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  • Writer's pictureNat Sharp

Marketing tips for small businesses in 2021

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

Red computer mouse plugged into mini shopping trolley

5 major marketing trends to accelerate your small business

Whatever way you look at it, 2020 was a tough year for most SMEs battling against so much change and uncertainty. A quarter of UK businesses were forced to shut down, with SMEs seeing a 28% decline in revenue in the early days of lockdown. And with 25% of the population were furloughed, it was no surprise 3 in 10 of us made conscious efforts to switch our loyalty to cheaper, substitute brands to survive.

But it hasn’t all been doom and gloom. As out of the ashes of this pandemic, there are success stories up and down the country, with eCommerce playing a central role. Daily average global online sales have been up 7% and on average we’re spending up to 30% more per online transaction too. There has been a huge leap in our buying behaviour and we’ve vaulted five years in our adoption of digital.

Encouragingly, Directors have hailed this period their most innovative for their companies, with 56% adapting and changing at a pace to respond to this unprecedented market demand.

What does this mean for marketing?

Many traditional face to face marketing channels have all but vanished in recent months forcing businesses towards digital communication.

The pandemic has created new opportunities though, with 65% of marketers acknowledging new customers have been attracted to their products and businesses have been forced to diversify.

Furthermore, since lockdown, we’ve seen a positive shift in our attitudes towards companies attempting to do good.

These trends look to set to continue . So what can you do to ensure your business has adapted to changing customer behaviour?

1. Review your customer behaviour

With over three-quarters of us picking up new habits and routines in the wake of COVID-19, it's essential you’re aware how your customers may have changed. More of us are working from home with greater control over our own schedules. This has resulted in half of us doing more activities through personal choice which has driven the need to redesign purchasing journeys. Its never been more important to have a smooth, self-sufficient online customer experience.

Brands that innovate for the future ​are leading the way. I’ve witnessed this myself with my own clients. For Inno Construction, based in Kent, they quickly identified customer demand was changing ​ and ​wanted to understand​ ​​more. ​

We conducted market research to find out home owners attitudes and priorities towards home improvement projects in the South East. From this work, they not only gained invaluable insight into their market but were able to turn ​this into PR to raise their profile. More importantly, they could flex their offering and highlight sought after projects they could help customers with like home offices on the top of people’s wish lists.

Consider how how your customer routines and behaviours may have changed this year. With no commuting time for most of us how have your customers been affected?

2. Adapt your offering

It's critical for our survival to remain relevant in the current market. Only promote products and services that prospective customers are interested in right now. Not doing so runs the risk of customers switching off.

This goes beyond marketing. Consider your customer policies. Research shows 67% of enterprise businesses have changed their customer policies as a result of the outbreak.

Accredited life coach, Emma Jeffreys, owner of Action Woman advises:

"There is a change in the way people plan and commit. When we're surrounded by uncertainty it can be hard to be decisive. Where we once marketed a workshop a month out with tickets selling immediately, this year has seen more last-minute bookings. Early bird rewards, clear refund policies and the flexibility to allow last-minute bookings are now crucial."

Copier King, a photocopier & printer servicing company in Sussex, capitalised on changes in our working habits early on. They introduced remote support to their customers and expanded their product range to support home working with space-saving desktop multi-functional devices.

Continually review your business offering as the world around us changes. Are you providing what your customers need ? Are there opportunities for new product lines? And what new customers could you target?

3. Use different channels to reach your customers

Mini shopping trolley on laptop keyboard

The demand for multichannel has never been more apparent, with 51% of us wanting to shop both online and in-store and 36% opting for click and collect options. This vast increase in e-commerce is demonstrated through the 85,000 new UK businesses that created online stores over the last year. Adapting your route to market may be essential to survival as well as offering the customer choice.

Those businesses that sell directly to businesses (known as B2B) have needed to adapt too. 96% of B2B sales teams have shifted to remote selling and are twice as likely to be chosen as a primary supplier if they deliver an outstanding digital experience. But this is only the case if you’re able to demonstrate expertise, speed and transparency with the right online customer service tools. Are you able to do this?

Instead of face to face, live-chat is now rated as the top channel for researching B2B suppliers so integrate this into your website as long as you can resource this.

Flexibility, online consultations and contact-free services are prerequisites for any business operating in any market and look set to continue into next year. Make sure you’re making the right changes for your business. It isn't too late to start benefitting from new distribution channels which may streamline your business and lower overhead costs in the long run.

4. Walk the talk

Hands sharing a toy heart

Brand reputation has become one of the highest brand test differentiators during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consumers are looking for more from brands, with 78% of us thinking they should support us in our daily lives. A further 75% of us believe that brands should inform us of what they're doing.

Community has come into its own and businesses that show charity and a sense of giving back have seen great benefit in terms of public opinion.

This could be your defining moment. There has been no better time for promotions with charitable links and going above and beyond your customer's expectations.

Make sure you protect your brand reputation and live up to your own hype. What brand initiatives do you have planned for 2021? It simply isn't enough to just run acquisition and lead generation campaigns.

5. Put digital marketing front and centre

People are seeking more connection and inspiration and digital is allowing us to gain access to thousands of our prospective customers in a timely and cost-effective way.

Creating fun, positive content that weaves a sense of community should be a priority for businesses and social media is at the forefront. And it comes as no surprise that our usage of social media has increased to 36 days per year.

Many business owners have capitalised on this by upskilling and retraining, absorbing everything they can on digital marketing with organisations like Moz offering free courses.

Jess Morgan from Carnsight Communications describes her experience of this

“So many clients have upgraded their digital comms - websites, email and good, SEO-ready case studies. Social media is key.”

A traditional business exploiting digital for the first time comes in the form of my client Simmonds Ltd, a school uniform provider in the South East Kent. I helped launch their digital presence last June creating a new social media strategy, as well as creating digital content.

As a school-wear provider, they needed to communicate with thousands of parents who's children were starting a new school in September. Since the schools were partly closed, they had to cascade important information in the absence of school selling events. Over 50 bespoke videos were produced detailing the uniform requirements for the school and crucially how to measure your child and order online. This was a new way of working for the business that had been trading for over 180 years. They pivoted just in time to support parents who needed help kitting their children out for school.

It's clear there is a genuine trend towards not just in the adoption of digital, but a new type of digital. One which is more personable and authentic. Are you making the most of this channel?

Ensure you exploit all the free opportunities available from SEO, social media and blogging. Leverage all that digital marketing has to offer. It will require patience and commitment but should pay off in the long term.

Looking to the future

Being agile in everything you do is always a good way to approach running a business and that has never been truer than now. Its never too late to switch your methods and adapt your plans for 2021. Those of us who get stuck in our old ways pre-COVID-19 could risk getting left behind – our new consumer is more picky and discerning with how they spend their money.

Pay attention to your brand relevance at all times and continually adapt where needed. Survey your customers and take the time to fully understand what they really need from your business. Make use of that information to make yourself as relevant as possible, but be careful not to over-promise, you must be able to practice what you preach. Those who get caught out will not easily be forgiven.

Look to the long term to create the space for innovation. Try to understand what has changed forever and what may revert back. Businesses can’t stay in a state of crisis forever, there needs to be a point at which we accept a new base-line and move forward. Start collecting customer data and spot the trends that will hold true for the future and make plans to capitalise on these. If you haven’t already thought about embracing e-commerce, it's never too late to start.

Good luck with it, there is success to be had or at the very least some useful learnings to be gained. Agility and nimbleness are traits we’ll never regret mastering. And let me know your experiences and marketing success stories this year.


Reach3 Insights


CMO Study ‘COVID-19 and the state of marketing June 2020’


Kantar 2020 ‘The Global Impact of COVID-19’

Global Web Index ‘Consumer trends in 2020’ ‘The latest social media trends to know

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