1. What trends should small business owners look for in 2020 (and beyond)?
In 2020, personalization will be one of the most pronounced trends, as it will become more commonplace with large brands looking to capitalize on consumers’ growing desire for customized or tailor-made personalized experiences. This means that websites, email marketing, and social media amongst other marketing platforms will allow for customers to opt-in to sharing information (participate in surveys, quizzes, polls, etc) which offers specialized content, products or service recommendations based on the customer’s specific needs. While this may seem like a hard mountain to climb for small businesses that lack the resources to invest in personalization technology or tactics, they can do little things such as segment their email marketing campaigns to provide a more personalized interaction. They can also begin pairing complimentary products or services together (products or services that customers tend to buy together) to provide more customized recommendations. Personalization is really about putting the focus back on the customer and creating customer-centric marketing. That means that a little effort can go a long way in really understanding the needs, interests and wants of your customers.
2. Why and how will the small business landscape continue to evolve?
Today’s customers want a frictionless experience with the businesses that they work with or purchase from. This equates to customers wanting streamlined purchasing, prompt customer service, and easily accessing answers to common questions. These will all be of significant importance. In the past, consumer held larger brands to this standard but gave a pass to small business. However, the consumer expectations continue to increase, and this means that these “must haves” will now apply to small businesses as well. Now is the time to review websites for missing links, messy navigation or multiple clicks to check out, and ensure that businesses are offering an easy to use and efficient experience.
3. What are some things they should prepare for, i.e., technological advances, vendor opportunities, etc?
Social media is a huge opportunity for all business, and yet it tends to be treated as an after-thought or more pain than it is worth, especially in more service focused industries. Social media marketing can be an extremely valuable asset to all businesses when used correctly. It should not be used as a sales tool, but rather as a platform for engaging your customers with enriching content and valuable information. The good news is that few companies use it in this regard, and that presents an enormous advantage to companies that follow this advice. Bloggers, Influencers and affiliate opportunities all reside within social media, and each can offer an excellent return to your business.
4. Can you outline a 5-step plan for them to follow, i.e., what 5 items should every OD have on their to-do lists in 2020?
1. Personalization strategy and plan – Look at the areas of your business where you can access greater information about the needs, interests and motivations of your customers and then provide customized content, recommendations, and services via personalization technology and tactics.
2. Cause marketing strategy and plan – Develop or create a partnership with a social or environmental cause that really speaks to the interests of employees and the business the better. More and more customers are making decisions to support businesses based on what the business supports. Brands such as Lush have aligned their products with supporting the LGBTQ community, and this has helped the brand resonate with Millennials and Generation Z.
3. Website navigation improvements – Review your website from the eyes of the consumer and test the interaction. Is the process seamless or cumbersome? Is it easy to find what you need or difficult? Now is the time to analyze your website and ensure that it offers a frictionless and pleasant user-experience. If you aren’t sure, hire an expert and make the necessary changes.
4. Responsive Marketing – If your website has a “contact us” button, that email must be answered within 24 hours because customers are increasingly interested in immediate answers. Even better, add a chat button to your website. The same applies to social media. If someone leaves a comment or question, you need a person or team actively monitoring and answering promptly. In a digital world, untimely responses or no response can be disastrous to your business.
5. Focus Offline – While customers interact with businesses via online initially, they continue to have high expectations for their in-person experience as well. That means that a friendly, knowledgeable staff is a must. However, that staff also needs to be accessible. Often some of the company’s best employees are too busy to connect with a customer. That is not only a lost opportunity, but customers don’t want to feel like they are burdening your staff with their communication. Small businesses can tackle every other aspect of this list, but if they fall short on the in-person experience, then it will all be for naught.
5. What’s the best piece of advice that you could offer a small business owner today?
Small businesses have a tremendous opportunity to lead with customer-centric marketing. They know and understand their customers often better than larger businesses because they interact with them one-on-one. Small businesses should use this to their advantage to make their customers feel important, valued and appreciated. This is their secret weapon because most corporations or larger businesses fall short in this regard. Customers want you to know who they are, and what matters to them. The more that you do, the more loyal they will be and the more business they will refer. It is really that simple.