• The next year after an exhausting one is always filled with uncertainty. It happened in 2009/2010. It’s happening in 2021 as well. SMBs must get ready to adapt as the times change.
  • The rise of virtual events has opened doors of opportunities to SMBs. It has expanded the available options for customer engagement.
  • Voice assistants haven’t lived up to the hype, but they are still evolving. They are important in setting the direction of marketing efforts in the coming years.
  • AI has become a sort of buzzword these days. But that has not made anyone underestimate their importance. SMBs must leverage the cheaper data-driven insights that they can now access.
  • SMBs are in a better position to maintain relationships with customers. This is not due to tools and technologies, but due to the perception of consumers themselves.

2020 was the toughest year for small and medium-sized businesses. The impacts of the pandemic limited the growth resources available to SMB leaders. Yet, time does not stop. And with 2021 fast approaching, SMB leaders must adapt their marketing strategies. Marketing on a budget has gotten harder.

This article identifies some key drivers for SMBs in the coming year. And it explains how marketers must take advantage of them in order to stay competitive.

Virtual Events

COVID-19 drew us apart in 2020, but technology brought us close together. The business events industry underwent a significant transformation to digital. Between March and April this year, the live streaming sector went up by up to 45%. Likewise, Grand View Research reports that the video streaming market will expand at a CAGR of 20.4% over the next 7 years.

Virtual events are a way to diversify the customer experience. Several businesses embraced the use of video conferencing and social media live videos. It has helped them to connect with customers and engage them better. It is easier to plan and organize virtual events. So, businesses reach more customers than they usually had with in-person events. With logistics cost removed, many small businesses can now organize events better.

One of the strategies that helped this business owner gain staggering results through live streaming was that she maintained authenticity. She skipped the sales-y language and used a conversational tone to connect with her audience better. As a result, she made $90,000 in sales from a $900-budget Facebook live video.

The two key factors for successful virtual events are engagement and value. Make your event worth it by delivering value to attendees. Engage your customers before, during, and after the event to make a lasting impact.

Voice SEO

Most of the hype about voice search has turned out to be false and misleading. For instance, this is 2020, yet voice search does not take up 50% of all searches. That goes against the famously quoted, or rather misquoted report.

However, voice searches have undergone a steady increase due to the proliferation of voice assistants. Voice assistants have basically become part of people’s homes and their lives. Businesses thus face an increasing need to optimize their websites for voice searches.

For one, voice searches tend to be conversational and feature longer queries. People ask their smart speakers/assistants questions they will typically ask a human being. Therefore, optimizing for long-tail keywords should be a voice SEO priority.

In general, voice assistants use different methods to show results, so it is better to spread your net wide. Optimize your Google local pack listings, as well as listings on Yelp, Foursquare, and so on. Don’t forget to tell your customers to drop reviews too; they matter a lot. SMBs do have an edge with voice assistants as voice searches prioritize local business listings in pulling up results.

AI & Machine Learning

Back in 2019, the Salesforce State of Marketing Report projected a 257% growth in AI use cases in marketing within the following two years. The survey involved over 4000 marketing leaders of which 84% came from SMBs. In the following edition of the report, 84% of marketers reported using AI. That’s an increase of 29% from the previous year’s figures. There are strong reasons to believe that this trend will continue in the coming years. AI and ML will become mainstream and established as the norm in marketing.

Traditionally, SMBs have been disadvantaged in the use of AI in marketing due to budgetary limits. But there has been a steady transformation since last year. Notable is the introduction of tools such as Adobe’s Marketo, Salesforce’s Pardot and Einstein, and so on. Likewise, the use of Analytics Intelligence in Google tools has improved. Google Analytics helps marketers to set smart goals and create smart lists, etc.

AIM Consulting, for instance, helped a hotel optimize its marketing strategy using machine learning. They developed an algorithm, using multiple machine learning models, to automate the process of recommending upgrades and add-on experiences for guests. It worked, even in unexpected cases of two offers selling together. The value of data lies in how you can extract insights and turn them into action.

Relationship Marketing

The main theme in Deloitte’s 2021 Global Marketing Trends report is how businesses (big and small) are using more proactive methods to meet human needs.

A separate report, by Mckinsey, revealed an unprecedented drop in customer loyalty. 75% of US consumers have tried a new shopping behavior, including about 36% who had switched to a new product brand.

Big brands are the main beneficiaries of this trend. Apparently, small businesses have been the most impacted by lockdown measures, store closings, and the general economic pressure occasioned by COVID-19.

As businesses reopen from now through 2021, SMBs have a greater responsibility to regain and maintain loyalty through relationship marketing. Relationship marketing aims at fostering loyalty by focusing on the changing needs of customers. To achieve this, a business must position itself as a listening brand. Collecting feedback allows you to know the honest thoughts of your customers. It also helps you to understand their needs and serve them better.

Also, keep yourself at the top of your customers’ minds. How? Communicate with them regularly but not too frequently. Show them that you care about their concerns. Take time to respond to their feedback (on social media, by emails, etc.) but don’t make promises you can’t keep.

Zappos is a company to learn from when it comes to building strong relationships through customer support. Their call center staff have unlimited call times and talk to customers for as long as is necessary. Their current record for the longest customer service call is 10 hours and 51 minutes.

Aiming to forge real connections, the call center agents never use scripts. Therefore, interactions with customers can stray into personal topics such as weddings, birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, etc. Sometimes, customers even get mailed greeting cards from their Zappos connections. The philosophy of Zappos, which should be adopted by every SMB, is keeping customers happy.


The world still battles a public health crisis without a clear end in sight. There is a lot of uncertainty about the coming year than usual. Marketers, executives, investors, and everyone is being cautious about making projections. Whichever way it goes, the business would go on, even if not as usual. An essential skill right now is adaptation, and SMBs need a lot of that to remain on top of their game.