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Less than 10% of SMBs ‘Extremely Marketing Savvy’ but 95% DIY

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There have been many discussions on this blog related to do-it-yourself (DIY) digital marketing within the small and medium-sized business (SMB) population. From exploring the motivations behind the desire to DIY, to how these efforts translate (or don’t) to actual business results, these discussions have all led to a similar conclusion: DIY isn’t an effective marketing strategy for SMBs.

Yet DIY is arguably the biggest competitor any SMB digital marketing provider faces in the market. When we consider the fact that, according to latest Small Business Administration (SBA) figures, there are roughly 24 million non-employer firms and 5.2 million businesses with 1-20 employees, we see just how large the SMB space is and why overcoming the challenge of DIY is important.

A 2018 survey of over 1,000 SMBs by Constant Contact found that 95% do some form of marketing themselves yet only 46% consider themselves “marketing savvy.” Only 9% said they were “extremely marketing savvy.” This suggests that while SMBs recognize their digital marketing shortcomings, they DIY anyway.

In terms of the channels used, Constant Contact found the following were the top five overall:

  • 42% – Email Marketing
  • 39% – Online advertising
  • 39% – Promotions on their business’ homepage
  • 37% – Social media advertising and paid social content
  • 33% – Customer review collection

The 95% figure parallels another study which put the DIY segment at around 97%, though LSA surveys put the number closer to 70%. These various studies reveal what might be called “the DIY mentality.” There are six primary factors driving DIY:

  1. Save Money: The sole-proprietor or very small business often don’t have the budget to pay for a provider to manage digital marketing efforts or isn’t willing to spend on these efforts. Additionally, self-serve tools are making it easier to cost-effectively build websites, run ads and do other important marketing work.
  2. Failure of Previous Providers: Many small businesses have been burned by over-promising marketing providers that end up costing a lot of money without delivering the results the SMB was promised.
  3. Perception of Channel Inefficacy: In the self-serve ad buying context, some small businesses have executed campaigns with little-to-no impact on key business indicators. This, for some, was perceived as a failure of the channel vs. the more likely scenario of poor campaign optimization on behalf of the SMB.
  4. Complacency: One study that explored the DIY mindset found that many SMBs felt that their DIY digital marketing was simply “good enough” for what they needed/wanted.
  5. The Entrepreneurial Spirit: While not referenced in any specific study, my experience with various small business owners has been that they simply have a strong desire to “own” every aspect of their business. Additionally, some are creatively skilled and/or have a passion for the creativity associated with marketing, which motivates them to DIY.
  6. Digital Marketing Is ‘Non-Essential’: After investing in all the tools, employees, real estate, products, etc., that come with starting a business, marketing becomes an added expense. DIY is far more attractive after sinking thousands into a business.

Another factor behind DIY marketing is the shifting demographics of SMB owners. According to Pew, 10,000 Americans turn the traditional retirement age (65) every day until 2030, making way for a new, digital-native generation of business owners. This group will have grown up with digital and may be at once more DIY capable but perhaps also more open to professional support.

Part of the challenge for SMB marketing services providers is educating customers and building trust. These are long-existing problems that nobody has fully solved.

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