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SMB’s STILL Not Sure About Online Space

I write quite a bit about the SMB space. I do it because I like the space v. the FortuneInternetRetailerInc. 500-5000 crowd because A) I know a lot of SMB’s and I frequent their establishments and B) It is a growth market that seems to elude the Internet marketing industry for the most part.

Over the years I have tried to figure out just why this large segment of the US (and worldwide) business population is still unsure about the benefits of the Internet marketing / social media world. According to a recent study by RatePoint and shared by eMarketer less than 50% of the respondents agree to some degree that their customers even use the online space!

I think there are two things happening here. First, there is ignorance of the space on the SMB side of the ledger. Before you get all huffy and ask how I can say such a thing just remember I said ignorance, not stupidity. SMB’s just don’t know what they don’t know. Many have been doing business a certain way for a long time and they tend to concentrate on existing customers more than new customer acquisition. As a result, they remain ignorant about what people are doing to find them that have never been exposed to their business before. This is a shame but it’s just true.

Of course, if the SMB’s of the world don’t get the Internet as a whole then social media will be like voodoo as well by default. Just look at the responses below.

As an industry , Internet marketing carries as much of the blame in this apparent disconnect if not the bulk of the problem. Why do I say this? Because when it comes to Internet marketing, its application, its value and its potential we see it automatically. We also live and breath the stuff so we quickly lose perpective from the SMB’s side of the desk.

As a result, most Internet marketing propaganda starts with the words “You have to” which is just bad practice no matter what business you are in. No one, and I mean no one, HAS TO do anything. This stance we take comes off as presumptive and condescending which, in turn, doesn’t lend to much relationship building. We have thus created this chasm with the industry on one side saying “I can’t believe they don’t get it!” and the SMB’s who have not bought in (which is still the vast majority) saying “I don’t really see the need.”

The next thing we as an industry do to create an even further divide is to go from “Hi, I’m an Internet marketing agency / consultant” to “Let’s look at your title tags and meta-description tags and keyword density and blah, blah, blah” as if these people understand what is being said. Face it, they don’t.

Yesterday, at the Interet Summit in Raleigh, I had a brief discussion with a very nice and personable Google engineer after his “talk” on big data. I wanted to see if he could speak his “big data” speak in layman’s terms. He tried but my brain didn’t get it. Now, I am not stupid so I suddenly had even more insight into how the industry speak we feel so comfortable with must sound like to the SMB. I bet it’s like Charlie Brown’s teacher or the idea that as much as you talk to a dog and think he gets it, he only really understands his name, food and fetch. The rest is gibberish to him.

I know this isn’t the first time this has been discussed but don’t you think that 15 years into the Internet economic age we could have a different set of problems than variations on the same theme that have been around since the start of this?

Here’s my challenge to anyone who is discussing these issues with any SMB from the mom and pop to the 100 employee plus shop. Next time you discuss Internet marketing and social media, don’t mention anything about the backend activities of meta data and post frequency and all the other stuff. Let them talk about their business and their needs. At that point, you can assess whether any ‘technical’ speak is necessary at all. In many cases, it’s not.

So hopefully this idea of putting the Internet into layman’s terms will reach the big boys like Google. The company that truly unlocks this market will have make more money than many have thought possible. Until then, it looks like the majority of businesses won’t get what is being said so they won’t trust enough to try what is being offered.

Any thoughts?

  • http://ericungs.com Eric Ungs

    Excellent post Frank and you’re spot on.

    I think the issue falls into the trap of being content. The brick n mortars are so reliant on the offline referrals via their existing customer base. The whole idea via the web is taking that same group of customers and engaging with them online – spider webbing from that core group to build out your customer base even further. So I don’t think they fully understand that the communication they’re doing offline can co-exist with online communication efforts, resulting in a far greater reach. Not so much to nonconnected parties, but through the social web with 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree connections.

    I also think their reactions to such ideas might be the voice of their lizard brain (Seth Godin term). I think it’s easier for them to say it’s not beneficial. I’m not sure how many SMB’s actually research or even listen on the web to see if there’ any chatter about their brand – are they providing specifics to back up their reasoning? And if there isn’t any chatter, create some.

    I think it just comes down to the lack of knowledge and resources. It’s just easier not to do it.

    @EricUngs