I've been talking to some small business owners recently who are all complaining that they are getting squeezed out of social media, search marketing, and other forms of Internet marketing by the big guys-big companies with big budgets. At the same time, I've been hearing from frustrated large company marketers that they cannot break through the clutter and that their budgets don't seem to help. This would seem, on the surface, to be a simple question. Either the small companies or the big companies have a point, and the other ones are smoking something. So. who's right?

It might seem impossible, I actually think they both have a point.

Small businesses naturally feel at a disadvantage to big brands, and they are right. Part of the advantage of big brands is money, but they have other advantages, too. When Google says it is changing the search ranking algorithm to reduce the prominence of "low-quality" sites, many small businesses heard this as "Google starting to favor big brands." When a link or a search result or a social media site contains content with a big brand name in it, it gets more clickthroughs. These advantages are all real.

But the big brands have reason for frustration. They are used to walking into any marketing situation, dropping their bankroll on the table, and getting the attention they want. While you can do that with display advertising, most areas of Internet marketing aren't as easily dominated with cash. Yes, money always helps, but mere funding does not get you to the top of search results (not even always to the top of paid search results), nor does it get your social media campaign to go viral.

Those big brands have a financial advantage, but digital marketing is a far more level playing field than advertising, for example. Money always brings an advantage, but it brings much less of an advantage in low-cost areas such as PR, SEO, and social media. The big brands are actually afraid that their money is not enough of an advantage.

So, small companies think the big companies have an edge, which they do. But big companies are worried because they don't have their customary edge--the edge that they are used to.

What does this tell us? To me, it is a sign that digital marketing is beginning to saturate. It's no longer good enough to see the new thing and jump on it first. It's not enough to know about paid search--now you need to know exactly how to extract every last penny out of your budget. And that's true across all of digital marketing. You need to be able to calculate the ROI of every dime you spend and you need to be ready to improve that ROI each day.

Originally posted on Biznology Blog

February 7, 2014

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


Excellent post! In some ways, smaller companies have an advantage in the digital marketing world. Personally, my business can be much more nimble, agile and flexible. I don't have to worry about upsetting a million dollar campaign in order to promote a new product or service. I don't have to get an idea passed by the "board" or the senior executive vice president of marketing. Thanks for the post.

I think that small companies have the biggest advantage because they can just do things without any hierarchy or major meetings, etc. Smaller teams can move faster and get things done. In my experience, the larger the company, the slower things get done.

Another problem I've faced with large companies is doing the right thing without board members (or other people at the top of the totem pole) interfering with the work. For instance, I've had executives force me to target keywords with no search volume because, despite the data, they felt they would get more searches than the other keywords with significant search volume. /endrant haha

It's so very true. Just a few years back, it was really easy to make an effective campaign on either Google or Facebook, but now, it really does require alot of research and time.

And because of that, i still think that the big companies have the upper hand, as they can afford this, and keep pushing, where as the little guy, might give up alot sooner.

You are absolutely right, money is still important but it is not the most important success factor anymore. I've seen a lot of big companies burn outrageous amounts of money into digital marketing without any positive results. I believe that today small business owners have great opportunities, more than ever.

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