5 Ways Small Business Owners Can Embrace Rapid Digital Change to Get Closer to Their Customers
The business that gets closest to the customer wins. Here are five steps for SMBs to stay ahead of the curve.
Change is hard, but it is also essential. This is especially true when doing business online. Customer trends and expectations, privacy concerns and world events (to name only a few major issues) often require businesses across the globe to make major changes in very little time.
A joint study by Boston Consulting Group and Google found that digital leaders (i.e., firms that achieve the greatest success in scaling digital solutions) have three factors in common. These include top-down alignment starting with the C-suite, connecting technical capabilities to data and leveraging customers' "always-on" expectations.
The study examined 2,000 global companies, but there are a number of lessons small and medium-sized businesses can learn from these findings as well. Below are the five ways small business owners can embrace change and get closer to their customers.
1. Serve your customers
It's a cliché, but the phrase "take care of your customers and your customers will take care of you" is totally true in the digital age. From social media to online reviews, customers are communicating with your business all the time. You just need to listen.
The best way to stay on top of your customers' wants, needs, desires and expectations is to have one or more designated digital "point" people. Owners, managers, and accountable employees need to be aligned on the priorities and goals when it comes to digital.
Chiefly, the job of the point person/point people is to listen, report, and implement changes based on online activity related to your business. The goal is to use all of the available digital means (including your business website, social media pages, email, etc.) to determine what your customers want and respond with effective messaging and solutions.
If this proves too much for your employee(s) to handle, hiring a digital marketing agency can help.
2. Capitalize on first-party data
According to a survey by Kearney Consumer Institute, 76% of consumers trust small businesses more than they trust big businesses. When customers trust a business, they are much more likely to share information with the business.
Information provided by customers is called first-party data. Businesses can collect first-party data directly from customers (such as through online form fills), or it can be gleaned through analysis of how customers interact with your website and ads.
No matter how you collect it, first-party data is critical for businesses to market and advertise effectively online. If trends and behaviors are changing rapidly (i.e., your demographics are shifting, certain items are outselling others, etc.), you will have real-time insights you can use to adjust your digital strategies and operations.
3. Pay attention to analytics
Your consumers' digital behavior changes on a dime. Google Analytics and other online platforms can help you monitor the actions customers take, how your marketing and advertising efforts are received by different audiences and more.
Of course, even the analytics landscape is changing at a rapid pace. For example, next year Google will sunset Universal Analytics in favor of Google Analytics 4. Google Analytics 4 tracks user activity across platforms (example: users moving from a website to an app and back again would be classified as a single session) and focuses on events (i.e., online actions) rather than overall traffic.
Google sets the tone for how other companies collect and present data. Therefore, we can expect more platforms to start emphasizing cross-platform tracking, multi-channel attribution and greater privacy controls.
Businesses, in-house marketers, and agencies all need to be aware of these changes. The ones that adapt now based on the data and the tools they use to collect it will be able to develop more effective marketing and advertising campaigns, reach target audiences faster and achieve greater success.
4. Go where your customers go
There is no shortage of websites, social media networks and other online outlets where users spend the bulk of their digital lives. Given the budget constraints small businesses face, it is essential to hone in on the sites where you can reach the maximum number of potential customers.
In order to engage and activate these users, you need to optimize your messaging, content and creative across organic and paid channels. This process combines both branding and audience research.
Businesses that succeed online know themselves as well as their customers — consistency in your messaging, imagery and calls to action is crucial for maximizing awareness and driving customers to take action, as well as reaching your goals.
5. Use your smaller size to your advantage
Money and resources are the primary advantage national and global companies have over small and medium-sized businesses. Large brands have the people, finances and infrastructure to make big changes like embracing digital transformation.
However, the large size of a major company can also be a drawback. The bigger the business, the more moving parts there are to scale and implement change. Small businesses have the ability to be much more nimble. Digital solutions can be implemented much faster when fewer employees and institutional roadblocks are involved.
How to thrive amid digital upheaval
It is tempting to look at the fast pace of modern business as turmoil. However, this mindset limits your ability to adapt and win in the digital space.
Changes in your community, industry and the business world at large are wrought by the behaviors of consumers who are always online. To succeed, you need to put your best digital foot forward and focus on delivering maximum value for customers who are engaged, privacy-conscious and looking for timely products and services that solve their problems and improve their lives.
It is crucial for businesses of all sizes to adopt the digital-first mindset of their customers. Making data-driven decisions will allow you to streamline your operations and meet — and exceed — your customers' expectations.
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