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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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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