In our 18 years in business, we’ve come across all kinds of businesses and even NGOs. Big ones, little ones, even Government departments and Government-linked agencies.
But most of all, we deal with business owners especially SMEs (Small Medium Enterprises). They’re either run and managed directly by the founder-owner-CEO or they’re family businesses, inherited from their grandparents. (In Penang, there seems to be quite a number of these inherited businesses where the 3rd generation, after their British, Australian or American tertiary education, return to good old Penang to make good with their business/accounting/finance degrees.)
Malaysian Companies Lagging in Digital
So I was quite interested in reading this article by Karamjit Singh titled “SMEs are laggards, but with good reason”. Just in case the article gets archived, the gist of the article is this – Mr Singh says that SMEs in Malaysia that “make up 99% of all registered businesses in an economy and generate over 50% of employment, are digital laggards.”
He continues by saying, “The real pain point for SMEs in adopting digital is not that they don’t realise how important it is. They just cannot find the right people to manage their digital presence, be it on social media, their website, or most importantly, in marketing themselves to the right target audience.”
While I certainly agree that adopting digital has never been easy for any business and finding digital experts or social media strategists isn’t the easiest challenge to solve, I believe the problem with the SMEs we know of and speak to, is this: they don’t have the right digital mindset and they apply traditional ways of marketing to their digital efforts.
Some SMEs think that social media is a channel to blast their deals and promotions every day.
Other SMEs think that they must see an immediate return on their investment in social (overheard one day: “How many people bought our products after you’ve put out our offer on FB?”).
Worse, some just give the social media updating responsibilities to that poor, overworked clerk or admin staff because it doesn’t seem important enough to hire someone or to outsource! (Remember, that poor gal didn’t have any training in social media management but she is expected to help her company promote/grab/attract as many fans as possible.)
Most SMEs that I know of just don’t understand or have the right mindset for digital marketing. And let’s just put it right across: digital marketing encompasses more than just social media.
Before Doing Digital Marketing…
The right mindset covers these and more. If SMEs in Malaysia want to get into the digital arena, they should ask themselves these questions for a start.
- How can we use our website to its fullest marketing potential? (Is our website credible? Is it made for marketing?)
- How do we integrate marketing seamlessly? How do we integrate offline with online without losing the essence of our message?
- What must we do, whom should we hire, what new positions should we create or what resources should we allocate if we want to be excellent in digital marketing?
- What types of value-added content can we create or re-purpose to show that we are an SME that’s worth paying attention to, rather than constantly bombarding fans and followers with deals and more deals?
- What is our strategy for using Facebook (or whatever social media you intend to use)? Are we using Facebook to lead interested fans back to our website to discover more, download a report, sign up for a newsletter etc. instead of pitifully trying to grab 5 seconds of our fan’s attention and never really going beyond that?
- Are we regularly keeping in touch with people/fans/followers? How much of real engagement happens?
- What are we saying to them and is our message memorable or helps them uncover more about us? (And how is this relationship progressing? Are we getting somewhere or are we going nowhere?)
- How do we know if our social interactions/digital marketing is getting us closer to our goal? (First, define the goal.)
- Are we keeping tabs on the data that social media provides and are we using the data to improve how we communicate?
- Who should be in charge of digital marketing within our SME?
- To what extent can we demonstrate our personality as an SME when we communicate with fans/followers?
(I have always found it odd that being professional is usually lumped with being serious and not showing even a tiny bit of who you are and what you do. Where’s the personality? In today’s digital era, if you’re not showing who you are, you’re not going to be gaining many fans! Why would people want to be associated with you if you’re just another SME?)
Do you know why larger businesses hire brand ambassadors? Because people (a.k.a your customers) identify with people! Who identifies with a corporation without a soul? So the corporation needs to put some soul, fun and sass into their business by hiring someone who has the qualities they don’t have. By doing so, it helps them connect to their customers!
Why Digital Marketing Frightens SMEs
Digital marketing is a little dissimilar to traditional marketing because suddenly, your customer can reach out to you without going through your advertising agency/gatekeeper/clerk/security guard. Your customer can proclaim to the world how amazing your business is or she could also turn around and complain how crappy your product is.
She can ask questions or leave comments on Facebook. If you answer the wrong way, your business looks stupid and unprofessional (especially if you have untrained staff, your teenager or family member helping you). If you don’t answer, you’ve got a case of “bad customer service” and get slammed even more!
In these situations, SMEs are right to be apprehensive about being digital or doing digital. This is why we say it boils down to the getting the mindset right before excitedly embracing it.
We’ve always believed that asking the right questions gets you the right answers. It may also unearth some unpleasant answers or show that your SME is completely unprepared for digital marketing.
Having a roadmap or plan of why you’re doing what you’re doing gives you control over this new territory. Once you have a plan, you can start be resourceful about people and training.
If you can’t afford to hire someone and you can’t afford to outsource to an expert or a social media management company, roll up your sleeves and learn how to do it on your own as a company or as a team. Give the person in charge or the team the right kind of training. These days, you can learn via consultation, training or even self-study online. But you must always have a plan first!
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