Small Business Trends Study

Small businesses prioritize marketing & customer acquisition, despite current climate

While the lingering impact of the pandemic and new economic headwinds are creating uncertainty for small businesses, our latest research shows room for optimism. Across the board, small business owners are telling us that they remain positive, are maintaining or increasing their marketing spend & activity and are going for growth.  

Vista’s latest State of the Small Business Marketing Study 

As the expert design and marketing partner to small businesses, Vista’s Customer Insights Team runs a quarterly tracker to understand and shed light on SBOs’ needs, how these evolve overtime, and the overall small business landscape. For our latest edition, we surveyed SBOs in the US, UK, Australia, Germany and France and asked them how they responded to the current challenges and what their main areas of focus have been between July and September 2022.   

Laura Hutchinson, Head of Customer Insights at Vista, said: ”In an ever-changing business landscape, it’s critical we understand how current events are impacting small business owners and their marketing and design needs so that we can be the best possible partner to them. The latest results show a lot of resilience amid a challenging backdrop, as small businesses maintain their focus on marketing and growth.” 

Small businesses remain resilient 

The economic landscape is adversely affecting SBOs, with the top current challenges including inflation (86%), threat of recession and energy prices (79%). Half of SBOs still report being negatively impacted by COVID-19, although this figure is down 6% vs the first three months of the year.  

Despite these headwinds, over two-thirds (67%) of global SBOs feel positive about their businesses. Sentiment is also much more positive now than it was at the peak of the pandemic, when sentiment fell to 56% in November 2020. In the US, SBOs remain upbeat about their prospects in the New Year. In fact, 66% say they are optimistic about the state of their small business heading into 2023. 

To prepare for economic challenges, SBOs are focused on keeping debt and expenses to a minimum (45%), scaling back spend (35%) and focusing on cash flow (28%). What might surprise you, though, is that a continued investment in marketing follows shortly behind, outpacing measures like diversifying product offerings. 

Small business marketing spend and activity  

According to our report, even with concerns around rising costs and inflation, more SBOs are saying their marketing time/effort and spend has increased in the last 3 months vs. decreased, suggesting they are still focused on growing their businesses. Intention to purchase marketing products and services remains stable quarter over quarter, with print having the highest purchase intent.  

Customer acquisition (45%) is the top marketing priority among small business owners followed by awareness building (27%) and getting customers to recommend their business (26%).  

Small businesses give greatest importance to word-of-mouth marketing (43%) when attracting customers, followed by social media (33%) – showing they are leveraging a combination of print and digital to attract customers. This could include using branded swag to help spark conversations around your business, or design tools to create engaging graphics for social media.  

Concerning marketing channels, the most popular among small business owners globally are still social media (65%) followed by website (56%) and in person/face-to-face (49%). However, print marketing and events have seen the largest increase in popularity compared to the previous quarter globally. 

Mirroring the top priorities, small business owners are looking for advice on how to attract and target new customers (37%), marketing their brand online and expanding and growing their business (22%). Ideas & Advice offers small businesses tips, practical advice and inspirational stories to help small business owners with all these challenges, amongst others.  

Country differences 

Although business priorities are mostly consistent, we see country nuances. Anglo countries show more focus on selling products online and maximizing customer spend, while EU countries prioritize word of mouth. 

When it comes to differences in marketing efforts between countries, our research found that in person/face-to-face was particularly important in Germany and is the most popular marketing channel for 68% of German SBOs. Print marketing is also the third most popular channel in both France and Germany.  

While purchase intent for print marketing products has risen across categories, there is higher intent to buy promotional products in France and signage in Australia.  

Hutchinson comments: ”Our results find that marketing matters to SBOs during a difficult business climate, as it’s more important than ever for them to reach and stay connected with customers whose own behavior may have shifted. While there are nuances on how small businesses from different countries prioritize channels, most are taking a 360-degree approach to marketing, showing that print and digital play complementary roles in attracting and retaining customers.”