Artificial Intelligence and Online Marketing for Small Businesses

The global artificial intelligence race is on! Facebook, Amazon, Google, Alibaba are amongst the billion-dollar companies in play.

Google is one of the leading FAANG companies that has devoted huge amount of investments in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Almost everyday, new developments on Artificial Intelligence are announced on news and social media. Now with Tensorflow, Google's opensource AI framework is more accessible to more people who are willing to learn and experiment.

It's a good time to correct the myths surrounding Artificial Intelligence to give small business owners an edge and enable them to be more sustainable in the long term.

The 3 myths:

1) The insurmountable learning curve for small business owners.

Artificial intelligence is developed give people an easier life. The general attitude to machine learning technologies and artificial intelligence is to view this technological advancement as an opportunity to improve business processes not just in marketing but also in operations, customer service and accounting.

2) Marketing costs will rise especially in the digital arena.

Understandable. There is a fear that experts will charge a lot of money for their knowledge. To view marketing as an expense is debatable. Marketing is an investment, it's putting money into a system that is supposed to yield more gains for a business. The focus should be on the value of the ROI (return of investment).  It's important for the business owner to be able to quantify and track his marketing efforts to make the best judgment on which channel to use. Consider the Chat bots - an artificial intelligence application that allows businesses to have a higher level of engagement with customers without having to hire staff. Chat bots can be deployed on any web page or Facebook page and respond to customers questions via chat messaging in real time. Chat bots can handle multiple conversations at the same time. Chat bots are also self-learning.

3) Online Marketing will be so much more complicated.

Step back a little. Digital marketing is just traditional marketing using digital technology to distribute content on a faster and global scale. The core concepts of beautiful storytelling, educational information that appeals to the target audience, proper representation of company values, etc - these concepts still remain. Artificial intelligence in marketing allows businesses to dig deeper, immensely faster into data that will allow business owners to make better decisions about how to improve their marketing methods.

2017 Moving Forward with Digital Marketing

Online Marketing is a wonderful ballet dance:

1. Balance of creativity and data analysis
2. Grace and consistency in terms of customer service
3. Disciplined execution of strategies
4. Continuous training
5. Understanding of audience preferences and behaviour
6. Beautiful production and presentation (includes design)
7. Reliable backstage management and administration

The modern workplace is virtual. The modern manager / business owner works anywhere with anyone with incredible attitude and appropriate skill.  2017 presents amazing opportunities to succeed in an online business.

What's in store?

Search (Google) is a fragmented channel eg: organic search | local search | paid and mobile | voice search etc. This in-channel fragmentation is on top of general online channel fragmentation (social media | video advertising | email marketing etc). Each channel requires different sets of tools/softwares/strategies to excel.
Trends in "Online & Mobile Search":
1. Organic Search
a. Voice search
b. Mobile search; and increasing use of mobile and multi-tasking in multiple devices
2. In-channel search (Facebook has a slightly similar keyword search feature as well as sites like Pinterest and Tripadvisor)
Social Media will still kick in some sales. However there needs to be a disciplined approach to make the efforts work.  The key is to determine the channels that appeal to your market. 

Video Marketing is a good channel to investigate for small business. Video production is expensive but there are many ways to create low-cost and educational / inspirational videos these days using new apps and easy-to-use devices.

Google Adwords is an effective channel. A lot of business owners think it is very expensive to implement however a good understanding of customer acquisition costs will help in determining whether this strategy is best for your business.  This is certainly a quick way to spread awareness about your business.

Consider this post about Online Marketing Checklist and this post about Jumping into the Social Media Bandwagon.

We wish you the best year yet!

The Future is Mobile

E-commerce, mobile, responsiveness, work anywhere = keywords that are quickly shaping the landscape of business. The future is here. Already, 30% of online sales come from mobile devices. People are using their phones to do work, anytime, anywhere.  This is the modern way to work.
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Jumping Into the Social Media Bandwagon

My observations of small business owners in New Zealand and Australia over these years are:

1. Many SMEs are concerned about going online or participating in social media because they are not familiar with the common apps used on mobile these days.
2. Some business owners make a swift decision to go online and rely on bits and pieces of comments from people they know who operate in the field.
3. Some business owners believe that completely outsourcing social media to an agency will bring sustainable revenue.

The first is motivated by fear, which can be solved by knowledge. The second is a case of *knowing a bit of everything can be a dangerous thing*. The third is basically outsourcing responsibility. For 2 and 3, the solution is taking responsibility to learn more of the online market and aligning the implications to the business.

Social media is a communications channel where businesses can extend their marketing efforts through to the online world. Social media is not *the strategy*, it's a channel to implement a strategy - carefully examined and deliberated. An entire review of the business process, sales cycle, customer behaviour online and onsite (to name a few) needs to be done and documented to have great clarity of the processes that need to be implemented before and during an online launch. Knowledge of the online industry is important.  I encourage business owners to invest in learning about e-commerce:

1. To be able to ask the right questions when talking to agencies.
2. To be able to critically assess the suggested platforms, web apps, website features, technologies, etc.
3. To be able to understand the work that needs to be done and the time it would take to do it.
4. To be able to engage effectively with their contractor/employee/agency partner when things go wrong because there could be things that may go wrong along the process.
5. To be able to embrace the process of trial and error, experimentation and constant improvement in the online marketing efforts.

Social media or having a website is not a guaranteed success story. Online marketing is a high-execution, highly coordinated activity that relies on many factors. A few key factors are:

1. Knowledgeable staff/contractors/agencies
2. *Involved* business owner
3. Sharing of knowledge and information all throughout the process

The most successful businesses I worked with all involved highly engaged business owners - taking the lead in strategy formulation and initiating discussions and sharing knowledge and information with their partner agencies.

Going online is a potential opportunity to expand. However, careful analysis needs to be done before one jumps into the social media and online marketing bandwagon.

By LVD, Marketing Director, Web Marketing NZ/AU

Online Marketing Checklist

These are the top 5 elements of your online marketing strategy that deserves serious attention:

1. Mobile Website / responsive website - the sale of mobile devices have already overtaken the sale of desktop computers in 2013, surpassing expectations in 2014. Businesses trying to compete online need to make sure their websites are presentable on mobile in 2015.
- Increasing free internet hot spots will encourage people to check business, product details online
- Convenience of mobile is highly appreciated
- Keep your websites simple. Use colour to attract customers instead of effects like flash. The rule is: LESS IS MORE.

2. Effective Use of Social Media - Social Media apps dominate mobile devices. It is imperative to have social media channels which are regularly updated to reach more customers. It's important to have multiple social media channels too but choose the most effective ones that are used by your market most.
- Use informative images - simple infographics are better but the content needs to provide insights
- Use stunning and inspiring images - free tools like instagram and quick photo editing apps can turn amateur images into professional-looking ones. These apps give regular images additional effects to make it more appealing.
- Identify the channel which your market uses. Online consumers have distinct preferences on how they are viewing content. Most people are attracted to images. This is why Pinterest and Instagram are impressively very popular. Some markets like documentaries, videos, interviews, scientific papers. Some people are attracted to numbers and research. Determine how your customers digest information.

3. Effective content marketing - Always offer substantive, helpful articles to your readers.  Include maps, images, videos in your articles.

4. Paid advertising - experiment in small amounts. Social media channels like Facebook, Youtube will push paid advertising to its users. It's important to experiment on their channels in small amounts to study how they can potentially contribute to your overall marketing strategy. Invest in small amounts and evaluate the results immediately. All strategies need to be measurable so it can be improved.

5. Marketing promotions and product improvements - It's important to remember that social media and paid online channels like search engine marketing through Google Adwords are just channels to distribute information about your business. To enhance the effectiveness of your online marketing, you need to come up with promotions, packages that may attract your target market. Online consumers are bargain hunters. If not, at the very least, they are after the best value for their money. Showcase your product's features, advantages and benefits online. Create articles about new product launches or improvements.

Remember to have an integrated approach : Understanding of your own customer habits, where they hang out online, how they view your website, how your competitors are moving -- These are all very important elements that need to be added on your online marketing strategy for 2015.

Updated April 2015.
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