Big brands have used mobile technologies in an effort to increase awareness, drive sales, and encourage customer retention for quite some time, but recent data shows that mobile adoption has seen a significant increase among small and medium businesses (SMBs) during the past year. In July 2014, Constant Contact released a new infographic based on a comparison of its 2013 "Mobile Pulse Survey" and its 2014 "Mobile Pulse Survey," which surveyed around 570 U.S.-based small business owners and nonprofits that the company refers to as its Small Biz Counsel. The infographic revealed that SMBs are finally hopping aboard the mobile bandwagon with an 11% jump in small businesses adopting mobile technology from 2013 to 2014.
SMB advertising via mobile devices has increased by 11% during the past year, while "23% cite an interest in using mobile advertising within the next 6 months." There was also a sizable increase in small businesses launching mobile websites. The research revealed that 92% of SMBs either already have a mobile-optimized website or are planning to implement one in the next 6 months. The data showed that in 2013, 28% of SMBs were not planning to optimize their website for mobile, but in 2014, that number dropped to 8%-a substantial shift in a very short amount of time.
So why now? According to Jim Garretson, senior product manager for mobile at Constant Contact, "I think it's a couple of things. The internet is a great place for small businesses to connect with their customers and their prospects, locally and through social media. Online search and discovery is huge. Therefore, in order to be found, it's important not only to have your business information online, but having a mobile-optimized website is another great way for small businesses to drive lead generation. Mobile's become a really important way to be found and small businesses are starting to realize that." He adds, "Using Constant Contact's mobile apps, we have quite a few small businesses creating content, formatting email marketing campaigns, scheduling them and sending them out right from their phones."
According to Peggy Anne Salz, chief analyst and founder of MobileGroove, "It's long overdue. Large brands have gotten it, and small business already has enough problems trying to exist in the shadow of large brands. I want small business to be sustainable, and they must harness mobile in order to do that because mobile levels the playing field."
One area of mobile marketing that isn't on fire is text messaging, as there was a 2% decline in adoption during the past year. "Text messaging has a lot of limitations. It's 140 characters-you can't use visuals, and visuals work really well for a lot of marketing messages," Garretson explains. "Another thing is that, unlike email and social media marketing, text messages generally have a cost per message sent and that makes the incremental cost of running a text messaging campaign pretty high for a small business."
Additionally, there's the issue of sharing contact information. It's one thing to give out your Twitter handle or even your email address, but to receive a text message, you need to provide your phone number. According to Garretson "a lot of contacts aren't willing to share their phone number; it's a much more personal piece of information."
Salz offers another theory: "I would hope it's because the [text messaging] industry is saturated and mature-that there doesn't need to be an increase in adoption because we should all have adopted already. If that's not the reason, then it may be that SMBs are looking beyond text messaging. We're starting to see something very exciting which is in-app messaging, basically text messaging through your apps." Text messaging has been around for more than 20 years, so it makes sense that this particular mobile vehicle is now past its prime as newer technologies are developed at a rapid speed.
As for what we can expect from SMBs using mobile in the future, Garretson says, "We see a lot of consumer trends in technology adoption being mirrored by business. When you have a convenient device, like a smartphone or tablet, you tend to use it both for personal and work tasks. We're seeing exactly that trend with small businesses." For busy business owners, "it's about making the best use of the time they have available, and mobile will help turn those extra few minutes waiting in line into more productive minutes."
Today, people think of their mobile phones as an extension of themselves. Salz agrees, "You do everything from your mobile phone. Your mobile phone has become your ‘mini me.' If I want to access you as a customer, I have to do it through your mobile device because if I call you on a landline phone, you may choose not to answer; if I send you an email, you may not respond. However, you're more likely to deal with something as personal and relevant as your mobile phone, so ultimately what it becomes is my interface to you as my customer, as my reader, as my client." Her advice to SMBs that are still slow to adopt mobile technology is, "Mobile is imperative because your customers are on mobile; you need to be on mobile too."
As for Salz's hopes for the future, they are as follows: "I would hope to see SMBs use mobile marketing to do what is possible beyond the top of the purchase funnel where it's just about brand awareness. I hope that SMBs begin to understand that where they actually have an advantage over larger companies is in close customer relations. Use it to collect feedback from your customers. It is a two-way conversation, and it's a lot cheaper than focus groups. I hope that SMBs start to take marketing and advertising out of the picture and look to engagement. It is through engagement that you can retain your customers. Customer acquisition is expensive, so use mobile to keep your customers loyal. I hope that is the direction it will take."