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Small businesses don’t trust artificial intelligence. They’re struggling to understand what AI is, how to apply it to their marketing, and whether or not it’s worth their time to adopt AI tools. They think AI is too expensive—reserved for big businesses with even bigger budgets. And they’re naturally wary of dropping the ball by giving control of their business to new technology.
Or so we thought.
It turns out there are a few more layers to this story.
We expected misunderstanding, skepticism, and disinterest. Digging deeper, our survey of small businesses across North America revealed the opposite: They’re fully aware of how AI can help them juggle everyday challenges, supporting and enhancing their marketing efforts. They anticipate that AI-powered marketing tools will see widespread adoption in the next two to three years. About a third of them already use AI to improve their bottom line and grow their business.
According to PwC, artificial intelligence could grow the global economy by $15.7 trillion and provide a 26% boost in GDP for local economies by 2030. It turns out smaller business owners—and not just the ones running tech startups out of Silicon Valley—are hungry for a piece of that pie
To understand how we got here, we’ve got to first take a look at the economic landscape small and medium businesses find themselves in today—a landscape filled with challenges and opportunities.
Three takeaways from Unbounce’s Small Business Report
A lack of marketing expertise is preventing small businesses from growing.
Time and money are always challenges for small businesses, but respondents emphasized the challenges of finding marketing expertise in today’s world.
Small businesses are optimistic about an AI-powered future.
Regardless of whether they’re using AI or not, a majority of respondents said they’re excited about how AI will enable them to grow their business over time.
Adopters say they’re saving time and growing revenue as a result of AI.
Small businesses who’ve already adopted AI told us they see better performance and take on a broader range of marketing initiatives than those who don’t.
Small businesses have their hands tied by everyday challenges.
Today’s small businesses face specific challenges that can lead them to adopt AI-powered marketing tools—copy generators, website and landing page builders, and design assistants—to ensure their future success. So we first wanted to get a better understanding of how these conditions might lead them to invest in these tools.
Small businesses say they struggle due to limited time, budget, and staffing.
Businesses just don’t have the money they need for all their digital marketing efforts. Over half of the businesses surveyed reported that budgeting was the biggest challenge.
While most businesses see AI as a costly investment, AI tools can provide substantial savings while helping boost the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, leading to considerable savings over time.
Q: What are the biggest marketing challenges your company is currently facing? Select all that apply. n=401
Lack of expertise is one of the biggest hurdles smaller businesses face.
Yep, the struggle is real. 60% of small and medium businesses say they’re missing staff with the right expertise on their marketing teams.
Because of limited resources, smaller businesses often hire marketing generalists—people who can do a little bit of everything but can’t tackle the technical intricacies of, say, performance marketing and conversion rate optimization. AI tools can help fill these expertise gaps while saving businesses a lot of time (another thing they told us they don’t have enough of).
Q: What are the biggest marketing challenges your company is currently facing? Select all that apply. n=401
Businesses blame the Great Resignation for issues finding and retaining staff.
The job landscape is shifting: 49% of respondents agree that the Great Resignation—mass voluntary resignations following the pandemic—is preventing their business from recruiting and retaining talent.
Q: Please rate your level of agreement with the following statement: The Great Resignation is preventing my company from hiring or retaining marketing staff. n=401
Canadian small businesses have been hit harder by the Great Resignation (compared to small businesses in the U.S.).
60% of Canadian small businesses agree that the Great Resignation is preventing their company from hiring marketing staff, compared to only 42% of U.S.-based businesses. In a remote-first working world, this may be due to the inability of Canadian companies to compete with compensation paid in USD or additional legal costs preventing Canadian companies from hiring U.S.-based talent.
Q: Please rate your level of agreement with the following statements: The Great Resignation is preventing my company from hiring or retaining marketing staff. n=401
Despite our assumption that small businesses were skeptical of AI technology, our research revealed businesses show a keen interest in adopting AI marketing technology in 2022 and beyond.
More than a third of businesses surveyed say they already use AI for marketing—and many who don’t use AI marketing tools say they could see AI-powered solutions positively impacting their future marketing results. As the economy faces challenges—and hiring skilled workers becomes more expensive—these business owners believe AI will help them save time, reduce costs, and close the knowledge gap that prevents them from running sophisticated marketing campaigns.
Q: Do AI-powered marketing tools exist for small companies like yours?
If AI was once the exclusive (and expensive) solution for enterprise
companies with big budgets and data science teams, AI-powered tools
like copy generators and design assistants are now much more accessible
and affordable—and smaller businesses are jumping on board.
Q: Assuming AI-powered marketing tools existed for small companies like yours, would your company be interested in using them? n=401
Nearly half of respondents expect AI tools to create new marketing jobs.
AI-powered tools can help fill the job gap created by the Great Resignation. But most small and medium business owners don’t seem to think AI will ultimately replace staff any time soon.
Sure, 32% told us they believe AI will eliminate some jobs, but a whopping 46% anticipate the advancement of this technology will create new roles. If the world of digital marketing is changing, marketers will increasingly pair their abilities with the power of AI to accomplish things neither could do independently.
Q: What impact do you expect AI marketing technology will have on marketing jobs at small businesses in the future? n=401
67% of small businesses using AI listed landing pages as one way they’re attracting more customers.
Q: What types of digital marketing, if any, does your company do to attract customers?
More than 80% of businesses believe AI tools will positively impact their business in three years or less.
Smaller businesses are eager to invest in AI soon. (Yep, this surprised us too.) We expected respondents to express more skepticism about AI and any positive impact it might have on their business. But the opposite is true: 68% of those surveyed anticipate positive results from AI tools within the next two to three years (or even sooner). Businesses see promise in AI marketing tools, and we expect that promise will lead to more confident investments.
Q: How quickly do you believe AI-powered marketing tools will have a positive impact on your business? n=125
What kind of tools are small businesses using?
From SEO and pay-per-click to landing pages and email campaigns, small businesses today have a wealth of AI technology they can add to their stack. It’s early days yet, but here are three crucial ways AI is leveling the playing field.
New tools like Unbounce’s Smart Builder help small businesses do things they couldn’t without the help of AI—and scale with ease—by eliminating manual hassles from their workflow.
One of the most exciting ways small businesses use AI tools like Smart Copy is to instantly create new copy for landing pages, emails, ads, and other assets.
A/B testing your landing pages demand time and expertise. Small businesses let AI take the wheel by using Smart Traffic to automatically route people to the best-match experience.
Limited time, staff, and budgets leave smaller marketing teams at a disadvantage when considering investing in AI technology and tools.
These challenges are answered by the three most significant benefits of using AI for these teams. Sure, businesses save money by avoiding the wasted cost of poorly performing ads and landing pages, weak personalization, and limited targeting. But they also save time and resources using AI to create content—page copy, social media, ads—faster.
Q: Do you agree with the following statements regarding AI marketing tools? n=125
of small businesses say AI tools reduce time spent on marketing tasks.
of respondents say AI tools reduce the need to hire additional marketing headcount.
of respondents say AI tools decrease costs.
Smaller businesses using AI tools spend less on digital marketing overall.
According to our study, small companies that have invested in AI tools to support their marketing efforts will probably spend less overall. 32% of companies that invest in AI marketing tools spend less than $1,000 annually. (By comparison, only 12% of those not using AI spend less than $1,000 on their marketing yearly.)
Considering that 92% of businesses say they’ve decreased costs due to AI tools, we can assume that these same companies also spend less overall on their digital marketing due to their adoption of AI.
Q: How much did your company spend on digital marketing (such as pay-per-click, email marketing, SEO, etc.) over the past fiscal year? n=401
63% of AI adopters always use data or insights to inform their marketing decisions (compared to only 24% who don’t).
Data and AI go together like peanut butter and jelly. 94% of respondents who use AI-powered tools also say they always or sometimes rely on data to help them make decisions. Seeing the positive results of data-driven decisions isn’t just sound business practice. It also makes investing in AI tech in the long term even more of an easy decision.
Q: How often does your company use data or insights to inform your marketing decisions? n=401
89% of AI adopters agree these tools will be important to their company’s success in the next 12 months.
And there it is: Smaller businesses that adopt AI are in it for the long haul. They believe AI technology will continue to contribute to their company’s success. As recession looms, AI tech vendors serving small and medium businesses may even see new customers opting for more affordable options for time and cost savings.
Q: Over the next 12 months, how important will AI-powered marketing tools be to the success of your marketing? n=125 (those using AI marketing tools)
Nearly all AI adopters agree the tools increase qualified leads and accelerate revenue growth.
Why are businesses sticking with AI? The answer is simple: These tools are having a significant and positive impact on their bottom line. 42% of our respondents strongly agreed AI tools are making a big difference in growing their businesses. It’s unlikely these marketing teams will give up those benefits.
Q: Please rate the extent to which you agree with the following statement: AI marketing tools help my company increase qualified leads and accelerate revenue growth. n=125 (those using AI marketing tools)
Shake hands with AI:
How small businesses break free of marketing constraints
We started this research by wondering about the challenges of AI adoption for small businesses. We’d heard that small businesses weren’t ready to trust the tech—that artificial intelligence costs too much and demands expertise they don’t have. Essentially, this thinking goes that small businesses aren’t ready to let go of control over their marketing strategy and efforts.
However, we learned the opposite: Most small businesses believe AI tools are essential for companies to thrive in a post-pandemic world, where the Great Resignation is ongoing and economic headwinds follow.
Our respondents recognized—as we’ve always believed at Unbounce—that AI helps them level the playing field. They’re ready for AI adoption because they know these tools—copy generators, design assistants, and marketing automation and optimization software—go hand-in-hand with saving money, filling expertise gaps, and gaining more time.
Since 2010, Unbounce has helped customers generate (literally) billions of leads, sales, and signups. With easy-to-use builders designed for any skill level, AI-powered features to help you launch quicker, and an award-winning customer service team, Unbounce gives you everything you need to get great results and grow your business.
… And write your copy
Writer’s block is so… Uh, what’s the word? With Smart Copy, you can instantly generate, remix, and expand content for anything—like landing pages, ads, and emails—in seconds.
… And optimize your traffic
Improve your results with the click of a button. Smart Traffic routes your visitors to the best landing page for people like them and—on average—gets you 30% more sales and signups.
About Our Respondents
Below is a snapshot of our survey respondents’ demographics, including age, gender, location, and expertise in marketing. Most respondents are between the ages of 35 and 54, identify as male, and have marketing expertise they rate as 7 out of 10 or above.
Q: How old will you be by the end of this year?n=401
Q: Which of the following best describes your gender? n=401
Q: How would you rate your level of marketing experience between 0 (not experienced at all) and 10 (very experienced)? n=401
We also asked respondents about the small and medium businesses they work for. Almost 90 percent of companies surveyed have between 10 to 99 employees. A third of businesses are five to nine years of age. Industries covered a broad spectrum. And just over two-thirds of businesses are based out of the U.S., while the other third operate in Canada.
Q: Which industry does your company fall into? n=401
Q: Where is your company based? n=401
Q: How many people work at your company? n=401
Q: How long has your company been in business (in years) ? n=401
Break Free: The State of AI Marketing for Small Business was a custom-designed survey of a random sample of small businesses in the U.S. and Canada. Respondents included those who use AI marketing tools and those who do not. The questions tapped into the familiarity, adoption, and benefits of AI marketing tools.
The survey questionnaire was designed by Blue Research and approved by Unbounce. Blue Research was responsible for obtaining lists of small and medium businesses to recruit. All aspects of data collection, analysis, and reporting by Blue Research. 419 respondents completed the survey between April 25 and May 17, 2022. The final sample size, after data scrubbing, was 401 respondents.
Survey respondents were screened to ensure they:
- Make or are part of making marketing/advertising decisions at their company.
- Work for a company with 2-99 employees, have a website, use digital marketing, and spend at least 500 USD/CAD on digital marketing per year.
Tennile Cooper, Yasmin Ebrahimifardoei, Jaime Fletcher, Sarah Gooding, Francois Marchand, Colin Loughran, Jorge Puebla, Banafshe Salehi, Ceci Martinez, Alana Thorburn-Watt, James Thomson, Kiyosha Teixeira, Heather Quigley, Anastasia Kaploun, Amanda Martin
Some of the design elements used in this report (as well as promotional material for this report) were inspired by images generated by OpenAI’s DALL·E 2.