Online? Offline? So far it’s a mix of both as major marketers continue to move online to reach small and medium businesses, despite small businesses’ preference for some offline tactics

Last year a survey from Bredin Business Information gave a somewhat mixed message on media usage by major marketer targeting small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs). While they reported that major marketers targeting small and medium businesses (SMBs) are relying less on traditional marketing tactics because of the economic downturn, that’s still one of the top ways SMBs like to receive product and service information. The survey also revealed that despite growing online usage, “SMBs (continue to ) rate direct mail, PR and tradeshows relatively highly; acquiring new customers is the top business concern.”

BBI conducted two surveys in late January and February 09, asking 50 leading marketers about their outreach and research efforts for 2009 and 741 SMBs about their online and offline media preferences, top business concerns and brand ratings. And while the survey is a year old at this writing, there’s no reason to believe much has changed, especially in view of the slow recovery.

Among offline tactics, marketers will increase spending on PR and telemarketing versus 2008, while direct mail, print advertising and trade shows will decline. Marketers plan to increase spending on every online tactic surveyed, especially microsites/resource centers, social networking and webinars.

“Marketers are clearly reacting to the difficult economy by using offline tactics much more selectively. They are also moving online aggressively, to reach SMBs efficiently and learn how to get the most from new media opportunities,” said BBI CEO Stu Richards. “However, our survey of SMBs indicates that business owners are not nearly as enthusiastic about many online formats for business purposes – such as social networking – as marketers are.”

Results from the survey of 50 leading SMB marketers include:

  • Overall, marketers are more focused on winning new customers than keeping current ones. 48% said they are balancing their acquisition and retention efforts this year, while 32% are concentrating more on acquisition and only 20% are focusing more on retention.
  • Marketers said their biggest challenges in 2009 are funding new projects (24%), growing business with limited resources (15%) and increasing awareness (15%).
  • Marketers continue to shift their efforts to the Internet. Offline tactics received an average rating of 2.6 on a scale of 1 (significantly decrease versus 2008) to 5 (significantly increase) while online marketing will increase, with an average rating of 3.5. Among offline marketing, PR ranked highest (3.5), followed by telemarketing (3.4), print newsletters (2.8) and direct mail (2.8). The online tactics that will grow the most are social networking (3.7), resource centers (3.7) and search marketing (3.6).
  • Marketers will spend less on market research in 2009 than 2008, with an overall average score of 2.5. Online surveys (3.5) and online focus groups (3.3) are the only research formats marketers plan to use more in 2009 than in 2008.

Results from the survey of 741 SMBs include:

  • As offline sources of information about products and services, SMBs rely most on newspaper and magazine articles (43.6%) and direct mail, including letters, postcards and catalogs (43.5%). Phone calls (27.4%) and radio/TV ads (32%) are least popular.
  • Online, referrals from friends and peers are the most popular source of information on products and services (71.9%), followed by search engine marketing (57.0%), educational websites (44.5%) and email newsletters (38.2%). The least popular online formats are ads on cell phones/PDAs (8.1%), videos/podcasts (19.2%) and forums/chat rooms (20.2%). SMBs rated social networking at 27.8%.
  • Among the social networks, SMBs rate Facebook highest (19.7%), followed by LinkedIn (15.6%), MeetUp (11.3%) and Twitter (11.2%). SMBs’ top business challenges include finding new customers (76.5%), managing costs (71.2%) and retaining current customers (51.7%). Ranked lowest are avoiding layoffs (2.9%) and keeping employees productive (3.3%).
  • The most important purchase criteria in this economy are high value (61.3%), low price (52.4%) and reliability (35.3%). Least important is buying from a leading brand (1.9%) and having a personal relationship with a vendor (6.0%).
  • Among 32 brands, Google received the highest rating (73.0%). The rest of the top 10 are FedEx (65.7%), HP (64.9%), UPS (64.6%), Microsoft (61.8%), Sony (56.5%), Dell (51.9%), Staples (51.4%), Office Depot (49.0%) and Sam’s Club (48.4%).

About the studies

Marketing to SMBs in 2009 is based on a survey of 50 small to medium business marketers. Respondents include Advanta, AT&T, Bank of the West, Cisco Systems, Comcast, Dell, Harris Bank, HP, IBM, Intel, Intuit, NetSuite, Sage, SAP, Sun Microsystems, U.S. Bank and Union Bank. The survey objective was to understand how marketers are targeting SMBs in this economy. The survey was fielded February 2-10, 2009.

SMB Media and Brand Preferences is based on a survey of 741 principals of US-based businesses with fewer than 500 employees. The survey objective was to better understand their marketing preferences and key business concerns. The survey was fielded January 28-February 25, 2009.

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