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Social and small businesses create new market research opportunities

NOVEMBER 28, 2011 – Small businesses are still working to recover from the economic hardship seen over the past few years, and are slowly rebuilding their marketing programs to drive up sales. However, without conducting market research to determine the needs and desires of their target customers, independent companies could end up wasting their precious resources.

Indeed, a study released by American Express OPEN in October shows that more than one-quarter – 27 percent – of responding entrepreneurs don’t have any plans for growth in the next six months. Despite the lingering pessimism that the survey uncovered, researchers also found that SMBs are getting smarter when it comes to using social media websites to reach out to consumers. As for expanding daily operations into the digital realm, 37 percent of respondents said they use social to connect with potential customers. However, only 24 percent said they would rank their familiarity with the channel as that of a “maven” – almost half called themselves “newbies.”

“The recession has made small business owners more calculating and measured in how they run their firms,” Susan Sobbott, president of American Express OPEN, said in a statement.

“When cash is tight, they pull back on spending or look for creative ways to access capital; when plans for growth are unrealistic, they put them on hold until the time is more prudent.”

As BtoB magazine reports, the need for SMBs to do more marketing with less money has provided a wealth of opportunities for the advertising industry to educate business owners on the intricacies of social media. The news outlet points to the IBM Corporation’s ability to combine Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and blogs to carry out conversations about what entrepreneurs are interested in. Then, the company can mine those discussions for insight into what products its customers want.

Ed Abrams – the vice president of marketing at IBM’s global midmarket unit – told the magazine that the online-focused campaign has led the company to shift “a lot of our execution from traditional paid advertising to a paid/owned/earned model that leverages our own digital properties as well as content from our customers, so they can engage with our brand.”