What 100 Small Businesses Think About Marketing in 2020

2020 Small Business Owners Marketing Survey



Small business marketing is usually a mix of frantic social media posts and hoping the latest blog post is working. But let’s reframe that and use data to properly prioritize different marketing channels for your small business.

In our annual small business marketing strategy, we’ll be reviewing how small business owners perceive marketing in relation to their business, what has worked in 2019, and what marketing options they’re planning on using in 2020.


We surveyed 102 United States-based respondents between the ages of 25 and 64. We used a screener question to ensure that we only received responses from small business owners. If they answered “no”, then they did not complete the survey.

Our target audience are busy business owners, which meant we wanted to make sure we could get valuable information with as little time investment as possible. This led to six questions covering 2019 strategies, 2020 planning, challenges, and of course, their goals from marketing.


The top marketing channel for these small owners is still social media, similar to 2019. Understandably, the top goal for these business owners is to drive sales and retain customers, regardless of the channel theyre using.

These questions also revealed some interesting insights into small business owners’ desire for support as well as a lack of understanding about marketing channels, content, and strategy. There are also some generational differences that highlight how different age groups perceive marketing. 


What Did & Didn’t Work in 2019

If we had a confetti cannon, we’d launch it right now because 76% of respondents said that they felt their marketing in 2019 was successful.


Based on our 2019 small business marketing survey, these owners focused primarily on social media, email marketing, and blogging. These are fairly common marketing channel choices, and it’s encouraging to see that these small business owners are finding it successful.


2020 Planning & Execution

When asked what marketing channels they plan on using in 2020, 53% of small business owners said social media. The next biggest channel was email marketing. This is great news! Email marketing contributes a significantly larger ROI to a company compared to other channels. In fact, research shows that email marketing generates as much as $38 for every $1 spent. Now that’s an ROI.


The remaining channels (paid ads, SEO, videos, and blogging) were within three percentage points of each other. While these are more complex channels than social media and email marketing, they can be done. Technology has made creating simple, high-quality videos as easy as unlocking your phone, and the immense number of blog content means you can gain a basic understanding of SEO, advertising, and blogging itself for free.

We’d be remiss, though, if we didn’t mention that 34% of respondents stated that they were planning on using none of the options we had mentioned. Marketing is an investment, but it’s also an important way that companies grow. So let’s talk about how to turn those challenges into opportunities.

While these insights are helpful, we also want to dig a little further, like looking at how generational differences impact marketing preferences.


Generational Differences in Marketing Strategies

Just like there are generational changes in social media preferences, there are preferences on marketing channels for small businesses. Small business owners between 35 and 44 rated email marketing 15 points higher than owners between 55 and 64. Owners between 45 and 54 are planning to focus on SEO and email newsletters equally.

These are the priorities for 35 to 44-year-old small business owners:


These are the priorities for 55-64-year-old small business owners:


These are the priorities for 45 to 54-year-old small business owners:


There is a channel that ranked top among all age brackets, though, and that’s social media. Regardless of your target customer, there’s a social media channel that’s right for you. TikTok for Gen Z, Instagram and Twitter for millennials, and Facebook for the boomers. Pinterest is better targeted by industry, since there is a wide range of users.

Now that we’ve covered how owners perceive marketing planning, let’s dig into how they can turn challenges into opportunity.


Turning Small Business Marketing Challenges into Opportunities

One of our favorite questions to include in this yearly survey gauges the respondents’ emotion towards marketing. Like last year, 56% of respondents agreed that the top marketing challenge was the lack of time. And it makes sense. Owners are trying to do far too many things, and qualified employees can be expensive.


However, there are plenty of ways to work around it. A lack of access to resources isn’t true anymore. With tools like Facebook Creator Studio and Canva, all small business owners can learn to better grow their presence online. And there are marketing agencies focused on small businesses that can help you determine what to prioritize and then implement it for you. (Hi! That’s us. Let’s chat.)

The next three reasons focus on a lack of understanding,

  • The “rules” keep changing and I can’t keep up.
  • I don’t understand how to judge success.
  • I don’t understand what I should do first.

This is to be expected. Marketing is complex, and one of many things you have to do while running a company. A lack of understanding is also different than a lack of time. Even if you have time, a lack of understanding won’t help you spend it efficiently, because you’ll be wondering what to accomplish. Blog post? Social media? Video? Whole new website?

This is another way partnering with a small business-focused marketing agency can help your business grow online. They can take your goals and target customer and turn them into a plan with the right marketing channels. Choosing the right agency is like finally being able to see clearly for the first time. They’ll show you what you need to focus on, what numbers you can ignore, and what all those numbers and percentages on social media and in Google Analytics mean.


What Did You Answer? We’d Like to Know!

If you’re looking for a marketing agency with a track record of success with small businesses, let’s chat. We can help focus your marketing, show you what you need to focus on, and how to increase sales in 2020.

[Infographic] Survey Results


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.