Trend 3: Online Video Marketing -- Use Video and Make it Personal
Online video is an effective marketing tool, but it's also something that McCabe thinks small businesses should do more with. According to comScore Video Metrix, more than 184 million U.S. Internet users watched online video content in October 2011, for an average of 21.1 hours per viewer.
"We're at a point in our culture where we increasingly like to watch things, and a small business can provide value and education to customers with online video," said McCabe.
Another trend in online video this year is personalization. Rather than creating one video for branding and sending it to all customers, videos can be customized with unique aspects for individual customers and produced by the thousands, based on a single template.
Jim Disco, president of SundaySky said, "The more you can personalize a video and have it be related to personal interests or issues, the more you can engage the person watching it."
SundySky uses proprietary software to create videos using structured data stored by a company's content management system (CMS) to create a video template. A single template can produce multiple videos that can then be personalized based on a customer's behavior. The personalization could be anything from addressing the individual by name to providing shipping invoices, or it could feature products related to the customer's purchase.
He admits that larger businesses currently invest more in personalizing online video, but it does have some early adopters in the small business market. As we've seen with most online marketing channels, marketing techniques become more affordable over time.
Finding the financial resources may still be a challenge for many small businesses, but personalized video marketing is something that Disco believes should be part of their consideration.
Trend 4: Email Marketing -- Maximize With Rich, Accurate Contact Data
Email marketing, while certainly not a new marketing strategy is still alive and well in 2012.
"Email marketing is not going away any time soon," McCabe said. "It serves a purpose; when someone subscribes to an email marketing list, they want to hear from you -- at least until they unsubscribe."
Paul Turnbull, Campaigner product manager said that combining social media and email marketing is something small businesses should look at this year.
"Despite last year's social media buzz regarding the importance of social media and marketing a brand, many SMB owners are still unsure about, or perhaps are still experimenting with, leveraging social media tools for their business," said Turnbull. "Too many focus on how it's different than email marketing, but when you look the fundamentals of both methods, the same best-practices apply."
The combination of email and social marketing gives customers more flexibility in how they want to keep in touch with you. Both can be effective tools to engage interested people online to promote your brand, to inform your readers or to nurture leads.
Another key trend in email marketing this year: obtaining richer and more accurate contacts data to give you more options to create targeted email messages.
Turnbull said that getting this data can be difficult, but if your content is valuable and you gather the information in a transparent way, many customers will provide it.
"You don’t need to be a big business to have big data. You can use even the smallest amount of quality data about your recipients to create more relevant content or even trigger whole new email campaigns, such as a personalized thank you messages after a transaction," he explained.
2012: What a Great Year to be a Small Business
Here's the reality of online marketing today: if you can think it, there's probably a free tool, an inexpensive Web service or a marketing firm to help you get started.
This is an excellent time for small businesses to create and manage their own online marketing strategies. In fact, McCabe sees this as being a good time to be a small business because of the number of free and inexpensive tools that require little to no technical expertise.
"If you just open up your mind to some of these things you can do a pretty good job of marketing yourself," said McCabe.
Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has spent the last decade contributing featured articles and reviews to more than 20 technology-focused publications, including Webopedia and Ecommerce-Guide. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG.
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