For SMBs, Digital Trumps Print — But Mobile Staggers

Increasingly, local retailers are ditching traditional ads and investing more in their digital presence management, a Borrell survey reveals. But mobile isn’t quite making the cut.

Gordon Borrell
Gordon Borrell

Digital presence management has become a primary concern for the majority of local brick-and-mortar businesses who are largely abandoning traditional advertising to invest more in digital media, a new report by Borrell Associates shows.

By the end of this year, 80 percent of SMBs will be using online media, up from 55 percent in 2011, says the survey, which consulted over 7,000 locally owned SMBs between January 20 and May 1 of this year.

The businesses that participated in the study are not “one-man shops,” as the white paper notes.

  • 72 percent of these SMBs have fewer than 50 employees; 48 percent have fewer than 10.
  • 74 percent are independently run
  • 70 percent have been in business for more than 10 years.
  • 71 percent make less than $2 million in revenue

On average, these SMBs use five types of media in their advertising mix (listed in order of preference): digital (including social media), local newspapers, local magazines, direct mail, and radio.

While local newspaper ads (bought by 54 percent of SMBs) come in as the second most preferred ad medium, Borrell’s research suggests that this won’t be the case for long — or at least that the value of print ad space will decrease as advertisers continue to shift more ad dollars into their first choice, digital, which at this point is barely ahead of newspaper, purchased by 56 percent of SMBs.

Surprisingly, mobile, whose growth has been steady in terms of its location-based ad functionality, takes the less than stellar sixth place as a marketing platform for SMBs. But that too is subject to change very soon, though it’s less of a sure thing for SMBs than the industry may think.

In Borrell’s study, only 21 percent of SMBs say they’re using mobile ads, which suggests a fairly weak advancement from 2011, when 15 percent of SMBs were using mobile. Back in 2011, 44 percent of Borrell’s study participants said they intended to incorporate mobile marketing into their advertising agenda. That same percentage today is saying the same thing.

As beacons become more commonly leveraged by SMBs, mobile will naturally also see an upswing in usage. But that’s a ways off according to Borrell’s study, which shows that currently only four percent of SMBs have used beacons and just 16 percent say they intend to within the next 12 months.