As a small business owner, you understand the importance of discernment better than anyone.
Not only do your decisions directly impact the bottom line of your small business, but each choice you make has the power to affect others — including your family, your staff, and your customers.
That level of responsibility requires thoughtful analysis, keen insight, and often, a healthy dose of intuition.
These same qualities are essential when considering the latest developments in digital marketing. While understanding what “the next big thing” could be is invaluable, it’s equally important to be able to distinguish between fleeting fads and new ideas that offer real substance and potential for your business.
In this article, we’re going to identify 10 small business marketing ideas and trends that are expected to grow in popularity over the next 12 months, and help you decide which ones might apply to your business and your specific marketing goals.
While each of the free marketing ideas listed below has the potential to jump-start your business in 2024, the key is to sift through these trends with a critical eye, identifying those that truly resonate and have the potential to enhance your small business — while sidestepping those that don’t.
This discerning approach ensures your marketing efforts are not only innovative but also authentic, sustainable, and balanced.
1. AI Marketing Automation: The Future of Customer Interactions
The mere mention of artificial intelligence often conjures up fantasies of either a future utopia or an apocalyptic doomscape. Like most things, however, the truth is not found in the extremes.
In digital marketing, AI is being pragmatically employed to analyze customer data, predict behaviors, and automate personalized marketing actions.
This technology enables small businesses to streamline their marketing processes, making them more efficient and targeted.
What Does AI in Marketing Provide?
- Enhanced Personalization: AI analyzes customer data to tailor marketing messages and offers to individual preferences. This results in more relevant and engaging experiences for both existing customers and prospects.
- Predictive Analytics: AI can forecast future customer behaviours based on past interactions. This allows small businesses to anticipate needs and preferences, optimizing marketing efforts for better results.
- Efficient Campaign Management: AI automates repetitive tasks in marketing campaigns, such as email sending, social media posts, and ad placements. This increases efficiency and allows businesses to focus more on creative and strategic aspects.
How Does AI Marketing Automation Work?
By implementing AI marketing automation, a small chiropractic clinic could automatically analyze patient appointment histories, treatment preferences, and feedback to send personalized health tips, appointment reminders, and special offers for wellness programs.
For example, a patient who regularly seeks treatment for sports injuries could receive targeted content on sports injury prevention and special discounts on related wellness services. This not only enhances the customer’s experience but also increases the likelihood of increased appointments and client loyalty.
2. Increased Focus on Local Search Optimization
Focusing on local search optimization has become an essential aspect of marketing for small, local businesses looking to enhance visibility within their immediate geographic area. And this targeted approach to enhancing a small business’s online presence and visibility in local search results is only going to grow in popularity over the next 12 months.
By focusing on local SEO, businesses can target their efforts to effectively connect with customers in their community, increasing both online and in-store traffic.
What Does Local Search Optimization Provide?
- Boosted Local Visibility: Optimizing for local search helps local business owners appear more prominently in local search results, directly impacting foot traffic and local customer acquisition.
- Targeted Customer Reach: By appearing in local searches, businesses specifically reach customers who are searching for services or products in their area, increasing the likelihood of attracting relevant clientele.
- Enhanced Community Presence: A strong local SEO strategy positions a local business as a community staple, fostering local loyalty and repeat business.
How Does Local Search Optimization Work?
An HVAC company could enhance its local SEO by ensuring its Google Business Management is rich with up-to-date information, including service areas, hours, and customer reviews.
Utilizing local keywords like “best HVAC service in (City)” throughout their website and in online content, including blog posts about common HVAC needs in their specific area, could further boost their local online presence.
Regularly engaging with customer reviews and local community social media posts also strengthens local SEO, making their small business more visible to residents seeking HVAC solutions.
3. Voice Search Optimization is The Next Step in SEO
The progression from local search optimization to voice search optimization is a natural one because people are increasingly relying on voice search for local results, especially when they’re on the move and in immediate need of products or services.
Optimizing for voice search means adapting content for better visibility from a target audience in voice-activated search results, usually through well-researched, long-tail keywords.
This trend blew up last year as voice searches became increasingly common due to the rising popularity and accessibility of voice-assisted devices like smart speakers, smartphones, and voice-enabled virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa.
What Does Voice Search Optimization Provide?
- Improved Online Visibility: Optimizing for voice search can significantly enhance a small business’s visibility in search results tailored for voice queries. Just as optimizing for regular search can result in more prominent placement on Google, optimizing for voice means that when customers use voice search, the business’s information appears higher on the search results page.
- Customer Convenience: By catering to voice search, small business owners make their company’s information more accessible and easier to find through voice-activated devices. This convenience appeals to users who prefer quick, spoken queries over typing, especially when in a vehicle, walking around or multitasking.
- Localized Marketing Opportunities: As previously mentioned, voice search is frequently used for finding local services or businesses, making it a powerful tool for localized marketing. By optimizing for voice search, businesses can effectively use local customers as a target audience who are actively searching for services or products in their immediate area, increasing local traffic and sales.
How Does Voice Search Optimization Work?
For a local plumbing company, optimizing for voice search would involve incorporating phrases people are most likely to use when searching for their services, such as “best emergency plumber near me” or “affordable pipe repair services in (Your City).”
This approach will lead to higher visibility in local voice search queries, making it easier for nearby residents to find their services when urgent plumbing needs arise.
4. Authentic Micro-Influencer Marketing Is On The Rise
Partnering with online influencers for brand endorsements has been popular for a while, but recently the trend has shifted toward more authentic endorsements from micro-influencers who possess smaller, but highly engaged and specific audiences.
For small businesses, it costs less to partner with micro-influencers and in terms of qualified leads, the results are often better than connecting with a more popular influencer with a wider audience.
What Does Micro-Influencer Marketing Provide?
- Direct Access to Niche Markets: Collaborating with micro-influencers provides businesses direct access to specific demographic segments, enhancing the effectiveness of small business marketing campaigns.
- Authentic Promotion: Micro-influencers are seen as more relatable and trustworthy, lending authenticity to their endorsements.
- Improved Engagement Rates: Due to their perceived authenticity, micro-influencers often enjoy higher engagement rates with their audience, leading to more effective promotions.
How Does Micro-Influencer Marketing Work?
A small automotive repair shop could significantly boost its visibility by partnering with a local influencer known for their expertise in auto mechanic hacks. The influencer would share posts or videos about the quality of services, unique offers, or behind-the-scenes looks at the shop’s operations.
An approach like this would attract the right type of customer and build trust among the nearby community because the endorsement comes from a recognized and trusted local figure.
5. Leveraging User-Generated Content for Authentic Engagement
This list of ideas and trends for 2024 began by highlighting marketing automation through AI.
While AI brings efficiency and precision to marketing strategies, it also underscores the need to maintain a sense of authenticity within your brand. As more marketing processes are automated, striking the right balance between technological advancement and human touch becomes more important.
For marketers, that’s meant an increased emphasis on User-Generated Content (UGC).
UGC is any form of content, such as text, videos, images, reviews, or social media posts, that is created by the customers rather than the brand itself. It’s the genuine experiences and opinions of real people talking about your products or services.
As the importance of authenticity increases as a counter-balance to increased automation and perception-obsessed brands, UGC will become more important than ever to ensuring audience engagement is grounded in real, relatable human experiences.
What Does User Generated Content Provide?
- Authentic Brand Representation: UGC provides an unfiltered and authentic glimpse into how customers interact with and perceive your small business. This raw, genuine representation helps humanize your brand and convey the values and benefits of your small business more effectively than traditional marketing content.
- Higher Trust Among Potential Customers: Seeing real customers endorse a business naturally enhances the credibility of your business. This trust is built on the foundation of transparency and honesty that UGC inherently provides.
- Increased Customer Engagement: UGC not only showcases customer experiences but also invites ongoing interaction and community building. This active participation enhances customer loyalty and engagement, as customers feel valued and seen.
How Does User Generated Content Work?
For local trades, encouraging customers to share their experiences and photos of completed projects can be highly effective.
An electrician, for example, could incentivize customers to share their experience or post photos on social media channels, tagging the small business. This not only serves as proof of the electrician’s expertise but also leverages the customer’s network for broader exposure, effectively turning satisfied customers into brand ambassadors.
6. Social Commerce: Transforming the Digital Shopping Experience
Using social media channels to promote your products and services is nothing new, but small businesses are finding a new area of success by using their social media accounts to sell directly to their customers.
Social media platforms are increasingly integrating e-commerce features into their services, offering a whole new sales channel for small businesses.
What Does Social Commerce Provide?
- Streamlined Shopping Experience: Direct product purchases on social media platforms simplify the buying process for customers, increasing sales potential.
- Broader Product Exposure: Social media’s wide reach exposes products to a diverse audience, enhancing brand visibility.
- Enhanced Customer Engagement: The interactive features accompanying e-commerce options on social platforms allow for real-time engagement, building stronger customer relationships.
How Does Social Commerce Work?
A small landscaping business could use social commerce by showcasing their projects on platforms like Instagram and Facebook, complete with descriptions, pricing, and direct booking options.
If they also sell products like top soil, fertilizer or gardening tools, they could utilize features like Instagram Shopping to tag products in posts, allowing customers to purchase them instantly.
They could also engage with their target audience through live streams discussing landscaping tips, answering gardening questions or showcasing new projects further driving interest and sales directly through social media accounts.
7. The Rise of AR and VR in Marketing
Gone are the days when marketing was confined to print ads and web pages. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are increasingly being used to offer interactive and immersive experiences that were once the stuff of science fiction.
These technologies provide innovative avenues for businesses to captivate and engage customers in ways never before possible — and the barrier to entry for this tool is lessened everyday by both hardware and software innovations.
What Do AR and VR Provide?
- Unique Customer Experiences: By bringing digital elements into the real world or immersing customers in a virtual environment, AR and VR create unforgettable, engaging experiences that differentiate a brand from its competitors.
- Enhanced Product Visualization: These technologies allow customers to experience products or services in an incredibly lifelike manner. Whether it’s trying on clothes virtually or visualizing furniture in a room, AR and VR make it possible.
- Interactive Brand Storytelling: Beyond just showing products, AR and VR enable businesses to tell their stories in dynamic, interactive ways, fostering a deeper emotional connection with potential customers and existing customers, too.
How Does AR and VR Marketing Work?
A general contractor could use AR technology to provide unforgettable client consultations. Clients would no longer have to rely on imagination or blueprints to visualize their renovation projects. Through an AR app, they can see potential changes superimposed in their actual space.
This not only aids in decision-making but also showcases the contractor’s capabilities, significantly enhancing client satisfaction and engagement. By bringing a client’s vision to life before any physical work is done, the gap between concept and reality is bridged, creating anticipation and excitement about the project.
8. Video Marketing: Engaging Customers with Dynamic Content
While AR and VR can offer a whole new level of interactivity, their rise won’t eliminate the need for other recent innovations that have proven to be more than passing fads.
Short-form videos and live streaming will continue to captivate potential customers in 2024, offering a balance between more immersive experiences and traditional text-based content.
What Does Video Marketing Provide?
- Enhanced Brand Engagement: Videos breathe life into marketing campaigns. They provide a vibrant medium to convey brand messages, showcase products or services, and deeply engage with audiences in a visually compelling way.
- Versatility Across Platforms: One of video marketing’s greatest strengths is its adaptability. Whether it’s a quick snippet on Instagram, a detailed explainer on YouTube, or an interactive live session on Facebook, video content can be tailored to fit various platforms, thus broadening its reach and impact.
- Strong Emotional Connection: Videos have the unique ability to weave storytelling into marketing, creating a deeper emotional connection with viewers. This connection can transform passive viewers into active participants and loyal customers.
How Does Video Marketing Work:
Consider a local bakery that decides to employ video marketing. By creating short, engaging videos showcasing their baking processes, special ingredients, and behind-the-scenes glimpses, they offer customers a taste of their culinary art.
These videos can be shared across social media platforms, enticing viewers with visual and sensory details of freshly baked goods. Additionally, the bakery could host live baking sessions or interactive Q&A segments on social media, allowing viewers to learn baking tips and engage directly with the baker.
This approach not only educates potential customers about the art of baking but also builds a community around the bakery’s brand. It’s a recipe for fostering a connection that goes beyond just selling baked goods. It crafts an experienced around a shared passion.
9. Privacy and Data Protection: Building Consumer Trust
So many of the ideas and trends we’ve identified so far are deeply connected to technological advances. And as we hinted at with the very first mention of AI, there can be a measure of fear attached to technology, especially when it’s just emerging.
For many consumers, this fear centres around unauthorized access to their personal data.
To alleviate this hurdle, prioritizing data privacy is a must for small business owners. But there’s an added benefit to this protective approach. It provides you with an opportunity to let your customers know about the steps you’re taking to protect their information. This is a fantastic way to build consumer trust in yourself and your brand.
What Does Marketing Privacy and Data Protection Provide?
- Increased Customer Confidence: Implementing data privacy measures helps reassure customers that their personal information is secure. This confidence is crucial in nurturing a relationship of trust between the customer and the small business.
- Compliance and Risk Reduction: Businesses that stay compliant with data protection regulations not only avoid legal penalties but also mitigate the risk of data breaches and the subsequent loss of consumer trust.
- Positive Reputation: A strong commitment to data privacy can significantly enhance a business’s reputation. Companies known for protecting customer data are often viewed as more trustworthy and reliable.
How Does Marketing Privacy and Data Protection Work?
Consider a boutique online retailer specializing in handmade crafts. By transparently communicating its data practices, such as how customer information is collected, used, and protected, the retailer builds trust with potential customers — not only in making a purchase with credit card information, but in the overall brand that has taken the effort to protect its customers.
This can include clear privacy policies on the website, explicit consent forms for marketing communications, and secure online transaction processes. By demonstrating a clear respect for customer privacy, the retailer creates a safe and trusted environment, encouraging repeat business and customer loyalty.
10. The Growing Trend of Sustainability in Purpose-Driven Marketing
Sustainability and purpose-driven marketing are no longer just buzzwords; they’ve become essential components of modern business practices. And we’re not just referring to lip service from the communications departments of large corporations. Local businesses — especially trades that use tactile materials — can market their sustainability efforts to great effect.
With a growing global emphasis on environmental responsibility, incorporating these elements into marketing strategies is the best way for a small business to connect with today’s conscious consumers.
What Does Sustainable Marketing Provide?
- Alignment with Consumer Values: As awareness about environmental issues grows, consumers are increasingly seeking brands that align with their values. By integrating sustainability into marketing, companies can resonate with this audience, building a base of environmentally conscious customers.
- Long-Term Customer Loyalty: Customers are more likely to stay loyal to brands that demonstrate a genuine commitment to social and environmental causes. Purpose-driven marketing strategies create deeper emotional connections, developing lasting relationships with consumers.
- Differentiation in the Market: In a competitive marketplace, sustainability can be a significant differentiator. It sets a brand apart as a forward-thinking, responsible entity, appealing to a demographic that values ethical practices.
How Does Sustainable Marketing Work?
A small roofing company using eco-friendly materials while providing energy-efficient roofing options could emphasize these products and practices on social media. They could even take things a step further by sharing stories about reducing waste in roofing projects or their participation in local environmental initiatives.
The next step would be engaging their audience through educational blog posts about the benefits of green roofing. These efforts not only demonstrate their commitment to sustainability but also educate and attract environmentally conscious homeowners.
By integrating these values into their marketing narrative, the roofing company can create a distinct and appealing brand image, resonating with a market segment that prioritizes environmental stewardship.
How to Choose Which Ideas and Trends are Right for Your Business
And there you have it: 10 small business marketing ideas and trends that all have the potential to help grow your business in 2024.
But remember, this list is not a one-size-fits-all solution. As we mentioned at the very beginning of the article, the key to successfully leveraging advancements in digital marketing is found in discernment — understanding which ideas align best with your business goals, resources, and customer base.
This discernment is crucial, as it can mean the difference between a strategy that elevates your business and one that doesn’t resonate with your audience.
When we talk about the level of discernment necessary for small business owners, it’s important to acknowledge that it sometimes involves recognizing your own limitations and knowing when to reach out for external guidance to make the most informed decisions.
Partner with Harvard Excelerate
This is where consulting with local digital marketing experts can be invaluable.
Our team at Harvard Excelerate is ready to provide you with the insights and advice that will make 2024 the best year yet for your business.
Partnering with Harvard Excelerate offers more than just trend analysis; it’s about understanding your unique business context and objectives. We help you sift through the noise to identify marketing opportunities that align with your brand values, target audience, and long-term vision.
It all begins with a free, no-obligation quote that will help you uncover the potential of digital marketing for your business through:
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Click here to get a free quote from Harvard Excelerate today and empower your business with the perfect, customized mix of emerging trends and tried-and-true marketing approaches — that all combine to improve your bottom line and grow your small business.