Small Business Strategy: 10 Trends to Watch

Part of an ongoing series dedicated to small businesses

As you read this, the business landscape is shifting right under your company’s foundation. How customers make decisions, how they discover, communicate, and share, how they influence and are influenced, is evolving considerably. In fact, customer behavior is not only changing, it’s fragmenting and opening the door to new touch points. Your business will now have to compete for the customers you know and additionally, a new breed of customers that you need to know. And, to earn their attention and ultimately their loyalty, you will need to better understand the top technology trends and how they’re impacting customer behavior.

At the heart of this customer divide is technology. But this isn’t about the technology we once knew, such as PCs, laptops, iPods, ebook readers, DVRs, etc. This change in consumerism is the inevitable result of disruptive technology and how it has affected behavior and reshaped expectations. Smart phones, social networks, apps, gamified everything, Google Glasses, self-driving cars, smart appliances, the list goes on, are placing consumers at the center of their own universe connected to one another through shared experiences. This plugged-in and always-on customers are learning to see the world differently. They’re empowered and they’re entitled. As a result, disruptive technology is grooming customers to expect information and opportunities to find them.

Everything starts with surveying the landscape for how you reach customers today and how their behavior and expectations are shifting. But this is also about the people you don’t reach now. This research will help understand how to appeal to a new type of customer as well.

If you thought that having a social media strategy and presences in the most popular social networks was enough, think again. What of adding social buttons to your website or in your email blasts? Still not enough? How about developing apps for iPhone and Android platforms? Nope. That’s not the right approach.

It takes research to truly understand how customer segmentation is materializing and how new technologies introduce opportunities to engage effectively with each group. More importantly, it takes interpretation, strategy, and a culture of innovation to recognize and prioritize these new opportunities and execute against them while windows for engagement are open.

Just like customer service, sales, and marketing, technology and your ability to translate trends into opportunities, are now part of your everyday business strategy. To what extent disruptive technology impacts your customer landscape, differs from industry to industry and it is your research that reveals where to concentrate and balance your focus and investments. To help, I’ve assembled a list of 10 current trends to evaluate . But, this is just the beginning. Use this list to build a regiment of research and innovation within your business now and over time.

10 movements to review for opportunities…

1. Social Networks from Facebook to Twitter to Google+ and how they’re connecting to influencers and businesses (note: pay attention to nicheworks as well such as Path and Instagram.)

2. Geolocation check-in services such as Foursquare and Facebook location updates to share locations and earn rewards or opportunities for discounts

3. Crowdsourced discounts and deals including Groupon and LivingSocial and what’s valued and why

4. Social commerce services like Shopkick and Armadealo and how they create personalized experiences that are worth sharing

5. Referral based solutions like Yelp, Service Magic (now HomeAdvisor), and Angie’s List to make informed decisions and how shared experiences can improve your business, products, and services

6. Gamification platforms such as Badgeville and Fangager, and why rewarding engagement improves commerce and loyalty

7. How your consumers using mobile devices today and what apps they’re installing. Also, how they’re comparing options, reviewing experiences and making decisions while mobile?

8. The online presence your business produces across a variety of platforms such as tablets, smartphones, laptops and desktops. You must realize how consumers are experiencing the online presences you create and whether or not they deliver a holistic and optimized experience for each platform.

9. The consumer clickpath based on the platform consumers are using. Are you steering experiences based on the expectations of your customers? And are you taking into consideration the device or network where the clickpath begins and ends? Are you integrating Facebook F-commerce and m-commerce into the journey?

10. The expectations of connected consumers, what they value in each channel and platform, where they engage and how your business can improve experiences and make them worthy of sharing.

What would you add?

No company is too big to fail or too small to succeed. Simply knowing your customer is one thing. The connected customers does not replace your traditional customer, they simply introduce new opportunities to grow your business. How you’re marketing, selling, and servicing customers today are in many ways missing these important customers and thus limiting your ability for engagement and growth.

Understanding how connected customers make decisions informs more meaning strategies and ultimately effective and engaging programs, products, and services. Now more than ever, the future of business isn’t created, it’s co-created.

Originally published at AT&T’s Networking Exchange Blog

Chart: Shutterstock

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  • http://www.DSox.com/ Dave Sachse

    Thanks for the post Brian, always enjoy your insights. I would add experimentation and evolution of mobile advertising as the offerings will become more personal & useful while creating mutual value to both the customer and advertiser (desired results specifically linked to a business’s overall strategy and goals while producing consistent returns that do not vary based on site-specific metrics a la fan, like, retweets, followers, etc.) The future of business is exciting as the co-creation of brands being driven by personally memorable experiences is going to be game changing for businesses of all sizes. This is going to be a fun ride!

    It would be awesome to conduct a brief interview with you for my column in The Social Media Monthly Magazine around the topic of co-creation of brands. The article will also include information/insights from conversations I have had with reps from different brands (McDonalds, Menchies, Macy’s and more) to highlight this trend. It would also be great to hear and include info on your upcoming book! Do you have availability and interest to chat on this topic? Let me know and I can email more information.

    Thanks for your time Brian, really enjoy your insights & content.

    Dave

  • mankul65

    I think we should factor in fear. The World is moving into uncharted waters. No one quite knows what is going on and how will the ‘good times’ return.I am optimistic about the future.
    I posted the following comment in April 2012.
    A few years ago, when 2012 was trending, on the Agora’s 5
    Minute Financial blog, somebody asked, “Will the world come to an end in 2012?”
    The blogger replied, “No, the world will not come to an end in 2012, but the
    world as we know it will cease to exist.”
    I take this to mean that wars, religious bigotry, hatred, suffering etc will come to an end.
    Short term there will be pain.
    Long term –There will be peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      This is so true. Thank you for sharing…

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  • http://twitter.com/Midmarket Midmarket Institute

    Brian, this is a good piece. I focus on the midmarket her in the US and in other parts of the world. In Germany, midmarket companies are called the Mittelstand. Many mittelstand companies tend to dominate many industries on a worldwide basis with worldwide market shares as high as 70-80 percent. The ones that are successful prefer customer intimacy over marketing THREE TO ONE!! They tend to be very close to their largest and most demanding customers, locating near them or in their premises and following them to new markets. The long history of many of these companies translates into extensive experience and knowledge of their customers. These close relationships allow the Mittelstand companies to know their customer’s needs and priorities well. In these situations, the vendor is right there when the problem is analyzed and co-creates potential solutions. It is difficult for a competitor to displace such companies that are ‘customer entrenched’. It is certain that a competitor who simply ‘markets’ will not succeed in such a situation. I know there are many American companies that place a similarly high value on customer intimacy. I wish we will collectively emphasize the importance of customer intimacy instead of losing ourselves in technology.

    One thing that bothers me is that many people are so caught up with the technological change, they forget the ‘first principles’ – the importance of customer intimacy. What has happened with our quarterly-focused management and the ‘hit and run’ sales culture is that many companies have gone astray. Somewhere along the way, we became too enamored with marketing – as in being able to tout our product/service/value proposition – and ignored the importance of really
    meeting the needs of the customer. The CEO may make his quarterly numbers and the sales guy may make a big bonus for beating his bogey. But, successful companies are those that meet the needs of their customers. Irrespective of the kinds of new technology or the rate of technological change, that basic principle of meeting customer needs is a constant!

    Ram V. Iyer
    President, The Midmarket Institute
    Princeton, NJ

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  • http://econsultancy.com/ Ryan Sommer

    Hi five from London Brian.

    As we lay out Econsultancy content marketing strategies, I am particularly interested in tools that make end user/reader experience platform agnostic (http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/10817-the-future-of-content-marketing-consult-the-feeds) and I’m also interested in tracking publisher sharing hubs for verticals like Repost.us and Hublished.

    What are your thoughts on these Vs Scribd?

    Had they dived into video/webinars would they be a player in the space?

    Ryan

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      High five back to London Ryan! Taking a look. I’m a big fan of scribd…

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  • http://twitter.com/HighwaySeo SEO-Atlanta

    I would add Quora in part 1under “pay attention” part :)
    Next, I would also spend time on Youtube finding keywords related to my business and then see how those videos are ranking in Google, because we all know Google likes video amrketing. More important – Youtube is google’s property, so…be smart and creative ;)

    Also, from the position of SEO specialist, I think that most of small business owners are hardly know what SEO or SMM is. That is why we should prepare them to be at least familiar with terms before we start campaign for them. I wrote very comprehensive guide of Internet marketing here http://seo-atlanta.com/101-seo-term I hope it will help some small business owner who will read this article in future. That way our job (doing SEO and SMM campaigns) would be more easy, if the small business owners knows what we are talking to them :)

  • http://www.strategicpropositions.com Jose Palomino

    This is so useful and forward-thinking, and I truly appreciate you bringing it to light. So much attention has been drawn to social media and its usefulness to small companies — but all the information tends to be of the same ilk. The problem is that most of us are being complacent in using social media, and we’re not thinking ahead (or perhaps — not even thinking in the moment). What I love most about this post is that you don’t just remind us to ask, “What’s NEXT?” but you actually offer tangible ways into enter into the “next” or “now” phase of social.

    There’s lots to ponder here. I wonder: What am I missing? What’s next in my social media strategy?

    Thank you!

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Yes…indeed. Let’s go! Time to answer that question…

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  • jc

    wow this is really a good post..

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  • Jodi Bakken

    Thanks for the interesting post! Even with all the new technology, it still comes down to one basic essential point: KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS!

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Yes…and WANT TO KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS! :)

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  • Naim yacob

    Thanks for the interesting topic,i agree with Jodi ,with all the new technology,yes it
    still comes to KNOW OURS CUSTOMERS,that the hard part to do.

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  • http://www.noggindigital.com/ Zach Kasperski

    #5 and #7 stand out the most for me. I think a lot of small/mid-sized business owners are ignorant to the concept of online reviews and how they can positively impact their businesses. Also, I think the online review game is still maturing and we can see these platforms improving a lot in the near future. Mobile usage will continue to rise and we’ll see an even larger increase of ad spend on this platform.

    I would add to #1 by focusing more on Twitter Search and how small/mid-sized business owners can listen to their customers’ wants and needs with this platform, ultimately engaging when the time is right.

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  • http://www.kronikmedia.co.uk/blog/ K.Singh, London

    Mobile marketing is definitely the trend to watch. The sad thing however is that in spite of the growth, less than a thrid of businesses have got around to making sure their website is accessible on mobile.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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