Developing strong products and services is only part of the challenge for small and
medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Unless they are able to reach out to consumers
and develop brand awareness, how can they ever be expected to generate a
profit? SMBs generally only have limited advertising budgets - they are not
able to spend hundreds of thousands on integrated, cross channel marketing
campaigns. Instead, they need to make the best use of the resources available
to them - which are almost inevitably low-cost.

But the advent of the internet has made a big difference to SMBs in terms of
advertising. It has opened a number of new doors to hard-up small enterprises
where marketing is concerned. Online, companies can promote their brands to a
wide and varied customer base, and target advertising at those who are most
likely to be interested. SMBs can also monitor the success of web-based
campaigns using analytics, providing insight on the wisdom of particular
approaches and informing their future strategy.

With access to the web, SMBs can advertise their activities to a wide audience
with relatively little capital investment. It can cost only a nominal amount to
create a trading website and to develop a basic search engine optimisation
(SEO) strategy. Similarly, it costs little more than time and dedication to
keep website content fresh and up to date, and engage with the public via
social media. In 2012, SMBs have a variety of marketing tools at their
disposal, which enable them to reach consumers in every corner of the globe.
And such companies should be trying their hardest to take advantage.

The importance of getting advertising right

SMBs may have a platform for getting their message out to consumers, but they
need to think carefully about what it is they are communicating. Business
leaders need to ensure all company marketing materials adopt a suitable style
and tone, and present the company in the best possible light. Given that they
are looking to trade beyond their local community - i.e. their natural consumer
base - marketing materials may be all an internet user has to form a judgement
with. Until they have dealt directly with the company, this advertising content
will go a long way to forming their impression of the business - good or bad.

"You need to think carefully about what you want to achieve and the
message you want the reader, viewer or listener to take away," says the
advisory service Business Link. It notes that advertising is only effective if
a company reaches its target audience with a message that makes them want to
buy or at least find out more. So SMBs need to ensure they are striking a chord
with consumers - persuading them of a need for particular goods or services.


Getting value from advertising

According to Business Link, SMBs need to ensure they design and position their
websites carefully for maximum effect. "Take time over it, it's important
- it can be your electronic shop window, an information provider, a sales
person and an order form all in one," the service urges. It said the company
should consider the internet user - as the potential customer - at every stage
of the process. "Make it easy for them to find their way around your
website, and to order from or contact you," Business Link added.

SMB marketers are also advised to keep their website up to date and relevant,
and check that all pages, images and links open correctly. This helps create a
good impression with website visitors, but also ensures the site is able to
achieve its SEO potential. Business Link adds that websites should be geared
towards increasing sales, and this means they should be interesting and - if
possible - interactive. Such content may help to increase user dwell time and
allow companies to expand their sales pitch.

"Advertising often works most effectively when used in conjunction with
other marketing and promotional techniques, such as press releases, special
events and direct selling," Business Link notes. "Combining these
factors might take more time, but will create the best circumstances for your
advertising to really work." The body urges SMBs leaders to work out a
maximum marketing budget, and then identify options which give the best
possible return. Owing to its accountability, transparency and wide reach,
online advertising is likely to feature prominently in any marketing plan.


Making best use of advertising tools

Few SMBs are lucky enough to have dedicated advertising experts on the books,
who have the expertise and experience to create successful campaigns from
scratch. In the majority of cases, businesses are reliant on trial and error,
an inspired marketing idea, or some degree of external assistance. The good
news for small businesses is that plenty of help and support is available for
those looking to promote their brands online. For instance, Microsoft
Advertising adCenter
offers a robust collection of tools and information
designed to help companies place ads on the web.

The platform helps SMBs create and edit online ad campaigns, raise conversion
rates, research SEO keywords and demographics related to their target market,
run regular reports to refine performance and increase overall return. Adverts
created in adCenter can appear on a variety of Microsoft properties, including
Bing search results pages, MSN-affiliated websites and Microsoft Office.
Increasingly, businesses are also able to advertise on Microsoft partner sites
such as Facebook and the Wall Street Journal Digital Network.

With Bing now the world's second most popular search engine, it has the
potential to be an extremely value tool to business advertisers. SMBs can use
Bing to quickly and efficiently reach target customers among millions of active
searchers for a particular product or service. And should the ads receive
clicks, it greatly increases the chances of online sales being made. Consumers
from any part of the globe can find an SMB over the internet, not merely those
in the local town or city. And this means the world is very much an SMB's
oyster, providing their products and services are of sufficient quality.