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Marketing Strategies for Growth

How Small Businesses Are Finding New Ways To Grow

Change is one of the only constants in life. But it’s often fast and unpredictable.

We’ve created this report to help you overcome uncertainty and find success. We analyzed billions of data points from marketing activities on our platform, and dug deeper with a survey of 1,400 small businesses across 6 countries to understand how entrepreneurs are driving growth and customer engagement in these challenging times.

The result is a report full of insights, strategies and inspiration to help you bring your big ideas to life. So, let’s get started.

A Look at the Small Business Horizon:

How we got here and how we’re adapting for the future

5 strategies for the new normal

Small businesses have had to adjust the way they do business and reach their customers. We surveyed a bunch of them to learn more about what’s working and how they’re continuing to adapt.

1. Adaptation comes in many different forms

Businesses all over the world have adapted their operating models and marketing strategies in myriad ways over the last year. In our survey, we asked SMBs how COVID-19 impacted their business, including aspects such as their strategy, operations, finances, and people.

In the charts below, you can see how the 1,400 SMBs we surveyed responded. But here are a few of the high-level trends:

  • In Brazil, SMBs are significantly more likely* to be bringing more of their business online or exploring new types of marketing.
  • SMBs in France and Germany have made fewer changes* to their business strategies or operations overall compared to those in other countries.
  • In the U.S., SMBs are significantly more likely** to be taking the time to organize parts of their business that may have previously been less of a priority.

*Statistically significant vs. all other countries surveyed

**Statistically significant vs. other countries surveyed except France

Regional spotlight: how SMBs have adapted business strategies and operations

Exploring new ways to market and sell 54%
Making changes to the business model 50%
Investing in new skills, people, or processes 54%
Reducing spend or resources 58%
Business losses/closures 37%
No changes made 9%
  • UK SMBs
Changes made to business strategy or operations
Exploring new ways to market and sell 56%
Making changes to the business model 54%
Investing in new skills, people, or processes 53%
Reducing spend or resources 58%
Business losses/closures 47%
No changes made 5%
  • France SMBs
Changes made to business strategy or operations
Exploring new ways to market and sell 49%
Making changes to the business model 52%
Investing in new skills, people, or processes 51%
Reducing spend or resources 49%
Business losses/closures 35%
No changes made 5%
  • Germany SMBs
Changes made to business strategy or operations
Exploring new ways to market and sell 50%
Making changes to the business model 52%
Investing in new skills, people, or processes 50%
Reducing spend or resources 44%
Business losses/closures 36%
No changes made 9%
  • Brazil SMBs
Changes made to business strategy or operations
Exploring new ways to market and sell 77%
Making changes to the business model 65%
Investing in new skills, people, or processes 50%
Reducing spend or resources 46%
Business losses/closures 32%
No changes made 3%
  • Spain SMBs
Changes made to business strategy or operations
Exploring new ways to market and sell 62%
Making changes to the business model 48%
Investing in new skills, people, or processes 47%
Reducing spend or resources 56%
Business losses/closures 49%
No changes made 2%

“I think the definition of ‘cozy’ has changed from ‘safety and warmth’ to ‘being grounded.’ That’s a moment that I am in control of.”

—Dan, Kin Ship Goods

Learn more about realigning priorities during a pandemic on our Call Paul podcast. Call Paul is a part of Mailchimp Presents, our original content collection that celebrates entrepreneurs and creativity.


2. More businesses are embracing more tools...

As they explore new paths to success during the pandemic, many SMBs are embracing a wider set of marketing tools to help get them there. Our data shows that the more a brand has been impacted by COVID, the more channels—marketing email, transactional email, social media marketing, and others—it will use to market its business and sell its stuff.

Average number of marketing tools used

3. ...but not all marketing tools are created equal

Among the businesses that reported being heavily affected by the pandemic, some marketing tactics are proving more popular than others. These SMBs reported using lead-generation and custom signup forms and automated brand design tools significantly more than their less-impacted counterparts.

Use Custom Sign-up Forms
Use Automated Brand Design Tools

Why are these tools so popular during a pandemic? For starters, custom signup forms allow marketers to gather feedback from customers to gauge which of them will be interested in specific products, services, or topics. But they also help SMBs grow their audience by letting people opt in to their marketing messages. In times where every message counts, these tools help SMBs make the most of their efforts.

And those automated design tools? Well, they help small businesses quickly develop assets they can use for multichannel campaigns. The consistency, professionalism, and accessibility of your content marketing across channels can help build customer trust. Plus, having a tool that keeps your design on brand leaves you free to focus on other aspects of your business.

4. The only constant is change

As the pandemic’s effects in the United States extended into late 2020, business strategies adapted to keep up. Our research results based on a survey of U.S. SMBs found that businesses were more likely than not to have changed their offerings or business models as the pandemic went on.

Share of US small businesses who changed their offering or business model

*Findings based on a comparison of survey results from 419 U.S. small businesses in November 2020 vs. 405 U.S. small businesses in July 2020.

5. Building brand trust is a top priority for small businesses globally

In a separate survey of 4,312 SMBs across Brazil, France, Germany, Spain, and the U.S., a majority of respondents ranked “establish their business as trustworthy and credible” as a top marketing goal. In fact, in 4 of the 5 countries surveyed (all but France), this ranked as the No. 1 or No. 2 marketing goal.

Regional spotlight: Most important marketing goals by country

Top 3 Marketing Goals for SMBs: US, Q2 2020
Make people aware of/educated about your business
Establish your business as trustworthy and credible
Promote new products, services, or features
  • Top 3 Marketing Goals for SMBs: Brazil, Q2 2020
Reach our to your audience in new ways 33%
Establish your business as trustworthy and credible 28%
Understand your customer/prospective customers' preferences, needs, or feedback 26%
  • Top 3 Marketing Goals for SMBs: France, Q2 2020
Make people aware of/educated about your business 24%
Understand your customer/prospective customers' preferences, needs, or feedback 24%
Establish your business as trustworthy and credible 19%
  • Top 3 Marketing Goals for SMBs: Germany, Q2 2020
Establish your business as trustworthy and credible 24%
Promote new products, services, or features 22%
Reach out to your audience in new ways 22%
  • Top 3 Marketing Goals for SMBs: Spain, Q2 2020
Establish your business as trustworthy and credible 28%
Make people aware of/educated about your business 26%
Understand your customer/prospective customers' preferences, needs, or feedback 23%

“For us, it has really been an act of listening and paying attention to what people need, and that has been the biggest gift for us."

—Archel, The Bombchel Factory

Learn more about listening to your customer on our Call Paul podcast. Call Paul is a part of Mailchimp Presents, our original content collection that celebrates entrepreneurs and creativity.

A Digital Shift Opens New Doors:

How online went from optional to essential—and increased sales

Many SMBs got creative in the wake of COVID-19

While the upheaval spawned uncertainty, it also opened the doors to new marketing strategies and ways of doing business.

Like many of their peers, small businesses on Mailchimp’s platform have turned to online commerce in huge numbers. At the broadest level, our 14 million users collectively realized $61 billion in online sales from their customers.

The Big Picture: Small Business Online Sales in 2020


Total E-commerce Revenue


Total E-commerce Orders


Total Emails Sent by Mailchimp Customers

Looking specifically at monthly active e-commerce users connected to our platform reveals that these businesses have seen online revenue grow as more consumers go digital. By the end of 2020, sales from merchants with connected e-commerce stores surged 61% vs 2019.

Swipe to see the rest of the table

A Closer Look: Sales For Monthly Active E-commerce Users
2020* YoY Growth**
E-commerce Revenue $32,923,842,774 61%
E-commerce Orders 36,515,438,573 59%
Emails Sent 37,387,060,266 21.1%

*Data from Jan.-Nov. 2020

**Data based on Mailchimp customers with an e-commerce integration since Jan. 2019

Beneath the big numbers, a few things stand out.

First, small businesses as a whole are getting better at driving online revenue.
The growth in e-commerce revenue and orders outpaced the growth in emails sent by e-commerce businesses on our platform in 2019 and 2020. This trend was particularly noticeable during the Black Friday holiday weekend of 2020. As we reported previously, from Thanksgiving to Giving Tuesday, businesses generated 36% more orders while email volume remained steady compared to the same time the year before.

Second, online revenue growth for small businesses on our platform is happening across a range of industries.
Across a range of industries, the online tools and channels designed for SMBs are helping them keep up with the changing times and keep growing. Other industries—particularly nonprofit and entertainment and events—experienced a year over year declines in online sales.

Swipe to see the rest of the table

E-commerce Sales Trends By Industry
Industry Change from 2019 to 2020 Total Order $ in 2020
Home and Garden 113% $1,652,553,168
Computers and Electronics 108% $780,006,262
Daily Deals/E-coupons 106% $94,269,468
Restaurant and Venue 85% $210,646,150
Manufacturing 84% $1,016,890,364
Agriculture and Food Services 84% $728,277,378
Business and Finance 68% $82,755,771
Health and Fitness 67% $995,470,417
E-commerce 67% $10,495,671,455
Sports 60% $812,630,869

Third, the pandemic pivot is giving way to enduring reinvention.
As small businesses shift their focus from pandemic survival to their long-term future, rapid-fire experimentation is resulting in more sustained marketing strategies. Across our 14 million active users, the explosive growth across many marketing channels at the outset of the pandemic shows signs of settling into a new normal.

*Based on trends in multichannel feature usage on Mailchimp’s platform

Stretch and Flex

How Stretch & Flex used surveys to start and grow during a pandemic

Mailchimp customer Stretch & Flex did the unthinkable: starting and growing a business during the pandemic. Learn more about how the virtual gym owners got a new business off the ground in just 3 weeks.


Here’s what you can do

As far as marketing strategies go, selling your products online has gone from optional to essential. Launching a website empowers your brand to reach more customers and sell more stuff. Plus, it’s easy and affordable. Here’s how you do it:

4 steps to get your business online fast

1. Get a custom domain name. Put simply: Your domain is how people will find you online. If you already have a business name, try to claim that as your domain. Once you have a name in mind, making it yours is as fast as typing some options into a search box and purchasing a name that’s available.

2. Choose a website builder. Use a free website builder to design and publish a professional site. Some basic site elements include customizing your page layout, theme, and color palette. Customizable layouts allow you to edit your business information, upload your logo, add images, and go live.

3. Create your content. For many people, writing about themselves, their business, or their products or services is the hardest part. Start by filling out essential details like your company name, contact information, hours of operation, and a general description of what you have to offer. Getting the basics out of the way might help you find your voice. Don’t worry about sounding like a literary genius—just describe what you sell and how it helps people.

4. Start selling your stuff. Selling your products or services through your website can be done in just a few clicks. Using a marketing platform that allows you to add an integration to a payment processor like Stripe will make your life easier.

These steps will get your business off the ground quickly. Of course you can keep optimizing your website and adding more content as time allows. And don’t forget that you can hire a helping hand: use a trusted directory to find an expert to do it for you.


Further Reading: How to Launch a Website

Our 10‑step checklist for a successful website launch will help you create a new online home that expresses who you are and supports your business success.

A Targeted Approach to Success

How segmentation is making connections and driving engagement

Customer segmentation is driving big gains

Across the billions of emails sent via our platform, there’s a clear and persistent trend: Businesses that send thoughtful, targeted content to segmented audiences are reaping bigger and bigger rewards.

Average click-through rates for segmented emails are nearly 3% higher than those for unsegmented emails, and trending upward. If you take away one email marketing trend from this report, let it be this one. There are a number of reasons why SMBs find success with segmentation.

Segmentation allows you to group your customers according to meaningful, data-based insights. Common segmentation criteria include purchase history, engagement patterns, and demographic characteristics. Segmenting allows marketers to break through the noise and connect with customers in a way that’s relevant to them. Put another way: when you send the right messages to the right people, it makes your marketing unique and lucrative.

The results from sending segmented campaigns are real, and the sooner small businesses embrace audience segmentation, the faster they can reap those rewards.

How Patasbox used segmentation to find success

Mailchimp customer Patasbox overcame unexpected obstacles to find exciting new opportunities in 2020. The monthly subscription service for dog lovers used segmentation, social media, and a healthy dose of creativity to grow last year.


Here’s what you can do

From simple to sophisticated, there are lots of ways to focus your marketing resources on specific audience segments. If your brand is already selling online, use pre-built segments that automatically group customers based on their past behavior and purchase history. You can also let your customers tell you about themselves through a form, a survey, or a marketing preferences center. Group people with similar responses and start sending personalized content. Getting started is really as simple as that.

More sophisticated segmentation techniques include layering in predictive analytics to create segments based on your customers’ likelihood to purchase from you again, their customer lifetime value or their predicted demographics. You can also group people based on how they’ve interacted with your website or app, or how they’ve have engaged with your marketing messages in the past. For more unique needs, tags let you to create customizable labels for your audience so you can segment them according to your specific requirements.

Remember, segmentation is the first step towards effective, personalized marketing. Layering automations and AI into the mix lets you do personalized marketing at scale. And integrations can help bring it all together by unifying customer data from different sources all in one place - allowing you to get a clearer picture of your audience.

Further Reading: 4 Steps That’ll Turn Data Into Targeted Campaigns That Sell More Stuff

Learn how to collect, manage, and use audience data—from email engagement to purchase history—to market smarter.

A Kinder, Smarter Engagement

How automations and AI are making SMB success scalable

You have to meet your customers where they’re at

This is especially true now, when the pandemic has pushed so many consumers online. Tools like marketing automations and artificial intelligence make it easier to reach right people at the right time with the right content.

Automations and AI let businesses automatically connect with their customers based on their behaviors and interactions. And when you send messages that are relevant to a person’s specific interests, the results are always more effective.

Marketing automations let SMBs do more work with less effort, such as sending out an automated welcome email every time a new subscriber joins your mailing list. They enable curated, flexible customer journeys that help you send relevant messaging to your biggest fans. Artificial intelligence (AI), meanwhile, is the result of teaching computers to intelligently complete tasks in order to save us time and effort. Together, these marketing tools can do wonders.

AI can identify trends that the human eye can't see and determine the best course of action. Some examples: using customer behavior and demographics data to predict which customers are likely to purchase from you again, or to calculate customer lifetime value, or even to identify which products a customer is most likely to buy and then serve those products to the customer. You can also combine automations and AI by putting product recommendations into a win-back email. The options are limitless.

  • Automations—emails that are triggered by a customer’s interaction with your website or e-commerce store—add a personal touch even while your focus is elsewhere. Mailchimp customers sent more than 12 million emails using automations in 2020, up 8% from the previous year.
  • Small businesses that use marketing automations experience 95% higher open rates and 167% higher click-through rates on average compared to sending bulk emails.
  • Automated emails can drive 5 times more orders per email than bulk emails.
Growth in the Number of Users with Active Automations by Industry (2019 vs. 2020)
Business Type % Change
Politics 52.13%
Government 52.04%
Religion 45.72%
Agriculture and Food Services 44.94%
Nonprofit 40.89%
Public Relations 37.14%
Games 35.50%
Legal 35.11%
Arts and Artists 33.21%
Manufacturing 33.20%

How BetterSpaces used AI to land new customers during the pandemic

Mailchimp customer BetterSpaces managed to land new customers amid a year of upheaval. The wellness event and tech company pivoted their in-person business to virtual spaces and grew their community, thanks to segmentation, a Customer Journey Builder, and a Creative Assistant.


Here’s what you can do

Building an automations workflow doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, a Customer Journey Builder lets you use a drag-and-drop interface to easily create customer journey maps. You can set triggers to reach out to your customers at different points in their journey—when they sign up for your email list, download your app, or make a purchase—to build deeper relationships.

Another smart recommendations tool that can sharpen your marketing is Next Best Action. It’s a tool that uses AI to understand what works for marketers like you. Next Best Action considers the tactics you've already tried, and then surfaces data-driven recommendations for how you can improve your marketing. And it works both while you're editing your campaign (in the checklist) and while you're reviewing how it performed (in the campaign report).

Send time optimization tools can take the guesswork of figuring out when to send your campaigns. The feature uses your data to determine when your contacts are most likely to engage and then sends your emails at that time.

Hoping to elevate the look of your marketing? Creative Assistant gets to know your brand, then creates and resizes designs for you instantly so you can incorporate them into on-brand marketing campaigns. It’s the first AI-powered design tool in a major online marketing platform that makes beautiful designs you can use across channels. When you combine the power of data science and AI, it can help you work confidently, create better marketing, and grow sales.


Further Reading: How to Create a Marketing Automation Strategy

Automated, relevant messaging enables flexible paths to purchase for each customer so you can scale quickly. Here’s how to get started.

A Unified Marketing Strategy

How data and integrations are optimizing everything

Integrations help you bring it all together

By connecting separate platforms, you can view all your marketing and business data in one place. A customer interaction in one channel can trigger a personalized or automated interaction in another channel, letting small business marketers create more sophisticated behavior- and data-based campaigns. Plus, many integrations are preconfigured, which allows small businesses to get work done quickly without hiring outside help.


Total number of users using integrations on the Mailchimp platform in 2020


Increase in the number of Mailchimp users using integrations in 2020 vs. 2019

How Shapeways used integrations to increase their click‑through rates by 525%

Mailchimp customer Shapeways used an integration with Zapier to improve their audience discovery process and send their email engagement through the roof. The result? Shapeways increased their click-through rates by 525%.*

*Spectacular results not guaranteed


Here’s what you can do

Integrations help set your business up for success, bringing all your data together in one place to help you execute personalized, relevant marketing. Connect your favorite apps and web services to save time and do more with your marketing.

The nice thing about integrations is they come in all sorts of styles. SMS-based integrations allow you to use mobile messaging to connect with their customers and drive revenue. Commerce and payment integrations let you centralize your sales data to send targeted, automated campaigns based on a customer's purchase history. Event integrations let you sync and contact people who’ve registered for your virtual events. Depending on what you’re trying to do, there’s likely an integration that can help you do it.

Opportunity lies ahead, and you’ve got the tools you need to make the most of it.

Reviewing the top takeaways

  1. Remember that having your business online isn’t optional anymore—it’s a necessity.
  2. Build trust and connections with your biggest fans while learning from your data.
  3. Let automations and AI make your life easier and more productive.
  4. Finally, gather all of your data into one place with the right integrations.

Marketing experts like you are always looking to become more savvy. We hope this report will encourage you to innovate, grow, and make the moves that take you to your next milestone.

See what else you can do

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