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How B2B marketers can successfully target SMEs

Triana Jarman

In February of last year we published a report aimed at helping readers to better understand the dynamics of the SME marketplace and glean key insights for consideration when targeting this sector. The content of this report proved so popular amongst advertisers wanting to interact with this audience that we have reviewed the data on our SME audience again to see what, if anything, has changed. In our SME Insight Report (2017) we’ve looked in detail at the concerns, behaviours and level of engagement of our audience of hundreds of thousands of SMEs across our publishing titles. And once again the findings were revealing…but were they different to the insight we gained a year or so ago?

Avoid the one size fits all approach

Our analysis before suggested that SMEs cannot simply be considered to be the same; there is no such thing as a standard business in this target group. Again, it was clear that SMEs of differing sizes will behave differently, experience unique challenges, follow different purchasing patterns, and require different types of information. In theory, the owner (and sole employee) of a new start up and a firm which employs 150 staff will both be considered an “SME”, yet both will be dramatically different in terms of their daily needs and processes. The worrying thing is our findings suggest things haven’t changed and they still tend to be approached in the same manner by B2B brands which, perhaps understandably, can provide limited success.

Greater targeting will ensure greater relevance

While it is possible that the service or product your brand supplies may serve businesses of all types and sizes, this does not mean that the messaging behind your marketing will also engage all sections of this audience. Our data continues to suggest that the needs and challenges of SMEs of different sizes can be tremendously different and therefore a more targeted approach to content is likely to provide a far great return on investment. Marketers must also consider that the interests and concerns of SMEs, or any business for that matter, changes over time. One example that we noticed is marketing technology and the use of video has become a more significant concern amongst mid-sized organisations, compared to our previous findings. Our updated report provides more detail on the different interests and concerns, but the key takeaway here remains that same – brands cannot expect their content to appeal to all SMEs across the spectrum. Even those ‘hero’ pieces of content should be amended where possible to suit different groups, and updated when needed.

Just because you’re talking, it doesn’t mean SMEs are listening

As mentioned in our blog post supporting the previous version of this report, we suggest that it’s not unrealistic to expect small business owners to want to take onboard any information which will help them develop their business in some way. But we also pointed out that just because you’re pushing out information, it doesn’t mean they’ll be listening to what you’re saying. This is likely to remain true for all time, as SMEs will continue to be at different stages of growth and have different interests and needs as a result. Our insight shows that depending on where they are in the growth spectrum, they will have a varying degree of time availability, but ultimately the nature of starting and growing a business will mean they are often time-starved.

Overcoming the SME time challenge

It is clear that today’s SMEs are still as time-poor as they have been in years gone by, and so for those wishing to target this audience it is even more critical to use all the tools and opportunities available to overcome this particular challenge. Improved engagement through data segmentation, targeted advertising and using more tailored messaging are all steps to boosting success. Another is to ensure campaigns are optimised for mobile devices – while our latest report indicates that viewing content on mobile devices has actually gone down slightly from one-third of SMEs, it remains a sufficiently significant volume that cannot be ignored.

Remember that all SMEs are on a journey

While our report repeatedly emphasises the difference between SMEs of different sizes, it’s also important to remember that every SME is on a journey through those micro, small, and medium-sized business categories. As we have mentioned previously, campaigns which address multiple parts of the SME ‘journey’ are often highly successful. Brands which effectively support the SME audience through their phases of development (perhaps with a sustained series of campaigns), will resonate with readers at all levels and foster credibility. Furthermore, our research indicates that a preferred content format may depend where on the journey an SME is. Micro businesses potentially require a level of detail which can be easily digested, while a longer-established medium-sized business is likely to prefer greater detail which they read out of hours at a time when they are able to focus on strategy.

Get the full picture of how to best target this audience by downloading our SME Insight Report 2017.

Our data has revealed a number of largely subtle changes in the 18 months since we last published our SME Insights report. These include some changes in interests which can be predictable, such as marketing technology (including the use of video, etc), but also some more surprising insights such as the slight drop in content digestion via mobile devices.

While these seemingly minor changes can be highly important when it comes to understanding the specific audience needs, the principles of how to approach and engage this audience remain very much the same. In short, brands must be targeted, they must be relevant, and they must support SMEs on their journey.