The advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web changed everything in the marketing world. The way people utilize this information system continues to evolve, meaning that marketers must constantly learn new consumer habits and online tools to find a competitive advantage. In some cases, simple technical adaptation is all that’s needed. In other cases, rethinking online platforms or finding a deeper approach to customer relationship building will be crucial to finding business success.
1. Technical Adaptations
The World Wide Web began as a desktop computer medium. With the rapid advent of widespread smartphone use, web developers scrambled to adapt their sites to mobile use. Developers started by making separate mobile sites, but then began building desktop sites that would automatically resize for any kind of screen, called “responsive” website design. Soon template developers offered responsive templates, with varying degrees of success.
These days, when someone accesses a website, chances are higher than not that they’ll be doing it with a smartphone; mobile site design can no longer be an afterthought. What’s become important right now in web design is mobile first – designing the site around smartphone access and then adapting it for desktop use, rather than the other way around. (Take a look at www.tenato.com or www.mage-networks.com for examples of this)
These days, a good website is one that’s not just live, but alive: making frequent updates to continually tell the world the business is a going concern. Businesses need to have easy access to their sites so relevant ideas and current ideas can be shared in a timely manner. Ensuring new websites are built on a platform that can easily be updated by the client is very important. This is because when staff can be involved in content development and updates, it shows a depth and breadth of experience beyond just reselling services and products.
2. Media Selection
When social media first emerged, businesses were chasing all the platforms, creating accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and whatever other platform that might have been sexy that week. People have slowly come to the realization that much of this has been a waste of time, and very few users are bothering to pay attention to what businesses posting on social media (unless of course, they manage to offend someone).
Accordingly, we expect that businesses will be paring back their social media activity, focusing their energies on those platforms that generate some kind of tangible value for them, especially now that platforms are demanding advertising spending to get any real results. Instead of trying to do six different platforms, most businesses should pick one or two and really concentrate on engagement.
For instance, Facebook is proving to be almost useless for business-to-business (B2B) engagement. It can be productive for business-to-consumer relations, and building communities of people with similar interests. However, marketing managers really have to stay on top of things and be responsive; the angry and unsatisfied are many times more likely to post to your page than happy, satisfied customers are. But getting “likes” is harder unless you’re investing in Facebook ads; Facebook wants to collect on for-profit businesses. On the other hand, Instagram, now under the ownership of Facebook, can still be useful for businesses with a strong visual component, especially builders, renovators, artists, photographers, interior designers, makeup artists, hairdressers, tattoo artists, you name it.
And what about Google? As Google ads become more and more popular, bid rates are getting higher. Moreover, Google is nearly crowding its first page results with ads instead of showing many in natural rankings. So should businesses continue to try to direct more and more money to Google Ads? Or, are there other ways this marketing could be done locally? We believe that getting more laser-focused on keywords will keep budgets here reasonable, and splitting budget to consider other online search engines (e.g. Bing) is worth doing. In fact, more traditional media will sometimes be the answer to create and maintain a brand. Rather than continually invest in only Google and other online ads, it may be time for media selection to become innovative again. We think there will be a resulting trend back to more traditional and niche branding media, resulting from online overcrowding.
3. Rethinking Customer Relationships
In retail, everyone is nervous. Amazon is a behemoth. Almost no business can compete with Amazon’s price, and certainly not on delivery… so what can a retailer compete on?
We believe retailers will turn to relationship building. Unlike the business-to-business realm, where one likely has a small number of customers who become quite close to the business, a retail store can have hundreds of (too often nameless) customers, and personalizing those relationships becomes challenging. We will see a trend toward more personal interaction with customers, building on loyalty. This will necessarily involve individual care not available in an online setting. To achieve this, stores will likely need to boost retail sales staff pay and benefits and reduce attrition. In addition, merchandising and store experience will need to be heightened to create engaging memorable experiences. (Retailers here in Inglewood, where our Calgary office is located, exemplify many things brick-and-mortar retail can offer that online retail cannot: owner or artisan-managed, local, storied products, and a personal relationship where the shopkeeper is likely to remember you from one visit to the next.)
Thinking along those lines, retail stores are going to become a lot more like showrooms and a lot less like warehouses. Customers are favouring individual personalized experiences, and one-size-fits-all strategies are on the way out. If it’s mass merchandise you’re selling, you need an online store and an in-store experience that will really matter to the customer.
Summing it up: Feeling Connected
Are you seeing a theme to the trends we’ve mentioned? People want to feel connected.
Without being psychologists, we do suspect that there some underlying loneliness that comes from the business of rushing around, and trying to make money, especially in today’s expensive cities…and this desired trend of connectivity is the response. The next generation wants smaller homes, a smaller footprint, and a more local, environmental touch. And this is where businesses can lean toward.
So, if you bother to take the time to create personal experiences, whether online or in-store, you may be able to create a little haven of loyal customers that will stick by you, and be true to what you stand for. In a way, it almost means that being a smaller business, or making a larger business feel small and cozy, will help to reduce the importance of price and fast delivery of online shopping. Make your customer feel like they’ve just gotten a hug, and you’ll be on the right track!
What you have to win the online war is you. After all, a warm, genuine personal relationship is something robots can’t do, at least for now.