Small businesses can leverage digital data to help improve their operations.
Small businesses can’t find big budgets for data analytics projects, but it’s still something worth investing in. Even the most basic of analytics strategies can yield significant results for a smaller organisation.
Research from McKinsey&Company in 2012 found that companies that make data the centre of their marketing and sales decisions will improve marketing ROI by as much as 20 per cent without actually increasing their marketing budget. Furthermore, Nucleus Research found in 2011 that analytics pays back $10.66 for every dollar spent on it. These statistics are as relevant to a SME as they are to big business; they might be operating on a smaller scale, but smart use of analytics drives competitive advantage for organisations of all sizes.
In fact a smaller budget for analytics may be a blessing in disguise. Small budgets force innovation, and they force an organisation to focus on what really matters. When funds are scarce, it’s critical to extract maximum return out of every dollar spent, so investment decisions are often a lot more accountable and generate less wastage.
Key tools for SME analytics
Acquiring data is often a costly exercise so when you’re working with a small budget it’s likely to be more efficient to focus on making use of data that already exists, such as transactional data relating to your existing customers. This approach works well where you’re looking to increase loyalty or engagement amongst your existing customer base. There are plenty of tools available that are free to use and provide organisations with in-depth information on their customers:
Google Analytics: this is the most obvious solution that every organisation should be using by default. But its also one that is seriously underused by many businesses. Move beyond tracking how many people are visiting your website or how many pages they’ve looked at. Take the time to understand some of the more advanced features. For example if you want to understand how each of your social posts or individual paid search keywords are performing use the Google URL builder to add special parameters to your individual campaigns to enable you to track conversion rates for each.
Facebook: by now virtually every business has a Facebook page and is tracking likes and followers, but how about tapping into a richer vein of data that’s available within Facebook. Facebook Login is a powerful tool that, when a customer logs into an organisation’s app or website using it, the organisation can access a subset of that person’s data that is stored on Facebook. It’s the kind of information you want on customers, as it will tell you their preferences and enable some sophisticated analytics. It’s increasingly difficult to get visibility on Facebook, but the data that comes “free” with an increased social media presence makes the investment worthwhile.
Tableau Software: Tableau is a software package with a focus on data visualisation. It’s incredibly easy to get started with Tableau, just point it at some data and with its drag and drop interface you’re able to generate powerful visualisations that help you make sense of all sorts of data. You can get started with Tableau Public which is a free tool that brings data to life on the public web. Once you get hooked you can upgrade to more powerful paid versions of the software.
MailChimp: If email is an important channel to reach your audience MailChimp allows you to send 12,000 emails to 2,000 subscribers for free. While the array of available features may be limited compared to paid email marketing tools you’re going to get some valuable insights about your subscribers including engagement, website activity and more that you simply won’t get by sending these via Outlook.
HootSuite: If Social Media is more your thing then Hootsuite offers a basic free option that provides simple analytics and engagement tools across three of your social networks.
Optimizely: Ok this one is not strictly free, but with pricing starting at $17 per month it’s not far off. Omtimizely is an A/B testing tool which allows you to take the guesswork out of optimizing you webpages by performing simple tests between a set of variables to see which one performs better.
Aussie data innovation
We have seen Australian SMEs use big data to great effect, despite the increasing issue that many are finding in having skills to properly engage with big data.
Where specialist skills might be in short supply for many SMEs, there are examples of SMEs doing very simple things with data to great impact. Local small retailers, for instance, have been using free tools and existing customer data to develop online businesses every bit as effective as the bricks and mortar shops.
These retailers have been able to tap into data provided by their eCommerce platform, and then make use of Google Analytics to monitor online behaviour, and compare visits to actual purchases. The beauty of this approach to analytics is that it doesn’t require additional resourcing or specific skills within the business; a couple of additional hour’s work from the existing website manager is enough to generate a significant increase in business.
Many small businesses do have the impression that data analytics is a complex, expensive process when in fact it can be a core, low cost investment trigger towards growth.
James Forbes is head of digital and marketing at InfoReady.