By Ardi Kolah, Author and Global Corporate Communications Consultant

Research by the Federation of Small Business this year reported that less than 50% of all small to medium sized enterprises in the UK possess an effective online presence and less than 20% of SMEs (Small and medium enterprises) are actively trading over the internet, writes author and global corporate communications consultant Ardi Kolah.

My guess is that some of these businesses won’t be here this time next year, or will they?

Getting to grips with the internet and having an effective web site means that you need to understand the freedom that the web offers coupled with its immense power of engaging with hundreds, thousands and hundreds of thousands of customers and potential customers.

The use of blogs, twitter, online video, viral marketing and other online activities may appear to have little relevance for your business; but closer inspection should reveal they are becoming a more important part of your marketing activities.

It’s good to listen

About a decade ago, most marketing books were full of pages that showed us how to communicate in what I call “transmit mode” – advertising, press releases, brochures, fliers, direct marketing and the rest. Today, we live in a rapidly changing world where the real magic is to slow down the desired audience and customer segment long enough so that they can hear what you have to say. And the only way to do that is to focus on the attitudes, values and beliefs of your customers and prospective customers; in effect, to be in what I call “receive mode”.

The more we can use social media in our marketing efforts to listen to our prospects and customers, the more successful we’ll become.

Follow the thread

One of my favourite examples of reinventing marketing for a small planet is the US-based t-shirt company called Threadless - www.threadless.com - which has grown to be an annual $1billion turnover business by inviting customers to submit a design that, if chosen, results in a $2,000 reward and a share of royalties. Make customers ambassadors for your brand, like Go Ape, which won a National Business Award for being SME of the year in 2009 because it took the time to understand their customer. It’s word of mouth for the 21st century but a very sophisticated word of mouth

The great news is that the business model is totally replicable – all you need is a bit of imagination to apply it to your own situation. What’s powerful is that Threadless set out to build a community rather than flog bog-standard t-shirts to customers; and they got the community to be their research and development as well as their market research and sales and marketing department – all rolled into one.

There’s been an almost hysterical focus on search engine optimisation and key word search strategies as being the “new marketing” mantra; but have you considered building a return path to solicit ideas, comments and suggestions that can immediately feed into product development and therefore use your marketing loop to help drive profitability?

Research by Judge Business School, Cambridge University – based on a survey of over 4,000 businesses in 17 countries across Europe, US and Asia - shows that companies like Threadless are more commercially successful compared with their competitors because they have an innovative culture that has directly influenced business success. As a judge for this year’s Excellence in Marketing Award, I look forward to seeing more examples of genuine marketing innovation that prove size doesn’t matter.

Ardi Kolah is author of High Impact Marketing That Gets Results, due to be published by Kogan Page in 2012, and a shortlist judge for the National Business Awards in partnership with Orange 2011.

The entry deadline for the Excellence in Marketing Award is fast approaching, so if you have executed an exceptional marketing campaign during the last year and a half then gain recognition among the wider UK business community. Full details of all of the categories and criteria for this year’s programme can be found at www.nationalbusinessawards.co.uk – where you can register your entry.

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