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Reply.com-Local-Merchants-Leading-Online-Marketing-Challenges-July2013A survey of local merchants around the US conducted by Reply.com reveals that a plurality 40% are spending 5 or more hours a week on marketing their businesses, but that the vast majority either have a single person (51%) or no-one at all (37%) managing or supervising their digital marketing programs and initiatives. With few internal resources to draw upon, merchants indicate that the biggest challenge they face with online marketing is that there are too many channels to address, a problem cited by 24% of respondents. To be fair, other challenges rival that one: 23% of respondents said they don’t have enough time to learn or do online marketing well on their own, and an equal amount said their top challenge was figuring out which vendors to trust or believe.

But the possibility for the amount of options available to become overwhelming comes more into view when looking at how merchants would spend any extra time or money they had on digital marketing. Responses varied across the board, with websites (21%) taking the lead, but a variety of others close behind, including search marketing (15%); mobile marketing and advertising (10%); paid search (9%); social media marketing (9%); improving the online reputation (8%); and paid social advertising (7%). (It’s worth noting that 8% selected “traditional media,” although the question refers to digital advertising channels.)

Even taking into account a single category – social media – presents its own set of choices. At least 1 in 5 respondents said they’re promoting their businesses using Facebook (75.4%), Google (66.7%), LinkedIn (58.7%), Yelp (43.1%), Twitter (33.5%), and YouTube (20.8%). Slightly fewer (18.4%) are using Pinterest.

Aside from the bevy of social media platforms, many merchants are using email (54%) and online ads (23.5%) to acquire new customers online, with similar numbers also using those channels to retain customers (63.4% and 14.5%, respectively). That’s not to mention use of sites and services such as YP.com, Groupon, and LivingSocial; while the latter daily deals are being used by only a fraction of respondents, YP.com is being used by close to one-third.

Given all that variety, it’s maybe not too surprising that only 37% of respondents feel that they’re doing a good job measuring the return of their ad and marketing investments.

There are an array of marketing options, to be sure – but there are also many solutions out there. But even on this front, local merchants are challenged. Asked their biggest challenge in acquiring customers online, 22% said that current solutions are better suited for big companies than small local merchants. That was the second-most common response, after the complaint that it’s too expensive (29%).

Other Findings:

  • Almost 6 in 10 respondents believe their marketing and advertising spending will remain the same over the next 6 months. 21% believe their spending will improve, while 22% believe it will decline.
  • 39% of respondents have used Google adWords. Of those, 47% find it very (10%) or somewhat (37%) difficult.
  • Only 18% have seen a strong ROI from their Google AdWords program.
  • 71% are not doing any mobile marketing or advertising.
  • Local merchants perceive the primary purposes or benefits of social media marketing to be new customer acquisition (40%) and brand exposure and visibility (35%).
  • About 1 in 5 have used Facebook ads.
  • Only 18% believe it’s likely they’ll run a daily deals campaign in the next 3-6 months.

About the Data: The “Pulse of Local Business Survey” was conducted during May and June 2013 among more than 1300 local merchants.

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