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Do This, Not That: Your Guide to Successful Marketing in 2021

Learn what marketing strategies are helping successful businesses thrive and grow in today's remote-first landscape.

Do This, Not That_ Your Guide to Successful Marketing in 2021

As marketers, we’ve all felt the pressure over the last year to perform in a world that was shaken by COVID-19.

Marketing has grown leaps and bounds in just a short time to accommodate this new “remote-first” landscape.

So, what is working and what should you be doing?

On July 28, I moderated a sponsored Search Engine Journal webinar presented by Madelyn Wing, Head of Partnerships at CallRail.

She shared share insights from their recent survey of 600 small businesses and agencies to learn how COVID impacted their marketing and performance.

Here’s a recap of the webinar presentation.

How Businesses Are Bouncing Back in the New Normal

We all know that 2020 was a wild ride, especially for small businesses. Many companies struggled, while others thrived.

The team at CallRail was curious about what marketing strategies helped successful businesses ride out the pandemic, and where marketers are investing heavily in this remote-first landscape.

They conducted a survey of 600 business owners who live in the U.S. and have under 200 employees from industries such as legal, healthcare, automotive, real estate, home services, financial services, and advertising.

Of the total respondents:

  • 65% were men, 35% were women.
  • Has an average age of 39 years old.
  • Represented 46 of the 50 states.

Here’s what they found.

On the Road to Recovery

Although SMBs experienced a 38% average drop in annual revenue in 2020, the future is bright: 80% report that their business is now fully recovered from financial challenges brought on by the pandemic.

What contributed to this bounce back?

Marketing Was Critical to SMBs Success

For 81% of businesses, their marketing strategy was critical to their success during the pandemic.

And even more telling, 71% of businesses believe having a marketing strategy in place was critical to the survival of their business.

What Is Working

When it comes to marketing tactics and channels, here’s what SMBs are doing.

Marketing tactics and channels

  • 57% use social media.
  • 49% have a website.
  • 43% use email marketing.
  • 17% use paid search or PPC.
  • 15% engage in SEO or local search.
  • 6% do not do any marketing at all.

After cross-comparing tactics used by SMBs with those that found the most success during the pandemic, CallRail discovered the channels that were most effective.

Businesses that thrived during the pandemic were:

  • 23% more likely to use social media.
  • 56% more likely to gather customer reviews and testimonials.
  • 70% more likely to use CRM software.
  • 108% more likely to use a marketing agency.

In addition, most small businesses that engage in marketing say that they have a strategy in place to cover, at least, the next three months.

They also feel that marketing will continue to be crucial in the future and so they are planning to invest more time and energy into developing their strategy than they currently do.

Small business owners who say that their business doesn’t engage in any marketing activity were 125% more likely than average to say they feel their business is destined to fail.

The Takeaway

Having a marketing strategy and function focusing on a digital footprint is key to success in this remote-first, new normal.

You can always start small. Most businesses that thrived are doing things with a low point of entry, like social media, or using a CRM solution.

What Isn’t Working

Business owners are overwhelmed.

  • 57% of SMB owners feel stressed out by their job.
  • 59% of businesses owners don’t have enough time in the day to complete all of their job responsibilities.

Most of them can’t find time to focus on marketing or are going at it all alone.

  • Half of SMB owners who don’t have a marketing strategy in place say they have no plans to develop one.
  • 44% of those respondents said that they are just too pressed for time and/or overwhelmed with running a business to focus on marketing strategy.
  • 49% of small business owners say that they do all of their own marketing.

This leads them to spend valuable time without clarity into what’s actually working and would rather be doing other things.

  • Small business owners who do their own marketing report spending 20 hours per week handling marketing responsibilities.
  • 23% of DIY marketers don’t invest any money into determining if their strategies are effective.
  • 74% of small business owners who do their own marketing report that they would rather spend their time on primary business responsibilities.

The Takeaway

Business owners who are going alone are burning out and can’t be sure that their marketing is effective.

How can they find more time and resources to devote to marketing?

One obvious solution is partnering with a marketing agency.

However, some don’t work with an agency due to budgetary constraints:

  • 35% of SMB owners who do their own marketing say that they didn’t have the budget to hire an outside agency.
  • 37% didn’t feel confident they would be able to get an accurate picture of the ROI on hiring a marketing agency.

Many have used an agency before and don’t any longer (largely due to financial strain).

Financial Strain

There Is Good News for Agencies

It’s clear that SMB owners understand the value of marketing strategies, but would rather be running their business than spending time executing marketing campaigns.

So what’s stopping them from hiring agencies to take some of the burdens off of their shoulders?

When asked if they would use a marketing agency again in the future, respondents answered with the following:

  • Highly likely: 35%
  • Somewhat likely: 58%
  • Unlikely: 7%

Small business owners who employ a marketing agency were 20% less likely than average to say that the pandemic negatively impacted their business.

While 79% of respondents saw a significant increase in leads after partnering with an agency.

A full 100% of survey participants who employ a marketing agency said that:

  • The investment has paid off.
  • Not a single one of this respondent group rated their business as “ineffective” when it comes to generating new leads.

SMB owners who employ a marketing agency report generating, on average, 13 more new leads per week than those who do their own marketing – and 21 more per week than those who hired an internal role to handle the job.

Where Is the Opportunity for Agencies & SMBs to Partner More Strategically?

The top three complaints from SMB owners who were unhappy with a previous agency are:

  • The agency was incapable of providing additional assistance beyond lead generation (48%).
  • The agency was not a strategic business partner (46%).
  • The program did not feel customized to their brand (43%).

SMB owners want their agencies to provide more value and are willing to pay for it.

In fact, 96% of respondents said that they would be willing to pay an agency for additional services to improve their business outside of marketing – such as customer service/sales training or brand coaching.

SMBs who worked with agencies previously wished their agency had:

  • Helped the business improve customer service: 55%
  • Recommended new technology to help grow the client’s business: 51%
  • Improved workflows between marketing and sales teams: 43%
  • Helped refine value propositions: 40%
  • Enabled the business to better track leads: 38%

The Takeaway

SMB owners are looking for consultative partners who truly understand their business and make data-driven recommendations on how to improve their operations.

Theyʼre looking for more than just leads – they want agencies to help them foster a genuine understanding (and connection) with their target audience.

By recommending key software and helping to improve business processes, agencies not only can add services to their SOWs, but also position themselves as trusted partners who are invested in all aspects of their clients’ businesses.

For example, one agency using CallRail was able to identify the need for sales training for their client’s receptionist.

What’s Next for SMB Owners?

When asked what their future plans are for their business:

  • 77% of SMB owners plan to invest more time and energy into developing marketing strategies over the next year.
  • 43% plan to invest more money into developing marketing strategies over the next year.

They’ll invest time and money in the following areas:

Future investments

See all the data CallRail uncovered in their report: Clients tell all: What small businesses need from marketing agencies today.


The pandemic has accelerated the move toward digital – companies had to either adopt a digital presence or face losing out.

Businesses that have a focus on digital strategies feel confident in their ability to succeed.

SMBs and agencies are a perfect match, and there is plenty of opportunities to deepen the partnership.

As businesses increase investment into marketing strategies, focusing on channels and campaigns that are the most effective will maximize that investment.

Leverage call tracking to pinpoint your most effective marketing efforts.

You assign a tracking number to everything you do to better understand what makes your phone ring and help you optimize marketing ROI.

Focus on the calls that unlock opportunities. Local or toll-free numbers can be used, depending on your business need.

For example, some companies may have a statewide or national presence, but want to appear local or even assign a local number to each of their field offices.

While others may want to offer a toll-free option depending on the geography they cover and maybe even the demographics of their target customers.

CallRail offers both options so online and offline efforts can be tracked. This is a big deal because without call tracking, you really can’t tell which offline tactics are working at all.

Online can somewhat be measured through Google Analytics, but without call tracking, there is no connection between the click or visit and the actual phone call. CallRail ties all of that together.

More Resources:

[Slides] Do This, Not That: Your Guide to Successful Marketing in 2021

Check out the SlideShare below.

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Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, August 2021

SEJ STAFF Heather Campbell Director of Marketing at Search Engine Journal

Heather has over 20 years of industry experience and is the Director of Marketing at Search Engine Journal. Having worked ...

Do This, Not That: Your Guide to Successful Marketing in 2021

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