Strategy is not a luxury for SMEs

6 min read 14 August 2019

Mobas Brand Strategist Katie recently read an article by Colin Lewis in Marketing Week and felt compelled to write a reply to argue why strategy shouldn’t be seen as a luxury that is out of the reach of small businesses. Here’s Katie’s response in her own words.

I just had to write a response to Colin Lewis. He claims that: ‘Small brands may have many of the same challenges as big brands, but growing a startup is about entrepreneurship and sales, not marketing strategy’. Well Colin, I am disappointed that you can’t see the value of your own trade.

According to Colin’s article, SMEs make up 99% of all businesses in the UK, which is a staggering and exciting proportion. SMEs are the heartbeat of the UK economy and I know this because not only do I work at one and have many as clients, but also my dad runs one.

While these companies may not have marketing budgets as large as the big corporates of the world, this doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t invest what time and money they have getting their marketing strategy right, and I’ll tell you why.

Gone are the days when the marketing tactics you had to choose from were essentially a combination of outdoor display, press advertising, TV and PR. There’s a whole heap of cost-effective tactics that mean SMEs can target their ideal customer easily and with just a small spend, including social media, PPC and even TV using digital TV targeting. Colin’s view of marketing is that you need big bucks to reach your audience so why bother? – and this simply isn’t true.

But how does a business know which tactics to choose from? Well, that’s where your marketing strategy comes in, which is why it’s so crucial for SMEs to invest in this. Rather than taking a scattergun approach to marketing and wasting vital funds, knowing who you’re targeting, what you’re targeting them with and why they might buy from you (rather than your competitor) is a very powerful vehicle to growth. Larger companies may have the luxury of being able to take a ‘test and learn’ approach to some of their marketing tactics, but an SME needs to get closer to their audience and understand where they’re consuming content, because they don’t have money to waste.

In a world where peer-to-peer recommendations are trusted more than big brand advertising, it’s the best opportunity for SMEs to get their products and services out there to their audience. This is definitely where social media has thrived in recent years, as Facebook and other social platforms have moved to an advertising algorithm model that automates the identification of ‘lookalike audiences’, and SMEs have reaped the benefits of this.

In terms of the brand itself, as an SME you’re more likely to have a highly motivated audience in terms of your own employees. Yes, they might be juggling tighter budgets and working longer hours in order to help grow the business, but this passion for the firm they’re working for – rather than clocking in and clocking out as anonymous employees of a big corporate – gives brands a huge opportunity to engage them as brand advocates.

People don’t buy from brands because of what they do, they buy from them because of why and how they do it. If your employees live and breathe your brand – from how they answer the phone to customers, to how they act at a networking event or write content for your website – this helps to engage a brand’s audience and allows them to buy into this vision.

I’m by no means saying that sales aren’t important for SMEs, of course they are! But sales with no direction or strategy are hard to build and impossible to scale. Sales and marketing aren’t alternative options, but rather should sit side by side, one powering the other.

Colin also quotes Professor Byron Sharp as saying that: ‘Many small businesses are more worried about whether they will still be in business next year’, which is absolutely true. But I’d also suggest that entrepreneurs start a business because they have a dream, and that’s what gets them out of bed every day. That dream is to sell, but it’s also to innovate, transform a sector, provide better service etc. and critically to grow and expand. That isn’t achievable without a clear strategy that plots future goals but also creates a path to achieve them.

What we need to remember is why that entrepreneur started the business in the first place. They may well have had some doors slammed in their face at the beginning and they may well have worked in their garden shed through to the early hours on many occasions. It’s this passion for why they’re doing what they’re doing that builds a brand – not the scramble to sell more widgets. While I completely appreciate many of Colin’s views, I have to disagree on this one. Our industry – and the make-up of the UK economy – has changed and is changing rapidly, so textbooks and theoretical models only go so far. Gen Z fully expects to be entrepreneurs, to have multiple income streams from diverse interests, and they have personal brand strategies to achieve those goals.

So whether you’re a 15 year old YouTuber or an SME with 20 years of experience and 200 staff, if you have a well-defined brand and a growth focused marketing strategy, you will not only have a passion that gets you out of bed every morning, but a clear direction of travel; and this is a very exciting place to be. As an entrepreneur there is no time or money to waste, so get that strategy right and focus on it – that way the sales will follow!

I would actively encourage any SME who is having doubts about whether or not to put that extra bit of budget towards marketing strategy to do exactly that. It’s this that sets you apart from your competitors and gives you a platform upon which to thrive.