5 Marketing Changes Small Businesses Need to Make in 2016

Relationship and content marketing, a focus on mobile everything and the acknowledgement that you have to go global are some shifts that are necessary.

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By Sujan Patel


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Whether your small business marketing is thriving or falling flat, it's still important to perform a marketing audit of 2015 to see what's working and what's not. But don't just put what's working into overdrive for the New Year. Instead, treat these techniques as important assets within your 2016 marketing plan -- but don't stop there.

The upcoming year promises to be a game changer for small business marketing, especially those who have largely skated by with the help of social-media marketing and a decent referral network in place. Indeed, there are a number of immediate changes small businesses can -- and should -- make if they want to see skyrocketing growth and success in 2016.

Related: 5 Lessons Learned From Bud Light's 'Up for Whatever' and Always' 'Like a Girl' Campaigns

Here are five ways to get started:

1. Focus on relationship marketing.

Forging ongoing, personal relationships with consumers is nothing new. But how that evolves in 2016 goes beyond just being helpful to customers, staying in touch and offering exemplary service. Relationship marketing will see explosive growth in 2016, especially as more consumers turn to their smartphones for shopping reviews and advice.

Focusing on short term wins won't work in a world where consumers are shifting their focus to ongoing service and relationships with brands and are looking to their peers to see which companies offer the best buying experience.

Take Starbucks, for example. The coffee giant has been quietly mastering the ins and outs of relationship marketing for years, so much so that it's now a seamless part of their marketing plan. Stores frequently offer afternoon discounts or free cups when you bring in your same-day morning receipt, change up their seasonal drinks and treats based on customer feedback, and offer their online subscribers rare, small-lot Starbucks Reserve coffee delivered fresh to their door.

Your business may not be able to ship free goods to all of its customers, but it's the thought process here that matters. How can you go above and beyond in the relationships you've built with your clientele?

2. Get on board with mobile.

I've already touched on how mobile and exploding smartphone usage will impact relationship marketing in 2016. But there's another reason small businesses need to fully adapt to mobile -- or prepare to be left behind. There are officially more searches on mobile than desktops or other devices, and Google has responded accordingly. The search engine now penalizes sites that aren't optimized for mobile by giving more weight and relevance to those who do.

It may sound harsh, but in reality, Google is simply responding to what consumers actually want. Google knows that mobile now serves as a primary touch point for customers on the path to purchasing. That type of direct feedback and clarity works to the advantage of small businesses. Start thinking like an on-the-go and mobile consumer instead of relying on the same tactics that have been working online for years.

Related: How Brick-And-Mortar Stores Are Finding New Uses for Smartphones

3. Embrace content marketing.

Content marketing has gone from being an emerging trend and buzzword to the mainstream norm. But that doesn't mean everyone is doing it right. Content marketing should incorporate the philosophies of relationship marketing and mobile in order to succeed. It also requires more robust content than simply throwing together a blog post and adding some links. More businesses now offer video content and free, in-depth white papers and infographics to compete.

Other companies have discovered the hard way what happens when you cut corners.

Back in 2011, the New York Times found that JC Penney paid to have thousands of links point back to the retailer's website, and incurred a Google penalty as a result. Overstock was also penalized for offering schools and students discounts in exchange for inbound links. Companies may have wised up to paying and inflating their inbound links, but that doesn't mean they're not trying to take short cuts. Google is working to identify and penalize sneaky mobile redirects that trick consumers into landing on specific content.

Don't get caught unprepared.

4. Create geo-precise marketing.

Small businesses can officially stop worrying about how to reach every consumer that could possibly want their goods and services: Geo-precise marketing and precision targeting is now leading the pack in consumer marketing. Businesses can use their analytics and purchasing data to identify zip codes that are extra active when it comes to purchasing -- or even use IP targeting to narrow down their focus to individual households.

Tools like Google Adwords, Facebook ads and just about any other serious advertising platform offer robust geo-targeting services that help businesses find the perfect consumer -- either around the corner or across the globe -- based on exactly where your buying power is coming from. By fine tuning their targeting, small businesses can increase their conversions by focusing their landing pages or content marketing campaigns to the geographic norms and preferences in the areas where their consumers are coming from.

5. Keep testing.

The importance of continued testing and experimentation will never change for large corporations and small businesses alike. Make regularly studying your analytics, tweaking your marketing campaign and testing the results a major part of your evolving marketing plan. The huge time commitment involved in testing may feel out of balance in comparison to actually executing your marketing plan. But failing to test and adjust your plan accordingly is fumbling around in the dark and expecting to find success.

It just won't cut it in 2016.

So now, I want to hear from you. What other marketing changes do you plan to make in 2016? Share your plans and what you hope to achieve by leaving a comment below.

Related: You Don't Have to Be Patti LaBelle to Score a Viral Product Review Video

Sujan Patel

Entrepreneur and Marketer, Co-founder of Web Profits

In his 14-plus years as a marketer and entrepreneur, Sujan Patel has helped hundreds of companies boost online traffic and sales and strengthen their online brand reputation. Patel is the co-founder of Web Profits and Mailshake.

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