Top SMB Online Marketing Challenges

Posted at Jul 8, 2020 12:15:00 PM by Katie Weedman | Share

Digital marketing trends for small business run the gamut. From time-saving AI to list-building WiFi, marketing industry headlines shine their spotlights on the shiny and new. But where do we go for information about the not-so-shiny, sometimes grimy side of digital marketing? Instead of focusing on the next big thing on the horizon, this article sets its sights on the elephant in the room. It discusses the challenges small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) face in digital and online marketing today.


Digital Marketing Trends for Small Business | SMB Online Marketing Challenges | THAT Agency of West Palm Beach, Florida

Note: Due to an overwhelming response to my request for SMB owners and marketers to share their online marketing challenges with me, I have created two separate articles featuring their responses. The first article is titled 5 Digital Marketing Challenges for SMBs. Following is the second article.

smb online marketing challenges

  1. Awareness & Engagement
  2. Conversions
  3. Attribution
  4. Expectations

1. Awareness & Engagement


"Engagement is one of the biggest challenges SMBs face, and this all has to do with awareness. If no one knows who you are, they're likely not following you on your digital channels and therefore not engaging with your content. Before you can address the challenge of increasing engagement around your digital marketing efforts, you need to build out an awareness strategy.

What we've been doing at Wicket is humanizing our marketing strategy - building relationships with prospects, influencers, and partners through LinkedIn (or via email if we have their email addresses). By approaching our target audience with a genuine approach, we've created awareness about who we are and what we do, indirectly - focusing the conversation on our target audience's experience and expertise.

From here, we follow our target audience on our digital channels and engage with their content from our personal accounts and company account, taking the relationship to the next level by genuinely paying attention and engaging with their content."

— Shelby-lyn Miller, Marketing Manager, Wicket



"When a small and midsize business works on strengthening their online presence, one of the biggest digital marketing challenges faced by them is overcoming the noise.
With several companies holding a strong position on search engine platforms, SMBs face challenges in distinguishing themselves with other companies who are offering similar products/services at competitive prices. This adds up as a hurdle because the marketer needs to focus more on SEO, spreading powerful and eye-catching content, and at the same time allocate some budget for PPC campaigns. Clubbing all these strategies and expecting a positive result in this noisy market takes time; so brands must have patience and the right talent to overcome this obstacle."

— Nathan Sebastian, Content Expert, GoodFirms



"As a small business, the biggest hurdle we face is building latent value our brand. People may be familiar with what we do in a broader market sense, i.e., they have heard of web-based communications before, but as a growing company, we aren’t yet a well-recognized brand. This means that our brand is still developing its latent value in the market.

Here’s an example of latent value to illustrate what this means: I have never personally flown with Emirates, but despite this, I have a pretty good idea of what I can expect from their service based on my knowledge of the brand and their position in the market itself.

With a still-developing latent value, people will not immediately associate our brand, Talkative, with the services we provide and may not have a preconceived opinion of what we do. This has meant that our overall strategy focuses on the awareness end of the marketing funnel, and extra vigilance online that every piece of content we produce, every post and every comment. falls in line with our brand message to help build trust and credibility in our services."

— Patsy Nearkhou, Digital Marketing Executive, Talkative



"Small and medium business owners might consider themselves as sideline players in the marketing game. Only powerhouses or large businesses can afford the technical and budget constraints of a marketing strategy. However, small businesses have some clear advantages compared to large businesses.

First, they generally possess a higher diversification element compared to big businesses. Do you sell organic products? Do customers rave about your customer service? Anything that makes your business special sets you apart from the competition.

Second, when it comes down to marketing, they don't need big budgets as they usually compete on a local scale against small businesses. Any marketing activity is easier to track due to the low traffic volume.

Third, they have more likely established a long-lasting connection with their customers, making the latter far more likely to recommend and respond positively to any new activity.

The key to a successful marketing strategy is focusing on what your business offers, what it makes it unique. As long as you deliver your unique proposition in a language that resonates with your ideal customer, your marketing effort will bear a positive return to your investment."

— Stefania Borchia, Marketing Consultant, StefaniaBorchia.com



"The biggest challenge we face is growing our brand. We purchased the website back in 2013. At the time, it was known for selling MMA gear. Over the past several years, we have expanded the products we sell to include equipment for martial arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and boxing. It's been challenging to change how customers view our brand. Every time we introduce new products, it's an opportunity to grow our business, but also extra work to educate our customers on the evolution of our store and brand."

— Jacob Edwards, Director of eCommerce, Made4Fighters



"In today’s competitive marketing world, starting a small or even a medium-sized business is not an easy task. SMBs regularly face multiple digital marketing challenges. Off the top of my head is lack of leads. If you are not getting enough leads, you have no customers and, without customers, your business can’t thrive. At least, not for the long term.

The bottom line is, as a small business, generating leads should be your top priority because leads mean more customers and ultimately more revenue. There are tons of lead generating ideas which small SMB owners can use to increase their lead generation. For example, if strategies like email marketing, social media campaigns, Google Ads, etc, are applied rightly, they can bring potential customers to your business."

— Trifon Tsvetkov, Content Manager, Regiondo



"We utilize a marketing company to promote our business. We do have budget constraints because we are a small company. Some of the challenges we see are that many local businesses are also doing digital marketing and this is making it very competitive to rank for certain keywords and services on Google. We are working to be more visible online because that is where many of our clients discover our studio.

Another challenge is client retention. We have realized that creating a digital platform for our guests makes it convenient for them to view our schedule and book classes.

What we do recognize is that our marketing efforts are working slowly but surely. We will continue to invest in digital marketing because it brings more quality clients into our studios."

— Natasha Maltseva, Owner, La Vida Dance Studio



"One of the major challenges we face as we grow our business is differentiating ourselves from the plethora of digital marketing agencies also offer social media.

There are a lot of businesses that are great at creative, content-led social media and this is all they 'do'. Social media and marketing a business online has certainly shifted and now really needs to include a technical and data-intelligent approach to maximize campaign efforts.

I think one of the challenges this presents is one of education, ensuring prospects understand how these three key areas work together, in order to get results.

We are consistently trying to start ahead of the curve in terms of innovation; what are the next best apps and strategies that we can use to set ourselves apart from the competition."

— Chris Morris, Founder, Shoo Social Media



"Social media gives you an excellent opportunity to create brand awareness. but how do you know which platform is best for you?

On average, people have 7.6 social media accounts. One of the biggest digital marketing challenges is to figure out the correct social media platforms to promote your business.

The biggest mistake of SMBs is trying to be active on all the social media platforms out there. It’s impossible to perform well on all of them.

The solution is to prioritize and stick to one or a few social media profiles to get the best ROI. Here are two steps to determine which platform is perfect for your business:

1. Identify who your audience is and where your audience is. Pick the platform where your audience is most active.

2. Do the research and find out which platforms align with your business's goals."

— Hamna Amjad, Content Marketing Executive, Gigworker


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2. Conversions


"The biggest digital marketing challenge for us is keeping up with our competitors in terms of specialty landing pages, designs/layouts, and A/B testing. Simply put, we just don't have the resources to dedicate to creating several different ad designs, researching which language converts best, testing different landing pages, etc.

As a result, our ads tend to be more basic than our competitors, and I imagine they do not convert as well either. At the end of the day, it's just hard to compete with companies that employ large marketing teams and have more data and resources at their disposal."

— Matthew Ross, Co-Owner and COO, The Slumber Yard



"One of the top challenges SMBs experience when it comes to digital marketing is getting clicks but they are not converted into profit. It's really quite challenging nowadays, especially with the competition around."

— Pratibha Vuppuluri, Chief Blogger, She Started It



"Time: It takes too much time to connect with the audience on a personal level, on the other hand when you ditch the 'personal' part and go for quantity instead of quality, the distance becomes too big of a problem.

Closing Leads: People are more aware of scams now more than ever and have a hard time believing someone's intentions are true. Also, their attention span is on the bare minimum.

Changing Algorithms: What worked yesterday, won't necessarily work today or tomorrow. It's like you're in a constant battle with an invisible enemy that attacks from the least expected sides."

— Ivan Veta, Digital Marketing Expert, Enterprise League


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3. Attribution


"Especially for businesses that sell a product or service with a large time lag (in some cases, it can be weeks or even months from the first visit until an actual conversion), it's a struggle to attribute the sale to the right channel.

People come to the website multiple times before the conversion happens, and there are many ways to attribute these to marketing channels."

— Jeroen Minks, Digital Marketing Specialist, Vazooky Digital



"The biggest challenges I have as the marketing director at my company are with attribution and predictions. Sure, we can gather some data about the original source of the lead if it comes in from Google Ads, organic search, or social media. But in dealing with long-cycle sales, it’s tough to say which particular follow-up actions are really having an impact and which are not.

We’ve tried videos, ROI calculators, podcasts, blogs, and more; but what would be nice is to accurately predict which items will have the most impact at distinct points of the sales cycle so that we can shorten our cycles and win more business."

— Wes Marsh, Marketing Director, BCA Technologies, Inc.



"The biggest challenge we have is the proper reporting of our efforts. We've finally been able to figure out a somewhat acceptable solution in building a data warehouse to send all efforts. If we were an e-commerce shop, it'd be pretty easy since we could just take the UTM tag brought in from the purchase. But we have an actual sales process, so someone signs up on a form and then there is a break where a human gets involved and UTMs are lost. We were having to manually update everything!"

Ryan O'Neil, Founder, Curate.co


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4. Expectations


"As a marketer offering content marketing to small businesses, a reoccurring challenge we've had to deal with working with clients is getting them to have patience to actually start seeing results with our marketing efforts before jumping on to the next shiny thing.

Usually, these clients have this idea that once there are online leads, customers will start streaming in - magically. Of course, our goal is to help our clients grow their businesses sustainably. Unfortunately, they think it must happen overnight.

To tackle this, we set out from the onset of our interaction to try and manage their expectations. We don't make too many promises. We set timelines of deliverables and conservative results to expect. Then, we work our socks off to exceed their expectations.

This has been our experience and how we manage such situations.

The bottom line is that managing client expectations, setting the bar reasonably low and then going above and beyond to deliver, has been our strategy to overcoming challenges we face with small business owners starting out in digital marketing."

— Sam Steve, Chief Content Marketing Officer, Emira Digital Publishing and Founder, SmartEntrepreneurBlog.com



"I have noticed that in developing countries, SMBs are more risk averse, so not only will they have low budgets, they also will lack confidence in the people that they hire (hence, justifying the low budgets). Or, when they hire someone who is 'pricier,' then they think that that person or strategy will solve ALL their sales and marketing problems, and sales will just roll in. Expectations are jumbled."

— Karla Singson, Marketing Consultant, PREP - PR, Events and Promotions



"For us and the companies we work with, it is qualifying what the client wants from the campaign and not promising them the world. Many have heard that digital marketing is the best way to do it, but do not know how, so they enlist us. Then the conversations turn to reeling in their expectations as all they have heard of are the success stories, often amazing success stories. Not all campaigns work like that, even when piloted by a professional. One needs to have realistic goals and be prepared to continually learn more about how to do it better."

— Ed McMasters, Director of Marketing, Communications & Design, FUSIONWRX Inc.


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Closing Thoughts


While digital trends for small business remain excitingly new, these practical SMB online marketing challenges hopefully spark some ideas for real-world solutions you can implement in the digital and online marketing of your own business.

If you're looking for expert advice, consider tapping the multifaceted knowledge and expertise of the digital marketing team at THAT Agency. Inquire about our marketing services now.

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