Multi_Channel_Marketing_BODY.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.

Multi-channel marketing is the practice of using many different messaging vehicles, such as social media, search engine optimization, print advertising and more, to connect with customers. Some marketing experts believe that embracing a multi-channel strategy is a smart move for small business owners since it can minimize risk and potentially contribute to increased levels of customer confidence in the brand.

Defining success

Multi-channel marketing requires a great deal of time, energy, and financial resources, say the experts. “This is the biggest challenges many small business owners face,” says Casey Meehan, founder of Epic Presence, a content marketing firm. “They just don’t have the bandwidth to do it all.” Rather than cast the widest net possible, Meehan advises small business owners to identify the marketing channels they’re adept at and that generate positive results, and focus their efforts on improving their work in those areas.

If you’re in the B2B world, chances are you do a lot of direct or consultative selling, Meehan says. His advice: Focus on what you can do to get in front of more decision makers. “A B2C company may decide they want to drive more traffic to their website through free or paid search,” he adds. This approach may take some time. “Plan on doing this until you become a bigger company with more resources,” Meehan says.

Diversify your reach

Restricting yourself to a minimal number of marketing channels is not a strategy without its own risks. “You can be vulnerable to factors outside of your control,” says Ryan Evans, founder of Lift Marketing, a Saratoga Springs, New York ad agency. Evan recalls working with a company that was enjoying robust organic traffic on its site. “Those numbers took a hit of more than 30 percent in website visits when Google changed their search algorithm,” he says. That decrease in traffic took months to recover from. Similarly, Evans says he’s seen businesses devote thousands of dollars and countless hours to developing their Facebook pages, only to have external changes affect their reach. “If this is your primary or only marketing channel that’s not a good position to be in,” he says.

More channels means more customer trust

One benefit of the multi-channel marketing strategy is that it makes small businesses visible in a number of places, increasing the odds that a customer will encounter your message. “Your customers want to see you,” Evans explains. “When they Google your type of business, you’re there. When they go on social media, you’re there. When they go to a tradeshow or event, they see you there.” These multiple engagements create a positive impression, boosting a customer’s confidence in your organization’s scope and capabilities. “When your customers say, ‘These guys are everywhere,’ it’s a good thing,” Evans adds.

Multi_Channel_Marketing_PQ.jpgStay focused

Meehan and Evans are in agreement on another critical point: small business owners must stay focused rather than be tempted by every new and emerging social media platform that emerges. “Instead of worrying about what the newest thing is, focus on where your customers are,” Evans explains. “Social media doesn’t make sense for everyone. Google doesn’t make sense for everyone. The C-level executive you’re trying to reach may not be on Facebook.”

“Look at what’s worked for you previously, as well as what’s working for your competitors and others in your industry,” Meehan advises. He urges business owners to regularly review their marketing campaigns to determine how effective they are. “We had a client who was spending tens of thousands of dollars on Google Adwords. But when we looked at things for them, it turned out that there was very little sales activity that was attributable to that investment.”

Know what you’re trying to accomplish with each channel. Whether the campaign is designed to boost visibility, generate leads, or accomplish some other business goal, Evans recommends having benchmark goals to work toward. “Unfortunately, too many times, business owners have to do their marketing from the gut. They have a sense that something’s working or it’s not – but sometimes they abandon campaigns before they have a chance to work, or stick to a channel that’s really not serving them well,” he says.

If you have a hard time making sense out of the various metrics reports available to you through Google Analytics and various social media platforms, Meehan says you’re not alone. “These reports aren’t really at the point yet where the typical business owner can look at them and draw meaningful insights from the data they’re provided with,” he says.” If you feel like you should be getting better results than you’re getting, but you don’t know where to start, a good first step is to seek help from someone who can assist you with these reports.”