What 100 Small Business Owners Have to Say About Their Marketing

Updated: Check out the 2020 survey results here.

2019 Small Business Marketing Survey Report


Marketing for small business owners is often done on a wing and a prayer. But what if it was built on information gathered by their peers and a strategy built by those familiar with the challenges these owners face?

This is why we run our annual small business marketing survey each year. This provides the insights and trends small businesses need to be aware of, and gives us a chance to offer personalized advice based on these answers. We’re kind of like data-whisperers.

To compliment these insights, we’ve also brought together four trends small businesses can begin utilizing this year to make it their strongest year yet.

Let’s dig in.


We had 100 respondents, aged 25-54, and located in the United States. We ensured survey accuracy (as much as possible) by including a screener question to ensure only small business owners completed it.

In order to increase the number of completed surveys, we chose seven questions that would capture as much information as possible. These questions focused on marketing tactics for 2018 and planned tactics for 2019, and were all multiple choice.

Their responses are outlined in this report, and we have included graphs with each response.


This survey offered some telling signs into small business marketing, both good and bad. (Mostly good!) Results show that small business owners have fully embraced social media, which is what we like to see. It’s important to maintain an active presence online, and social media contributes to it.

We also saw, though, that respondents weren’t focusing on video marketing, even though it was one of the strongest tactics available in 2018.

Another opportunity small business owners are embracing in 2019 is lead generation. Some owners report struggling to convert customers into leads, while others want to increase sales, but aren’t fully utilizing lead generation.

A majority of small business owners surveyed are planning on maintaining their 2018 marketing budgets. Out of those who are increasing, social media, email marketing, and video production are the top three priorities.

Results: 2018 Marketing Tactics

We wanted to get a baseline for where our respondents were at, so we began by asking about their 2018 marketing tactics. This was a multiple response question; respondents could select each tactics they used.

The majority (54%) selected social media, while email marketing came in second place at 31%. Interestingly, 30% of respondents selected “None of the above”. The question rounded out with blogging, SEO, paid digital advertising, and video marketing, from more common to less.

1-marketing-tatctics-did-you-use-2018This feedback shows that while companies are fully onboard with using social media to drive sales, they’re having trouble keeping up with industry changes like the growth of paid advertising and video marketing.

It’s important to note that while social media can still produce valuable results, these new marketing trends for 2018 were producing results. As we head into 2019, it’s important that companies better adapt to trends.

Turning Strategies into Results

Our next question encouraged respondents to reflect on how successful their efforts were in 2018. Just over half of respondents selected that yes, they did find their marketing successful. 33% of these small business owners, however, didn’t know if their efforts were effective or not.

0-effective-marketingThis presents a problem, but it’s also easily fixed through trackable links and a bit of data analysis. Companies can fix it by implementing the Facebook Pixel on their website to help measure traffic and remarket to those users to increase conversion.

Using URL parameters in campaigns will offer superior tracking. Facebook offers this through their ads platform, and Google Tag Manager offers parameters that work outside of the Facebook Universe. For a quick way to track links, create a free Bit.ly account, create short links, and monitor traffic from their dashboard.

Once companies begin tracking links, they can prove marketing ROI by the increase in sales that can be attributed to marketing to the total marketing spend. On a small scale, say a company got 200 leads through a 60-day paid advertising campaign on Facebook, and 100 of those converted in customers.

During that month, they spent $3,000 on both lead generation ads and brand awareness ads. If the Average Lifetime Value of the 100 new customers is $200 each, then the company has made a $17,000 profit with a $3,000 investment. This was just an example and glosses over the optimization and content development that is needed, but it also shows the importance of tracking in marketing.

Planning for 2019

Then we dove into 2019. These business owners’ goals were primarily driving sales and retaining customers. Pretty standard for a business, right? We also liked seeing that 26% were focused on building brand awareness, though that should be higher! After all, it’s building a brand then converting leads into sales, not the other way around.


Out of all possible marketing tactics, the most popular choice for these small business owners was once again social media. Email marketing came in second at 33%, and video marketing close behind at 30%. This is encouraging to see, because email marketing is “owned” space compared to social media’s “rented” space. And while they may not have chosen video marketing in 2018, these owners were ready to say “yes” for 2019.

4-marketing-tactics-plan-to-use-2019Paid media came in last with only 10% of respondents choosing that investment. As Facebook and Instagram, in particular, continue to evolve, we recommend more business owners implement a paid media campaign. Even a modest budget can support lead generation and customer retention goals – as long as there is a strong foundation of content.

Small Business’s Marketing Challenges

This question is one of our favorites to include in every end-of-year survey we do, because it offers insights into the fixable marketing challenges owners face. We may not be able to change Facebook’s algorithm, but we can help make marketing easier.

If we remove the confident contingent, we see that time leads the way with nearly 30% of the responses. Converting leads into customers is troubling to 21% of these small business owners, while 18% are stuck on both capturing leads and generating traffic to their website. (Two very related challenges.)

5-biggest-marketing-challenge-2019If we get into lead generation a bit more, we can see how these small businesses are generating leads. Of those respondents that did collect information, 33% selected in person or on the phone. Events and email newsletter opt-ins were just about tied at 14% and 13% respectively.

Only 8% of these business owners were offering downloads on their website, which means these companies have room to grow in 2019. Investing in the content development for an eBook or checklist is quickly outweighed by the number of qualified leads companies will receive.

Collecting information from leads is a balance. It’s important to get enough information to provide leads with valuable content, but too many questions will create enough friction for a lead to leave before completing the page.

At a minimum, get their name and email. Their company name can help a salesperson qualify leads as well. If this is a brick and mortar location, companies can get their zip code to focus on those within a 5 or 10-mile radius. (This depends on how populated the area is and how far customers are willing to travel to visit.)

As with most of marketing, the key addition to a great lead acquisition campaign is value. If small businesses are providing enough value, prospects will be willing to provide more information.

0-collect-leadsPlanning and Implementing a Marketing Budget

Planning a marketing budget is a notoriously challenging task, especially for small business owners. With limited funds, everything needs to be carefully weighed and a comprehensive strategy isn’t always possible. In this survey, we found that 36% of respondents weren’t planning on budgeting more resources towards marketing.

7-marketing-tactic-budget-more-2019However, out of those planning to increase their budget, social media is again the winner with 25%, with email marketing not far behind at 21%. Video comes in third at 20%. It’s interesting to see how companies want to do more video marketing, but aren’t always willing to commit the funds. For these companies, we recommend free resources like Facebook’s Creative Hub or low-cost resources like Lumen5.

For the 20% that are planning on investing more into video, hiring an experienced video agency can help companies make the most out of their budget. Video agencies handle all pre-production, filming, and post-production services so owners can focus on their strengths. Assets like a company profile videos or product highlight videos are valuable for websites and social media, and when done well can help grow a company.

Whatever assets small business owners choose to invest in this year, it’s important to be aware of the trends.

Marketing Trends for 2019

At its core, marketing is about trend setting. This applies to both the companies developing services small businesses use and the type of marketing strategies these businesses employ throughout the year. These four marketing trends combine the classic marketing techniques like building buzz and creating connection with new technology and strategies.

Using Technology to Work Smart

As AI continues to develop in sophistication, it’s becoming easier than ever before to work smart. This was a big trend in 2018, and we’re predicting its continued growth, particularly in systems for small businesses.

One such tool is x.ai, an AI personal assistant that helps users automatically schedule meetings. Simply link it to a calendar, set a few basic parameters like the call-in number, meeting length, and location, and begin CC’ing Amy or Andrew on all emails. It appears as though acquaintances are conversing with a real assistant, but it’s actually an algorithm that will save hours every month.

Implementing Voice-Based Marketing to Increase Reach

Voice marketing is another growing sector of the marketing industry now that more people have a Google Home or Amazon Echo in their home. This takes visibility to an entirely new level. And while consumers haven’t adopted voice-based shopping as much as Amazon was predicting, voice-based search offers a valuable place for content strategy.

As the Content Marketing Institute describes, “Content marketers may want to focus their content voice-search-optimization efforts on emphasizing shorter-form content offerings and those that provide quick, concise answers – like FAQ pages.” Incorporating voice into an existing SEO strategy will help boost results. (Just make sure there’s high-quality content available!)

Prioritizing Ethical Personalization for Precise Delivery

After the year Facebook (and a number of other companies) had in regards to personal data in 2018, 2019 is the year of ethical personalization. Attribution and improved tracking provide enhanced ways to generate leads, but the “creep factor” is still an issue.

By using customer data ethically, small businesses can create effective marketing campaigns that reach the right users at the right time. Once companies ensure they are in compliance with GDPR regulations, they can begin personalizing their customers’ experience while maintaining strict data practices.

An example of this is an email drip campaign based on website viewing habits to personalize product recommendations and sales. The data remains with the company, and they can use it to provide a better customer experience for those on their email list.

Focusing on Experiential Marketing

Move over, traditional advertising. There’s a new type of sales tool in town. Experiential marketing, or creating an in-person experience for consumers, is set to grow significantly in 2019. Even if a company’s audience is spread across a wide geographical area, experiences create buzz.

As AdWeek describes, “Today, brands are comfortable blending media with experiences to amplify them, meaning that you can do something exciting for a small number of people and reach a larger group.”

This could mean partnering with a like-minded brand for an influencer event, or offering in-store activations like Abbott World Major’s world-record speed treadmill at a race expo. Runners were encouraged to maintain Eliud Kipchoge’s world-record marathon pace for 200 meters, and it swept through social media faster than the 4:38 per mile pace.

Experiential marketing works for both service and product-based companies, and is one of our favorite ways to build a rapport with a target consumer.


Marketers continue to focus on what will immediately bring them the best ROI. This is typically a beneficial idea. But as we saw through these survey results, taking a long-term view and monitoring trends supports a healthy marketing lifeline in a changing world. As 2019 continues, those who find a way to implement these insights and trends are those that will experience the most growth.

As a small business owner, you have enough to focus on. By partnering with our team of strategists, writers, designers, and developers, you can make 2019 a year of growth and set yourself up for a powerful 2020. Get started today by giving us a call at (415) 640-8009 or sending us a message.

Marc Apple

Marc Apple

Digital Strategist

I like inbound marketing strategy, creative design, website development, analytics, and organic and paid search. That's what I write about.