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3 Trends Impacting Small and Medium Businesses Now How new developments in social media, customer relations and marketing technologies can grow your business.

By Allison Checchi Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Since 2014, small and medium-sized business owners have experienced year-over-year improvement of business results, and they're increasingly optimistic about the current economic environment. According to a recent survey, 56 percent of local business owners plan to increase their marketing budgets in 2016, with a big focus on digital marketing. Marketing channels that will see the biggest investment include email, social media, display, mobile and search (SEO/PPC).

In short, marketing is now front and center for SMBs, who are considering what they can do to increase their momentum. We'll see business owners continue to focus on three core areas that will shape the marketing ecosystem as a result:

1. Social media.

The majority of SMBs now have some kind of social media presence, whether on Facebook, Twitter or other emerging platforms -- and they're becoming more mature in their use of these platforms. We often see SMB owners who think it's a form of marketing to simply post updates about their businesses, regardless of who's paying attention or interacting with the message being delivered. But this isn't marketing, and is essentially like talking to an empty room. While the number of "Likes" or Followers of a business are important, SMBs need to be engaged in constant conversation with their customers, responding to inquiries, soliciting feedback and creating the perception that the business is accessible and interested.

SMBs also need to be thinking about what they can do to connect beyond their core "friends and family" network. Facebook, Twitter and other platforms also offer paid media opportunities to serve targeted ads to potential customers in addition to simply engaging their existing followers. By determining the characteristics of their core customers, businesses can create look-alike models to execute pay-to-play campaigns that can actually drive new business leads, going beyond just "likes" and shares.

Lastly, with regards to social media, it's said you can't buy what you can't measure. SMBs must educate themselves on the rudiments of social media measurement to get a basic grasp of whether awareness, likes and site visits correlate with business goals, especially sales.

Related: 5 Things Entrepreneurs Shouldn't Forget About Social Media

2. CRM.

Digital channels such as email, social media, SMS (texts) and POS are all conduits for ad retargeting and nurturing your customer relationships. Each time a potential or return customer encounters your brand, incremental data is collected, which SMBs can analyze to make future exposure more meaningful. Little by little, as customers engage with your brand, a long-term relationship develops.

SMBs are moving towards adopting more robust CRM systems that allow them to go beyond simple email distribution lists and connect all their digital channels.

For example, a local boutique proprietor of clothing with several stores around the region can use a combination of digital and physical communications to manage local customer relationships.

They may provide an in-store "guest book" for customers to sign and provide basic information such as email, snail-mail address and birthday. Using that information, the SMB can starts a friendly but unobtrusive correspondence via email with special offers to loyal V.I.P. customers and complement those communications with text reminders about weekend in-store sales or a hand-written birthday card mailed to homes. The store can also remind customers of those sales via social ads, and drive conversation to their Facebook page for additional interaction or promotion of specific pieces clothing to generate more excitement.

Customer relationship management will come front and center over the next 12 months, moving from the enterprise down towards the small businesses that form the base of our economy.

Related: These 4 CRM Tools Will Make the Management Part Effortless

3. High touch is in, self-service is out.

Website, SEO, SEM, Facebook, text, email, Pinterest, Instagram. In 2015, SMBs were over overwhelmed with marketing options, all designed to allow business owners to quickly get online and reach new customers. Spurred on by the introduction of Google AdWords, "DIY" became the approach most marketing vendors pushed SMBs towards – thinking it was the easiest strategy for both the business owner and the vendor.

However, we're now seeing a robust segment of small and medium business proprietors who adopt a "DIFM" – Do It For Me – or "DIWM"—Do it With Me – attitude. Service expectations are rising with businesses are fatigued by trying to figure it all out on their own. They want to understand what's working and what's not, and they want help in doing so.

Related: 5 Ways to Provide Personalized Service to Small Companies -- Profitably

Businesses that cater to SMBs by way of consultative, high touch services will proliferate and prosper, much in line with the maturing of social media use and greater adoption of robust CRM systems.

Marketing technology is continuing to reshape how small and medium businesses approach the customer experience and allowing them to move beyond presenting themselves as a "mom and pop" shop and more towards a sophisticated offering of their goods and services.

Allison Checchi

Chief Marketing Officer of YP

As chief marketing officer of YP, Allison Checchi leads the company's brand and business-to-business marketing efforts, including advertiser product strategy and management, branding, acquisition and retention marketing and corporate communications. Checchi joined YP in 2011 and has been core to the company’s evolution as the leading local marketing solutions provider. Prior to YP, she spent more than 10 years at Bain & Company.

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