Telling the truth about SME life today

Using digital without compromising company history and heritage

The words “artisan” and “craft” might be bandied around whenever a new coffee shop, beer specialist or bakery opens, but we should remember there are plenty of long-established companies that have lived by this ethos for years, only with less noise.

Like with startup bosses, smaller heritage brand owners pride themselves on a kind of authenticity, knowledge and craftsmanship that corporate giants struggle to match. But quality products and positive public sentiments alone won’t sustain them in business. There’s a need to drive sales and customer loyalty in a competitive marketplace.

Ecommerce has been crucial for specialist retailers, as it helps broaden the scope far beyond physical stores and geographical location. Yet, with so many going down the same route, it’s also extremely difficult to stand out, especially when the likes of Amazon and eBay both using digital means to garner attention are taken into account.

Social media and email are essential marketing tools for any heritage business, though it can be double-edged swords. A poorly-targeted, “spammy” email campaign or social media post will immediately damage peoples” perceptions of the brand, potentially undoing the many years spent building and refining it.

For this reason, a small spend on social media ads is extremely worthwhile, since it allows companies to target new and potentially more receptive customers, rather than attempting to bombard existing community with organic posts.

It goes without saying that heritage brands, looking to generate sales by using digital means, need a well-functioning website that ranks well on search engines for relevant key words. It’s an ongoing exercise that involves fixing technical errors, like duplicate copy, optimising the site for mobile and undertaking keyword research.

A Google AdWords campaign is an effective way for specialist retailers to target specific customers looking for one-off products. However, it needs to be well-executed, otherwise they risk haemorrhaging money on activities that offer little return. There is little point, for example, trying to outbid a big competitor with a larger budget on popular or generic keywords.

Instead, heritage businesses need to identify the terms that offer the best returns for investment. Even with a relatively modest budget, a strategic AdWords campaign can quickly boost conversion rates. It’s an approach that proved effective for our client Throstlenest Saddlery, a family-run equestrian retailer with a reputation for premium riding equipment and clothing.

The owners wanted to ensure that the business” online activities delivered value-for-money, and tasked us with reducing the cost per acquisition, increasing website conversion and optimising a Google shopping campaign. Taking the existing PPC campaign, we looked at the analytics to see which terms had a high cost per click but weren?t positioned high in Google’s ad list, forcing spend in non-price competitive markets.

From this, we were able to price-skim the retailer’s entire product range to highlight the items that allowed us to both reduce the ad spend and offer a good return-on-investment. AdWords spend was therefore targeted at key terms for products that had previously shown strong conversions.

Over the course of this campaign, we managed to grow PPC conversion rates, whilst halving the monthly media spend and cutting the cost per acquisition. Google shopping revenue increased by nearly 250 per cent.

It’s easy for heritage brands to shy away from using digital marketing, or else waste limited budgets on activities that deliver little success, or even undermine the brand. Throstlenest Saddlery, on the other hand, is an example of how a well-respected local business can become a powerful force in the equestrian market, as long as it’s strategic in its approach.

Martin Harris is head of digital at Tank

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