Whether you’re a marketer for a growing brand (like myself) or running the entire show, marketing a small company is a challenge. How do you cut through the noise? How do you make sure the marketing you’re doing is resonating with your audience and you’re not just chucking money away?
These are questions we ask ourselves every day on the Dash team, too. Thankfully, there’s plenty of useful tools to help with your small business marketing plan. These can support all aspects of your strategy, from apps for advertising your business, to acing your social media and unearthing interesting nuggets of insight into potential customers.
There's a lot of tools out there to trawl through - how do you make sure you're picking the best apps to promote your business? If you're feeling overwhelmed, I'm here to help. Here's my list of 11 essential marketing tools for growing brands in 2022:
1. Dash - organise and use your brand’s visual content
2. WordPress - for building your website
3. HotJar - make your landing pages more effective
4. Mopinion - collect customer feedback so you can improve performance
5. Buffer - manage and schedule your social media
6. Later - for levelling-up your Instagram game
7. Google Analytics - get data on your website’s performance
8. Canva - create graphics on the fly without a designer
9. Ahrefs - identify SEO content opportunities
10. Mailchimp - send top-notch email campaigns
11. Adwisely - Manage all your online ads from a single platform
1. Dash - organise your visuals
Most marketing these days requires content, and lots of it. Marketers need to manage an online brand, several social channels, a website, email campaigns and more. According to HubSpot, 70% of companies are investing in a content marketing strategy. This means even small brands are creating tonnes of images and videos to reach their goals.
It’s a challenge keeping on top of all those images, graphics, product shots and videos without feeling overwhelmed. And that’s especially so if you’re using Drive, Dropbox or a creaky shared drive to manage it. You’ve got to remember where specific files are being kept for your colleagues, forward zip attachments of new ad graphics to your marketing agency, and more. That’s fine if you’re dealing with a handful of images - but the chances are, you’re not.
For all those marketers who feel like they’re drowning in a sea of visual content, I hear you. Dash (our product) has your back.
Dash is the perfect digital asset management tool for small businesses. It’s a home for your brand’s images and video. Bring order to chaos and organise them with your own tags - or use Dash’s AI to tag them all up for you. Share collections of assets with a click or create public portals for your external partners - like resellers or your advertising agency. Here's an intro to digital asset management if you want to find out more.
For example, we recently rebranded and launched Dash on a new website. We used Dash (the application) to make sure everyone working on the project had access to the files they needed. I created a public portal for the 100+ graphics our web developers required. They could use a link to go to the portal, search for what they were after, and download files. Tom from Evoke, who worked on our new visual brand, uploaded new design files straight to our staff Dash ready for my approval.
It made things much more streamlined. Launching a new website is stressful enough without having to hunt down specific logo files, believe me! Here's more about how marketers can use Dash.
Pricing: Dash is one of the most affordable digital asset management tools out there. Plans start at £49/$74 a month.
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2. WordPress - run your site
A CMS, short for content management system, is a marketing essential. It’s a way for you to build a website, edit pages, and run your blog through a single platform.
Some providers offer a CMS service as part of their platform. For Dash, we use HubSpot to track leads and deals - so we build our website through it too.
But if you’re after a dedicated CMS, you could do no worse than WordPress. You’ll need minimal coding knowledge to get started. Pick one of the many templates WordPress offer and you’ll be up and running in no time. You can also plug your site into other useful apps to make sure everything is connected. If you’re an ecommerce brand, use WordPress’s very own ecommerce platform, WooCommerce.
Don't get it twisted - a CMS isn't the same as a DAM. Read the article for more info.
Pricing: WordPress lets you get started for free, but if you’re a business you’ll most likely want to pay to unlock the most useful functionality. Their small business pricing plans start at £27/$36 monthly or £240/$322 annually.
3. HotJar - optimize landing pages
If you work in marketing (like moi), there’s a good chance lead forms or product pages are your bread and butter. These are pages dotted around a website which encourage potential new customers to do a desired action - like take out a free trial or buy the products you sell.
If you’re interested in how you can improve these pages, or what visitors are actually doing when they come to your website, HotJar is the application for you. Its heatmaps plot how visitors pilot their cursor around your page and it can show some really interesting behaviours.
On our old Dash site, for example, we found that when visitors came to our landing page, they were clicking on the displayed product logo to try and go back to their previous page. The kicker? This logo wasn’t hyperlinked to anything, resulting in rage clicks and probably quite a few frustrated visitors. We fixed that sharpish!
Pricing: They’ve got a free version for when you’re just getting started. Paid plans start at £29/$39 a month.
4. Mopinion - get customer feedback
Feedback is a gift. How do you know what you’re doing is working if you never ask your customers for feedback? Here at Dash, we listen to customers and use their feedback to plan new features and improve our marketing messaging.
If you’re looking to get feedback on what you’re currently doing, take a look at Mopinion. It makes it easy for small teams to start collecting customer feedback. You can use it to gather insights into the customer experience of your website, mobile apps or email campaigns with little to no technical knowledge.
How might you use this in real life? Take a leaf from German sports retailer SportSheck. They ask for feedback on the clarity of the descriptions they’ve written for the products they sell. When a site visitor performs a product search on their site - let’s say for ‘white trainers’ - they also ask how accurate the search results are. Quick wins like this add up, and it lets them hone their online retail site so it can perform even better. Pretty smart, in my book!
Pricing: Pricing for Mopinion starts at £174/$229 a month if you sign up for a year.
5. Buffer - schedule your socials
Almost 60% of the world’s population are on social media and it influences 71% of buying decisions. The bottom line? If you want to sell your products and build your brand, social media is essential.
Managing your brand’s social presence takes time, effort and creativity. That’s why many marketers use social media management applications, like Buffer.
Using Buffer, you can run all your social media platforms through a single application. You’re able to collaborate on posts with your team and then analyse their effectiveness once they’ve been sent.
One of their most helpful features is scheduling social posts ahead of time. This means you can set up months of content ready to go out on your brand’s channels - rather than realising you haven’t tweeted in a while and doing a mad scramble for content (trust, I’ve been there).
They’ve also added cool new features recently. One I particularly like is the comment sentiment, which flags positive or negative comments on your posts along with questions your followers might have raised.
Pricing: They’ve got a free version, but the functionality is a bit more limited. Paid plans start at £4/$5 a month for each social channel you sync up.
6. Later - manage your Instagram
At first glance, Later might look similar to Buffer. But looks can be deceiving, my friend. Where Later really excels is managing your Instagram presence.
Guess how many daily users Instagram gets? You’re way off/that’s bang on, you genius [delete as applicable] - it’s 1.3 million. To put that in perspective, that’s the same as the entire population of Cyprus logging in each day!
So it’s no wonder brands are using Instagram to reach potential customers. If you’re a small brand with great content, it can be an effective way of cutting through the noise and going toe-to-toe with your big-name competitors - as well as interacting with your loyal fans directly.
Later lets you schedule your Instagram posts in an intuitive way using their visual planner. It’ll suggest new hashtags you might want to try so you can reach new audiences. And it has a load of useful analytics available once you post, too - like overall post engagement. If you connect it to your Shopify account, you’ll be able to see directly which posts have been bringing in the bacon.
Pricing: Later offers a free version with pretty limited functionality. The real deal is their paid plans - starting at £11/$15 a month.
7. Google Analytics - get performance data
This will come as no surprise - but Google Analytics is an essential tool for any digital marketer. It can tell you exactly how the online marketing campaigns you’re running are performing. It should be one of the first places you go to when your boss messages you with the dreaded “what did that campaign actually result in?” question.
Not going to lie though, the amount of information it contains can be overwhelming. It’s got data on website sessions, audience demographics, content performance and page load times. And that’s just scratching the surface.
It’s easy to fall down the data rabbit hole, and I’ve done just that in the past. But you can’t report on everything - and not everything will be useful. Here’s a tip if you’re finding yourself overwhelmed. Take a step back and plan what would be the most useful to find out.
For example, if you’re running a marketing campaign, you may just want to analyse visits, referring sources (so you know whether your channels are working) and conversions from your campaign landing page. If you’re launching a new content strategy for SEO, you’ll want to track the growth in organic search referrals over time. You could also use it to better define your target market and ideal customer. Don’t feel like you have to report on everything!
Pricing: The standard version that most growing brands use (including ourselves) is free, thankfully. They offer a more advanced version, called Google Analytics 360, but it’s decidedly not free - it’ll set you back about £110k/$150k a year!
8. Canva - create graphics quickly
Cast your mind back. There was a time when, if you wanted to create a simple graphic for your blog post, you’d have to pay a designer or try to navigate an expensive piece of design software yourself.
Then along came Canva. Using its impressive library of stock elements and templates, it lets you easily create and collaborate on graphics for your campaigns, social media feeds or blog posts. If you’re not a designer, and struggle finding your way around Photoshop layers and the like (just me?), this is the tool for you. It’s as simple as dragging and dropping elements into your design. We use Canva a lot ourselves when creating Dash content. In fact, this very article header was created in Canva by our very own Amy! Here's some Canva design tips from her.
You can add your own brand colours and fonts to your Canva, too. So no more switching back and forth between your PDF style guide.
It's a really useful tool for marketers - which is why we've built a Canva integration!
Pricing: Canva offers a pretty good free version to get up and going with, although you’ll find most design elements locked away from you. Their paid version starts at £11/$15 a month and ramps up depending on the number of users and the features you want.
9. Ahrefs - set your SEO strategy
Content is king but SEO is… important? I tried.
SEO (or rather ‘search engine optimisation’) can be a bit of a dark art, but it’s basically to do with how far up your web pages rank in search engine results. Using a variety of different factors, search engines try to match content they think best serves a user’s search. On average the first result in a search hoovers up about a third of all clicks for that search phrase. So the further you are up the rankings, the better you’ll perform.
Creating an SEO content strategy can help boost you up the search results for terms relevant to your brand. We've been drafting one ourselves for Dash since launching on a new website, but it’s tricky to know where to start. To help us out, we’ve been using Ahrefs. It’s super useful for unearthing opportunities to rank for relevant search terms which are less competitive and easier to appear for.
How does this work? Imagine you’re a start-up pizza oven company. Ranking for obviously valuable search phrases like ‘buy pizza ovens online’ will be very difficult right out of the gate, as you’ll be facing stiff competition from established brands. Instead, focusing on lower-volume, less-competitive keywords could unearth a load of opportunities your competitors might have overlooked.
Let’s continue with this fictional pizza oven company example (can you tell I’m hungry?). According to Ahrefs’ keywords explorer, ‘buy pizza oven’ has a keyword difficulty of 54 (1 being the easiest, 100 being the most difficult). It estimates you’ll need backlinks from about 100 referring other sites to stand a chance of ranking in the top 10 results. Using keywords explorer brings up a load of other opportunities which might be a good fit for our fictional oven company - like ‘where to buy fire bricks for pizza oven’, which has an average monthly search volume of 700 and a keyword difficulty of 8! Score.
This approach can work for almost any industry or company you’re in. There’s a tonne of other things Ahrefs can help you with (I’m a fan, okay?) but you get the gist.
Pricing: Starts at £73/$99 a month or £737/$990 a year.
10. Mailchimp - send killer email campaigns
Email marketing is one of the older and more established forms of digital marketing, and it’s not going away any time soon. Email campaigns are still one of the most effective ways of interacting with your customers. 72% of people say email is their preferred way of brands communicating with them!
If you want to level-up your brand’s email marketing, take a look at Mailchimp. Not only does it have the cutest logo in this list - sorry but a monkey in a hat? I’m sold - it also makes it easy to send stylish and effective email campaigns.
Got your email content ready to go? Use Mailchimp’s Content Optimizer to whip it into shape. It’ll suggest improvements to your copy and imagery based on what it knows about email best practices.
Email automations are another way to improve your email game and you can do those through Mailchimp. Rather than email campaigns, which usually go out to everyone in a defined audience in one go, automations are ‘always-on’ emails which send based on individual behaviour. There’s a tonne of clever ways to set these up, but ‘abandoned shopping cart’ emails are a pretty common and effective one.
P.S. While we're talking about emails - as an extra bonus (you’re welcome), I’d recommend Really Good Emails. It’s a free library of cool email examples you can take inspiration from.
Pricing: Mailchimp has a free tier to get you started. It’s paid plans start at £13 / $17 a month.
11. Adwisely - run your ecommerce ads
This one's for the ecommerce brands out there. If you're working in ecommerce marketing, then running online ads will most likely be very familiar to you. However, it gets tricky managing all those campaigns through separate platforms. Adwisely is an online ad automation platform for ecommerce stores. It helps online store marketing managers create and manage efficient ads on Facebook, Instagram, Google, and YouTube. The account manager they provide can monitor the ad results, provide improvement suggestions and send regular reports on ad activity. Magic!
Pricing: Service fees for Adwisely start at £39 / $49 for 30 days of service. You can take out a free trial to test it for yourself.