7 Digital Marketing Tips for Small Businesses in 2020

With the COVID-19 shutdowns surrounding every aspect of daily life, small businesses are looking for ways to adapt. Based on a survey of 500 small businesses, we’ve compiled a list of 7 digital marketing tips about exposure, revenue, and market presence for small businesses in this time of crisis.

Small businesses are looking for the right opportunities to stay afloat due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the current lack of physical options and more reliance on the digital landscape, digital marketing continues to provide value to small businesses looking to expand their reach and revenue.

At the start of 2020, it was reported that businesses would spend $1.3 trillion on digital marketing this year. The impact of the coronavirus makes this likely to change, however, because businesses are cutting costs.

During this downtime, small businesses have the opportunity to figure out what works with their marketing strategies and channels. Although it is a chaotic and challenging time, it could be a good time for business leaders to take a hard look at their digital marketing techniques.

We surveyed 500 small business owners and managers across the U.S. about how their companies used their digital marketing channels in the last 12 months and what they hope to accomplish with digital marketing in 2020.

We discovered that business owners are invested in using their own resources and finding creative solutions for their marketing efforts.

Use this guide of tips and tricks to learn how your small business can be more efficient with digital marketing.

Our Findings

  • Almost all small businesses (88%) invest in social media, which shows the importance of online efforts to reach customers.
  • Nearly half of small businesses (54%)  use email marketing to facilitate personal connections with their customers.
  • Small businesses plan to use more website marketing (56%) to strengthen their content offering.
  • In 2020, small businesses use video marketing (32%) to engage and captivate consumers.
  • In an effort to cut costs, more than half (63%) of small businesses rely on in-house employees who work on digital marketing along with their additional responsibilities. Only 16% use in-house digital marketers whose sole role is digital marketing.
  • About two-thirds of small businesses (63%) still use traditional marketing services such as print marketing, suggesting that these strategies are still an effective use of marketing.
  • More than three-quarters of small businesses (76%) believe their digital marketing efforts are effective in achieving their goals.
  • In 2020, the top 5 goals for digital marketing are to convert leads (19%), increase web traffic (17%), support revenue generation (15%), increase brand and customer engagement (14%), and generate a high volume of qualified leads (14%). The right goal varies by business need.

7 Digital Marketing Tips for Small Businesses in 2020

  1. Build a strong social media presence
  2. Use email marketing to connect with customers
  3. Expand website marketing
  4. Start using video marketing
  5. Use in-house digital marketing resources
  6. Find more outlets for print marketing
  7. Determine your small business’s main goal

1. Build a Strong Social Media Presence

As the opportunity for direct face-to-face communication is currently limited, small businesses should take to social media to reach their customers.

Social media is part of the majority of small businesses’ marketing plans. Almost all small businesses (88%) invest in social media.

Social Media Small Business 88%

Social media has become a functional aspect of many digital marketing strategies for different businesses and generations.

Business Owners Value Social Media, No Matter Their Age

The majority of all generations rely on social media for their business: Millennials (91%), Generation Xers (91%), and baby boomers (85%) use social media for their business.

In addition, all generations plan to use social media more in 2020; 50% of millennials, 31% of Generation Xers, and 26% of baby boomers plan to grow their digital marketing strategies this year.

How Different Generations Use Digital Marketing Channels

Outside of social media, each generation plans to invest more in the following channels:

  • Millennials: Email marketing (80%), video marketing (75%), and website marketing (50%)
  • Generation Xers: Email marketing (73%), video marketing (57%), and website marketing (59%)
  • Baby boomers: Email marketing (65%), video marketing (46%), and website marketing (52%)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses are looking to try new digital marketing strategies, but why is social media one of the more effective tools?

Sandy Murray owns Four 12 Photography, a photography company in Illinois that uses social media to expand its network.

“Social media provides ways to reach new audiences that may fit with our brand,” Murray said.

Recently, Four 12 Photography partnered with Leeson’s Cakes Inc. to engage with brides on Facebook.

four 12 photography facebook

Four 12 Photography’s Facebook posts ask questions and facilitate conversations by sharing content that brides are encouraged to answer.

Although these social media posts are geared toward showcasing their companies’ brands, there is a hidden benefit.

“As a result, we have more likes on our pages and are putting out content to help those getting married,” Murray said. “It helps everyone stay positive during COVID-19.”

It helps everyone stay positive during COVID-19.

With the amount of social media channels out there (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), there are more chances than ever to better connect with your audience.

According to BigCommerce, 72% of customers say that positive reviews and testimonials make them trust a business. Having a well-thought out social media strategy can facilitate that trust.

Marygrove Awning, a retractable and custom awning company, uses social media to engage customers through testimonials.

marygrove awning facebook

Small businesses can use sites such as Twitter to showcase client testimonials as a way to show potential clients what they can do. In this case, it’s a perfectly installed awning.

Social media encourages engagement, transparent communication, and brand exposure. These elements create a level of personalization and trust with your customer base.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses leveraging social media can attract customers while they spend an increasing amount of time at home and online.

2. Use Email Marketing Campaigns to Connect With Customers

While some may argue that email marketing is outdated, most small businesses still use email to facilitate personal connections with their clients.

More than half of small businesses (54%) plan to use email marketing as part of their digital marketing strategy in 2020.

email marketing 54%

According to HubSpot, 80% of business leaders believe that email marketing amplifies customer retention. Nearly 60% of respondents of its State of Email Marketing survey say that marketing emails influence their purchasing behavior.

“Email marketing is paramount to the retention of your customer base,” said Ryan Masten, founder of Earn2Trade, a small education and financial business. “There’s much more room for personalization and customization in an email, as you’re communicating directly with your own customers.”

The personalization keeps customers coming back.

The impact of email marketing goes beyond a cluttered inbox. It’s a key digital marketing tool for small businesses looking to expand their brand’s reach and influence.

Before the COVID-19 shutdown, Lauren Herpich, the owner of Local Food Adventures, a food tour program in California, was planning on investing in more Google and Facebook advertising.

“However, in an effort to lower marketing costs, I’m really utilizing my email list more and making that monthly Mailchimp fee work harder for me,” Herpich said.

Instead of paying for Google and Facebook advertising, Herpich is focusing on email marketing.

Recently, Herpich sent an email announcing the company’s newest incentive, Local Love Gift Box, a collection of her culinary favorites from the Oakland, Calif., food tours.

love gift box email marketing

People can buy the boxes and enjoy the offerings while sheltering in place. A dollar of their sales go to support a local food bank and a food delivery nonprofit.

Herpich’s email list has been an effective resource to get the word out.

“Within 32 minutes of hitting send, I received my first order from someone on my mailing list,” Herpich said, “Since I can personalize the messaging using merge tags in the subject line and in the email copy, it’s easy to make it a more one-to-one communication channel.”

A lot of things aren’t going as planned for businesses during this time. Using older staples such as email can provide a sense of stability while remaining an urgent communication tool.

3. Expand Website Marketing Efforts

Online visibility is extremely important for businesses in this day and age. If your business doesn’t have a website, your presence within your market is essentially nonexistent.

Small businesses need look no further than their own web platforms to increase their knowledge of website marketing.

In 2020, about 56% of small businesses invest website marketing to increase their digital presence.

56% web marketing small business

Web marketing is a more focused digital effort through in-house resources. By building online relationships, website marketing is one of the most measurable tactics.

Dronegenuity is a small business that provides aerial drone solutions to customers.

Website marketing is its main focus when it comes to digital marketing. The company focuses on producing drone-related content through articles and videos for the company’s blog.

“We have an extensive website set up with our core values, services, applications, locations, and so much more,” said Dan Edmoson, founder and CEO of Dronegenuity.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, content creation can help small businesses, like Dronegenuity, provide their customer base relevant information that impacts their specific market.

drone blog posts

Relevant blog posts give your business the perfect opportunity for authority in your market.

Small businesses are increasing their web presence to meet their customers where they are right now, making the transition as seamless as possible.

With online preferences changing frequently alongside the growing digital market, small businesses can add variety to their websites by producing timely content with a personal touch.

For example, Dronegenuity’s recent blog post tackles money-saving tips for drone entrepreneurs who are looking to cut costs during the pandemic.

Small businesses can study their site’s traffic and engagement levels, finding areas to grow their success. This is a quick way to find what works and what doesn’t.

4. Start Using Video Marketing

The use of eye-catching videos can help small businesses dominate the digital marketing circuit because videos make the average user spend 88% more time on a website.

Despite over half of consumers wanting to see more video content from brands they support, only about one-third of small businesses (32%) plan to invest more in video marketing this year.

32% video marketing

For the Local Love Gift Boxes, Herpich uses video as a promotional medium.

“As a former news producer, I understand the value of video, especially now in a more fragmented and digitally focused marketplace,” Herpich said. “In a quick one-minute video, I can not only tell but also show my message.”

In a quick one-minute video, I can not only tell but also show my message.

In a recent video, Herpich marketed the gift boxes as a great idea for Mother’s Day.

local love mothers day

Herpich describes the boxes as a perfect gift and also as an avenue to support small businesses.

Clean Origin, a company that creates diamond engagement rings from its lab, uses video marketing for promotion and showcasing its products.

clean origin youtube

Along with interviews and advertisements, Clean Origin posts videos of its products.

“Over the course of two years, we’ve amassed over one million YouTube views and hundreds of thousands of views on Facebook and Instagram,” said Brandon Cook, the director of marketing at Clean Origin. “We’ve seen mixed results from an attribution standpoint but firmly believe that brand influence is worth every penny.”

Although creating an engaging video involves more of a time commitment, different businesses are using video marketing as a resource for exposure during this period of time.

Professional software isn’t necessary to create a thought-provoking piece of video.

Small businesses on a budget can create homemade videos that fit their audience’s needs and expectations.

More people are working remotely and spending their free time with their laptops. A visually appealing, short video can do wonders for your engagement rate.

More small businesses should consider the interactive and engaging value of video marketing.

 5. Use In-House Digital Marketing Resources

Small businesses use internal in-house resources who provide their company with creative digital marketing ideas.

The majority of small businesses (63%) rely on in-house employees who work on digital marketing services in addition to other responsibilities. Only 16% of small businesses use employees that only focus on digital marketing.

small businesses use in-house resources for digital marketing

For companies looking to save money during this economic downturn, using the employees your company already has for digital marketing is a great solution.

Those employees also know your services and products the best.

“At Dronegenuity, we use internal staff to produce our digital marketing campaigns,” Edmonson said. “We believe that the success of our campaigns depends heavily on inner knowledge of past projects, as that person knows exactly where to look.”

With the huge number of digital marketing agencies globally, it’s an interesting tidbit that small businesses tend to keep their services in-house.

Why is this?

Laura Spawn, the CEO and co-founder of Virtual Vocations, a remote job listing board, relies on her talented team’s skills.

“As a smaller company, we have team members who apply their skills across several different areas of the business, including creating graphics for social media, writing marketing content, and other marketing-focused projects,” Spawn said.

Because of the small staff size of Virtual Vocations, different members of the team contribute in a number of ways outside of their typical job description.

In our current landscape, recruitment and hiring are on pause for a majority of companies in order to cut costs and many businesses are going completely remote, so  many companies are relying on the skills of their own employees for digital marketing.

6. Find More Outlets for Print Marketing

Businesses aren’t only focusing on digital marketing — most still use traditional marketing techniques such as print marketing.

About two-thirds (63%) of small businesses still use print marketing as part of their marketing strategy. This includes direct mail, flyers, and banners.

63% print marketing small business

Herpich uses direct mail to reach some of her older customers and a few established organizations.

“Every year, I send our annual tour brochure to a curated list of area women’s organizations,” Herpich said. “That $100 I spend in print-outs and postage will bring in $3,000–$5,000 worth of business on average.”

That $100 I spend in print-outs and postage will bring in $3,000–$5,000 worth of business on average.

Besides saving money, the brochures provide a detailed explanation of the food tour’s organization and services.

local box brochure

The brochures showcase different celebrations that can accompany the tours, along with the types of experiences people can have.

Following similar traits of video marketing, print outlets appeal to the senses and can become memorable campaigns.

In the past, Dan Bailey, president of WikiLawn Lawn Care, a lawn care service, used mailers with QR codes to attract customers.

“They’ve been effective at bringing in businesses as clients,” Bailey said.

This approach allows customers to look outside the box to find services creatively.

Through crafting creative business cards, flyers, and banners, small businesses can also hit their local audiences in a more proactive manner.

In the times of social distancing, print marketing can add a deeper connection to small business marketing plans.

For example, Four 12 Photography has started using personalized print marketing.

“If we have a relationship with you, we are sending postcards to engage you prior to your wedding day or event photography,” Murray said.

Sending a postcard might seem like a perk and not a marketing opportunity. But using these types of print materials gets your small business’s name out there.

four 12 postcard

The personal element of creating a piece of print material for your clients can also go a long way in gaining their trust and business.

7. Determine Your Small Business’s Main Goal

Having a main goal to measure the success of your digital marketing efforts might be the most beneficial digital marketing tip of all. Before starting their small business marketing plan, companies must determine their primary digital marketing goal.

Currently, more than three-quarters (76%) of small businesses believe their digital marketing efforts are effective in achieving their company’s goals.

76% digital marketing effective

In 2020, our findings show that small businesses want to use digital marketing to:

  • Convert leads (19%)
  • Increase their web traffic (17%)
  • Support revenue generation (15%)
  • Increase brand and customer engagement (14%)
  • Generate a high volume of qualified leads (14%)

top 6 goals for digital marketing

While results vary for the small businesses we surveyed, all of their goals are meant to increase their success within their industry and market.

“Our digital marketing goals are 100% focused on sales,” said Calloway Cook, the owner of Illuminate Labs, a supplement company. “Bigger companies can pay for exposure and brand awareness, but smaller startups have to focus on ensuring that every dollar spent on ads is done in the most profitable way.”

Smaller startups have to focus on ensuring that every dollar spent on ads is done in the most profitable way.

Small businesses need to decide what they’re committed to when it comes to their digital marketing efforts.

“Our goal is to become known in our community through photography work and through our community involvement and support,” Murray said.

Along with supporting their communities, small businesses can look beyond that scope to a larger base.

“Long-term, we believe that our branding efforts, relationships, influencers, and social media presence will create a halo effect that media dollars alone will never be able to accomplish,” Cook said.

Online exposure is forever, while media dollars eventually run out.

Starting with a concrete goal and executing on that is one way to structure a small business digital marketing plan.

Each business is different. No matter your goal for digital marketing, the primary concern during this time is holding your business together.

Small Businesses Need to Look Forward in 2020

A successful digital marketing campaign can benefit small businesses during this unpredictable time. Thinking about the future can breathe a bit of optimism in your small business.

The impact of COVID-19 will be long-lasting, so businesses need to plan long-term digital marketing goals to set them apart from others in the market.

More than three-quarters (76%) of small businesses believe in the effectiveness of their digital marketing.

Almost all of them invest in social media, while more small businesses are looking to grow their digital marketing efforts through website marketing, email marketing, and video marketing.

Using in-house resources to manage digital marketing and focusing on classic marketing efforts are other ways small businesses are investing in their company’s growth and stability.

While this is a time to try something new, there are still valuable and effective digital marketing strategies that small businesses can explore to increase their customer base and market presence.

About the Survey

The Manifest surveyed 500 small business owners and managers across the U.S.

Our definition of small businesses includes companies with between 1 and 500 employees, which corresponds with the Small Business Administration’s definition of small business.

Nearly all respondents (96%) are with businesses that have fewer than 50 employees.

A majority of respondents are female (61%), and 39% are male.

Most respondents are based in the South (36%); 23% are located in the West; 22% in the Midwest; and 15% in the Northeast.

Baby boomers and older make up 44% of respondents; Generation Xers make up 33%; millennials make up 20%; and Generation Z make up 4%.