huge shadow cast by e-commerce behemoths. But your business needs to be in multiple places with the right content to make your online presence count. That can only happen if you execute a smart digital strategy. Do it well, and you’ll find your business on the winning side of the scoreboard.