Allocating your small business marketing budget to maximize return on investment and minimize the risks of a low or negative return can become a lot more unpredictable when your investments involve trends and emerging technologies. Investing in trends requires smart timing and consumer analysis.
You would think that marketing trends would be closely aligned with consumer trends, since effective marketing depends on getting your messages to appear where the highest concentration of qualified eyeballs are focused. That isn't always the case, however, because trend-focused marketers tend to place an inflated value on revolutionary technology and early adoption.
Thankfully, the majority of consumers permanently relocate their attention with much less frequency than marketing bandwagon drivers. Still, missing a trend or sticking with a has-been spells opportunity lost at best and negative returns or loss of market share at worst.
Since your trend-marketing returns are only as good as your ability to make educated guesses, here's some advice to help you avoid turning educated guesses into marketing messes. The following list features the top 10 internet marketing trends for 2010, in no particular order, and tells you whether to invest, test or let it rest.
Trend #1: Search Engine Optimization
Sites with relevant content and credible links will continue to rule the search rankings in the coming year, but 2010 has the potential to reveal a few new standards. As the volume of web content continues to grow, consumers will demand even more relevant and personalized search results. That means search engines will be looking for more relevant and personalized content from publishers and brands. In fact, the search engine algorithms are already beginning to pay more attention to date of publication, geo-location, mobile device browsers, past behavior and social media content.
Don't abandon your current SEO strategy in search of personalization, but make sure you allocate a portion of your budget to testing content, keywords and links that are targeted toward niche audiences. Test keyword and link placement in social media, local content and mobile websites, and make an effort to more frequently refresh some of the content you devote to search engine rankings. Once the search engines have tested these new search targets and revealed some concrete standards, you should be prepared to invest accordingly.
Trend #2: Paid Search
Paid search hasn't seen a revolutionary trend since the idea of the long tail was applied to keyword bidding. That's OK, because consumers will still use search engines in 2010 as a primary means of finding products and services to fulfill their needs, and they will still be clicking on relevant ads. Search advertising prices will remain reasonable, and average returns will remain comparably high as larger companies with decreased search marketing budgets continue to allocate resources to lower-cost SEO tactics in hopes of attracting visitors at lower prices. 2010 has the potential for even more downward pressure on price-per-click if Bing can gain enough loyal searchers to attract business away from Google.
You won't exactly feel like you're in the driver's seat when your search marketing placement choices are limited to Google, Microsoft or both, but that doesn't mean you should shy away from investing in the highly qualified leads that paid search is capable of producing for your small business.
Trend #3: E-mail Marketing
It isn't hard to justify an investment in e-mail marketing when the cost of sending e-mails is so low. The low cost isn't the only reason to send e-mail, however. Most consumers still consider e-mail to be their primary form of communication, even though there are several alternative ways for consumers to subscribe to periodic content from small businesses.
E-mail marketing will remain highly predictable in 2010 and may even become more powerful as e-mail service providers improve social media integration, search engine access to archived e-mails, auto-responders and new integrated applications. If you don't already use an e-mail service provider, invest in one in 2010. If you already use an e-mail service, invest in your e-mail list and in producing valuable content to nurture leads and attract repeat customers.
The cost of building a permission-based list is likely to stay the same in 2010 as it was in 2009, but more than one-third of consumers changed at least one of their e-mail addresses in 2009--due to job changes or other economic factors. Spend more time and money in 2010 focused on keeping your e-mail list current when those consumers return to work and change e-mail addresses again.
Trend #4: Social Network Marketing
Social media has one redeeming quality for marketers--lots and lots of eyeballs. That's attractive if you're a major brand, but profitable interaction will continue to be the exception for small businesses in 2010 rather than the rule. A good test of your social network marketing potential is to survey your current customers to see how many of them consider social networking to be a primary form of communication. You should probably experiment with a Facebook fan page and a Twitter page if you find that a meaningful percentage of your current customers indicate an interest in following your business.
Make 2010 your year to test content that attracts repeat and referral business. Your current customers are more likely than total strangers to respond to offers posted on social networks because they already know you and trust you based on their prior purchases.
Trend #5: Blogging
Advice: Let it rest
If you're writing a blog to help with search engine rankings or to inform existing customers, you should continue to test or invest. If you're blogging in an attempt to attract new prospects and convert them to customers, however, 2010 will be a year that exposes the blogosphere's vulnerability to the law of averages. Converting prospects into customers depends on driving visitors to content that maximizes conversions, and that means your conversion rate is only as good as the content on your landing page. If that landing page is your blog and your blog changes frequently, your conversion rate is only as good as your latest blog post.
Instead of blogging to convert your website visitors into customers in 2010, work hard to test and develop great landing page content. When you find something that works, don't change it.
Trend #6: Web Presence
If you want people to see the content on your website, it might make sense to advertise the location of your website content by placing ads on other high-traffic websites. Driving visitor traffic to your website isn't the way to go for 2010, however. Instead, you need to spend 2010 driving your website content to the visitor traffic.
The difference stems from the fact that content aggregation websites like YouTube are boosting consumer demand for instant gratification and what I like to call "content nesting." Content nesting allows consumers to browse through content fed to them through a single web page, or nest, so that they don't have to click on links to individual websites all over the World Wide Web, which takes more time--not to mention that the results can be anywhere from unpredictable to shockingly irrelevant.
To take advantage of content nesting in 2010, your website content needs to be nested in as many content aggregation sites as possible. For example, a lot of people search for videos on YouTube. If you have a video on your website and it's not also on YouTube, people on YouTube won't bother searching for your website. To them, YouTube represents the total number of videos available to them on their topic of interest.
Trend #7: Mobile Marketing
In case you haven't heard, mobile marketing is all about marketing to people through their mobile phones and smart-phone devices. Small businesses haven't had much of an opportunity to engage consumers on mobile devices, but 2010 has the potential to change that.
Demand is increasing dramatically for mobile applications and mobile web-browsing due to wider adoption of devices like the iPhone and the Google Android phone. As more people adopt these phones and features in 2010, look for small-business marketing services to start providing lower-cost mobile marketing solutions like text messaging, mobile e-mail marketing, mobile websites, mobile application development and location-based marketing.
Make 2010 your year to collect mobile preferences from your prospects and customers, and use tools like
to see how many people are visiting your website on mobile web browsers. If you find interest in mobile interaction among your customers, begin testing simple mobile marketing campaigns such as sending a few mobile coupons via text or building a mobile micro-site for one of your products.
Trend #8: Podcasting and Online Radio
Advice: Let it rest
Online radio is actually on a bit of a growth trend, but that's just because so-called terrestrial radio is suffering so much that radio advertisers are switching their investments to digital formats. 2010 will be a year of exploration for online broadcasters as they struggle to find and attract loyal audiences. iTunes has long been the leader in podcasting, but there are still no clear leaders in internet radio.
Even if leaders emerge in 2010, internet broadcasters will need to make their media more sharable, more engaging, more trackable and more mobile to attract money from advertisers. If you're looking to attract an audience by broadcasting or advertising on broadcast media, go with online video in 2010 and wait for radio to finish reinventing itself.
Trend #9: Online Video
If a picture paints a thousand words, how many words does a 30-second online video paint? Countless buying emotions and memorable brand moments are possible with video. Until recently, spreading your message with video was limited to the television screen. In 2010, watch for video to become more accessible to small businesses through online outlets. Online video is interactive, memorable, widely accessible, cheap to create and highly shareable. There's also a lot of investment happening around video, which is sure to create even more low-cost opportunities for small businesses to participate in video promotions in 2010.
Video presents a great opportunity for small-business marketing, but don't think of video as a replacement for text. As powerful as video can be, it can be more cumbersome than text because you can't scan a video as quickly as you can scan a page of headlines, links and text to quickly find the exact information you need. Use your investments to find the right balance for your customers.
Trend #10: Coupons, Discounts and Savings
OK, this one isn't entirely an internet marketing trend, but it's important enough to mention because of the economy. 2009 was another tough year for retailers, and consumers are so accustomed to shopping for deals that they might begin to expect the plethora of deep discounts currently available to continue forever. If you're engaged in heavy discounting to attract sales and survive the economic downturn, you'll need to spend 2010 slowly weaning your customers off your lower prices, assuming that the economy recovers. Resetting expectations won't be easy, so try swapping discounts for special privileges like loyalty discounts, free upgrades and other offers that won't lock you in to price comparisons.
Internet marketing trends develop quickly, so expect many new and exciting trends to emerge in 2010. Don't be too quick to jump on new bandwagons because consumers move more slowly than marketers and technology. Stay focused on attracting repeat business, deepening your customer relationships and solving problems for people. Those are the trends that never fail small businesses.
John Arnold is a Boulder, Colo.- based consultant, speaker and trainer specializing in marketing advice for small businesses. He is the author of three marketing books in the 'For Dummies' series including Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference and Mobile Marketing for Dummies. Follow him on Twitter: @ArnoldMarketing