Many years have passed since digital marketing, a component of a much wider technological revolution, started to create radical and substantial changes in the way companies promote themselves. Yet, despite the proven and documented success digital channels can bring, many SMEs in Italy show substantial distrust towards these platforms. But why is this happening? And what opportunities are these companies missing out on?
Where does digital marketing come from?
The origin of the internet and all its processes dates back to the 1960s when the United States of America developed a new defense and counter-espionage system during the Cold War. However, in 1969, the first “network” was created by connecting four nodes: the University of California at Los Angeles, the Stanford SRI, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah.
The communication channels that rely on the internet have also evolved. People from all over the world can now easily get in touch with each other and access information that is often free of charge. This is possible through popular applications such as WhatsApp and Telegram or social media networks like Instagram or the more professional Linkedin.
The emergence of this “super-network” we know today opened up the opportunity for digital marketing to become a reality and help many businesses grow. It relies on businesses being able to get in touch with their audience and this communication depends almost exclusively on an internet connection.
Internet for business: the development of digital marketing
Just like our social lives, communication through digital channels has also taken over the professional field. Companies today depend on the internet on a daily basis and for almost all of their processes.
Cloud, e-mail, chat, CRM, and ERP are only some of the digital tools adopted to facilitate internal company communication. This may have happened through some sort of incentive for digitization or because of regulations such as electronic invoicing. But what do these companies do when they need to communicate externally?
In the B2B world, especially for small to medium-sized enterprises, the effectiveness of digital marketing for SMEs is commonly underestimated. Many companies believe that these specific channels are only useful for B2C. This is often due to the fact B2B purchases have much longer sales cycles and an opposite communicative approach when compared to impulse purchases typical of B2C
It is therefore easy to see how digital communication and marketing are often subject to stereotypes, resulting in members of the boards of SMEs refusing an objective evaluation of a digital channel.
The world of e-commerce and the importance of B2B
Many believe that Linkedin, a platform designed for professional use, will never become a dating app. Similarly, TikTok, a channel created to share videos and other media, cannot be used to look for work. But can we really extend this reasoning to everything? Let’s think about e-commerce. When we hear that word, our mind goes straight to Amazon and retail sales, but can we reduce the entire e-commerce industry to just those two things? Obviously not. In a few words, “the sky is the limit”.
Consequently, what initially seems like only a B2C sales channel, suddenly becomes an interesting and functional tool for B2B SME digital marketing. However, the fearful approach to new marketing channels shown by companies in this sector is counterproductive as they risk losing valuable business opportunities. Therefore, those who utilize digital marketing will exploit their competitive advantage and get ahead of the rest.
E-commerce – a channel still underused in B2B
According to the Digital Innovation Observatory in SMEs, small and medium-sized enterprises still rarely exploit the potential of online channels. For example, 80% of them say they have their own website, but the percentage of those with an online presence drops dramatically when only looking at B2B companies.
But why are these SMEs showing such skepticism towards e-commerce?
To understand and try to identify the causes of this problem, it is appropriate to start from a necessary premise: effective communication that leads to tangible results requires time and perseverance, but above all, it cannot be improvised, and specific skills are required.
On the other hand, large companies plan activities and organize them according to delegation criteria. The skills are more granular and assigned to specialists, with precise managerial coordination and control. At the same time, it must be noted that planning for marketing is rarely conducted in SMEs. The company rather makes its decisions due to the vision and experience of the entrepreneur.
On this premise, it is appropriate to emphasize that the typical qualities of the entrepreneur (creativity, determination, strategic vision, and managerial skills) are undoubtedly of fundamental importance for creating value and developing the company. However, the multiplication of possibilities and tools makes delegation obligatory to communicate core company skills effectively and not perceive a Ferrari as a Ford Fiesta. With all due respect to the Ford Fiesta.
How can SMEs approach digital marketing?
You can invest in digital marketing for SMEs with the help of an external consultant.
With this approach, it is possible to obtain the double advantage of having a competent professional figure available when needed, trained, and constantly updated without bearing the fixed costs of a person in the company staff.
Through knowledge of the market, the available technologies, and its network of professionals, the marketing consultant can develop a strategic plan after evaluating the company’s business model and its commercial objectives, as well as its implementation through tactics and coordination of professionals specialized in the channels involved.