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Are you taking social seriously?

A decade ago, if I wrote about the importance of digital marketing, the lion’s share of the merchant audience wouldn’t have paid much attention – “that’s for the kids and celebrities” would’ve been the stock response.

But today, 84% of the UK population – about 57 million people - use social media, scrolling for an average of 100 minutes every day.

Granted, many are under 18 – but those 18-year-olds from a decade ago? They are your customers now.

They source the bulk of their information from their smartphone and social media. This is not a revelation, and I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you – but are you ignoring it, or paying lip-service in your attempts to utilise it for your independent business?

The nationals certainly are not. They are experts in the promotion of their websites and prolific users of social media – they “get it” – and their customers (your customers) see their logo, open day events and special offers every day.

So how seriously do you take this competitive threat? Is anyone in your business up to date with the latest technologies, techniques, and trends to digitally combat the competitors, or do you put your faith mainly into passing trade, logos on trucks, word of mouth and long-established customer relationships?

What’s your strategy?

The reality is that digital marketing (your website, eCommerce site, and social media) should be a quantified role and task within the business, with a budget in terms of time and money, and should be measurable – just like a salesperson.

The structure and aims of your digital marketing should be part of your business plan for the next 12 to 24 months and, as technology changes so rapidly, reviewed regularly.

Your strategy should consider:

  • Is our brand catchy, clear, concise, and still relevant?

  • Who is our target audience (the jobbing builder, house builder, or both?) and how will this dictate our messaging and choice of platforms?

  • What is our company “voice” and how will it differ to competitors?

  • What will our website (brochure or eCommerce) provide to keep trade returning?

  • How will we measure the success of our investment?

  • What resource and budget are we willing to invest?

Naturally, none of this detracts from the importance of maintaining the core values of a merchant – availability, price, and service - but it gives you a great outlet to shout about it, letting your customers and potential customers know just how good you are.

Who’s going to do it?

Other than your decision to invest in digital marketing, the next most important question is who is going to do it?

The nationals will have Chief Marketing Officers with teams of staff which will be well beyond the means of the smaller independent – but you don’t need that level of resource or spend to have an impact in your locality.

At the very least, someone working within your business should be creating or suggesting regular content for your website and social platforms (special offers, open days, company notices, case studies, sponsorship of local sports teams).

If they don’t have the technical skillset to professionally update your website or create social media posts internally, then you have two options; either invest in sending them on the relevant courses (beware there are hundreds to choose from – most taking 1 to 2 years to complete), or work with an external professional who can provide advice, handle the technical roles and, if requested, provide training to your internal staff to improve their skillset, developing your self-sufficiency and maintaining the regularity of the posts and updates.

What costs should you expect?

To some degree this is relative to the size and scope of the business (branches and products will have an effect, as will the urgency to see results) but even a single-site merchant will need to invest a couple of hours’ worth of labour a week if working with an agency.

If you’re planning on carrying out the role internally then 15 to 30 hours a week is a reasonable expectation (excluding training and courses).

You’ll also need some basic subscriptions to social media scheduling and design tools, costing between £50 - £200 a month depending on how advanced you want to be in terms of reporting tools and approval levels (this doesn’t allow for eCommerce sites where the subscription prices can vary wildly).

With external marketing agencies quoting between £700 - £1,300 per month (according to many smaller companies may be discouraged from making the decision to outsource.

But the truth is there are hundreds of talented, and qualified, freelancers available that do not have the overheads to fund, nor the corporate customer base to influence their prices.

And how do you find such a freelancer? Well, if it’s not by word of mouth or recommendation, then it’s via their website or social media.

And if you can’t find them? Well, then they’re not very good at it, are they?


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