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How SMB Underdogs Can Win Big All Year Long

4 Mins read

March is famous for underdog stories, especially when it comes to basketball and March Madness. From George Mason and VCU to the St. Peter’s Peacocks, the ones you’d never expect have a way of making a name for themselves during this time of the year. These underdogs topple the biggest names on the highest stages, calling attention to the breadth of talent at schools of all sizes and winning the hearts and praises of new fans.

These kinds of upsets aren’t exclusive to basketball arenas—quite the opposite. As the pandemic and ecommerce boom have given way to a more dynamic and integrated retail landscape, small businesses are more eager than ever to take the court and sink a basket in their competitors’ spaces.

For many small businesses, the right mix of modern flair and core fundamentals can be enough to score against industry titans. However, as external factors like inflation and recession rumors tilt the scales and threaten to cut these underdog stories short, the importance of digital tools becomes greater than ever. So, as the Big Dance gets into full swing, here are a few tips SMBs should consider to achieve more than just “One Shining Moment” this March and beyond.

Knowing your digital audience and cater keywords accordingly

The first step toward success in any business endeavor is knowing your audience. Regardless of how strong a product offering might be, it’s bound to fail if it’s not showing up in the right places. While selling online does blur those lines a bit, effective product placement still requires intuition and intention so as to not miss the mark.

Think of it this way: a business selling tools through local vendors knows to position their products in places like hardware stores, rather than supermarkets. When a customer is seeking out similar products, they’re more likely to consider yours as an option. Conversely, if it’s showing up next to vastly different products, it’ll be an afterthought.

This is exactly why a successful keyword strategy is so important for small businesses selling online. Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) are critical in driving brand recognition for those who can’t afford the more costly marketing methods that national brands use, like TV commercials and streaming ads.

A strong keyword strategy, on the other hand, is a highly intuitive practice. Just as in physical retail, it’s all about placing your products on the right proverbial shelves with enough differentiation to stand out from the competition. Mapping out the right SEO blueprint can be an exercise in trial and error but capitalizing on nuance is a winning strategy.

For example, small businesses most interested in selling locally should make sure that geographical terms rank among their most important keywords, while those looking to win out on price may look toward affordability terms. Be sure to know and integrate those key differentiators into the business’s keyword strategy.

Using data to your advantage

When it comes to digital marketing, it doesn’t get any more fundamental than data collection and analysis. One of the most enduring benefits of appearing online and across social channels is the ability to readily collect data on what your audience engages with, where the customer journey takes them, and what common pain points might be.

Intuition is an important part of the equation and raw data can never fully replace an SMB’s knowledge and connection with their core audience. Yet, the most successful businesses rely on both to make tactical decisions where the quantitative and qualitative align. Data collection is crucial not just because raw numbers and metrics take the guesswork out of decisions, but because they can illuminate trends and point to new, creative options.

Most social platforms make it easy to measure traffic and engagement trends, but it’s even more important to choose a web host that can do the same for your business’s website. Third-party data like social engagement is valuable, but there’s no substitute for having the kind of direct and firsthand knowledge that owned channels can offer.

Consider online checkouts as well. At the end of the day, the product is what drives your business, and selling directly through your website can easily deliver insights into what products are popular and which aren’t selling. Armed with that knowledge, business owners are able to adapt their offerings and experiment to see what appeals to new and existing audiences.

Making your strategy sustainable

Now comes the difficult part for small businesses: making it stick. A successful strategy is a sustainable one. While making large-scale improvements and changes to your digital approach all at once may create instant gratification, it’s more important to be measured in your thinking and approach.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 20% of small businesses fail within the first year, and operating at a breakneck pace is one of many avoidable dangers in getting a business off the ground. Long-term business growth requires strong patience and continuous learning.

SEO and data analysis are foundational digital strategies for a reason: they deliver informative and long-lasting results that lead to success on the biggest stages and in the busiest marketplaces. Practice creates progress, and going through trial and error, especially during the initial stages, is all part of the journey. For small businesses, knowing what works and what doesn’t work and making the most of digital tools and data puts that scrappy underdog on equal footing with the big names all year long.

Alicia Pringle is the Sr. Director of Online Marketing at Newfold Digital.

Data for the underdog stock image by tadamichi/Shutterstock

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