SMALLER businesses that do not keep up with digital opportunities to connect with their target markets run a high risk of going under.
That is the view of SponsoredlinX founder and CEO Ben Bradshaw whose company is now one of the foremost advisors on digital marketing techniques in Australia.
“I am still surprised at just how many small businesses consider their internet strategies to be separate from their business marketing strategy and, indeed their overall business plan,” Mr Bradshaw said.
“Internet marketing does not exist separately to your other business lead generation and customer service models. It should co-exist and complement every other marketing exercise you do.”
SponsoredlinX has observed three clear digital trends for small-to-medium business owners to keep abreast of: voice search, machine learning and user-generated content.
When Siri became a fixture voice search and therefore voice search traffic exploded over the next few years, however the power and prevalence of both Alexa and Google Home have been surprising.
“It’s essentially changed the way people are looking for things online,” Mr Bradshaw said. “By 2020 it’s expected that half of all searches will be done verbally.
“The convenience of voice search mixed with the steady improvement of the tech makes it a key SEO factor for our SEO clients. This means pushing more long tail keywords as well as including FAQs to websites.
“Okay, Google, who’s the best digital marketing agency in the country?”
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has exploded in the last 12 months, integrating into most of our lives without us knowing, according to Mr Bradshaw.
“Just a quick recap, the term ‘AI’ refers to a device or software that involves computer intelligence,” he said. “This can include machine learning, chatbots and applied propensity models just to name a few.
“This technology has slipped into our world and very quickly become a necessity for various industries, including digital marketing. In fact, you’ve probably already interacted with AI in some form on a regular basis.
“AI is also becoming more and more prevalent in marketing, in fact half of marketers in Australia are using AI in some shape or form and a quarter plan to pilot it in the next two years.
“There’s a range of AI tech currently in the market that is effective for marketing across the customer service lifecycle. Be on the lookout for more brands embracing tools like chatbots to deliver better website experience, smart content curation or predictive customer service to name but a few.
“Big data is also becoming more accessible to the business of every size thanks to AI developments. There are plenty of advertising platforms and marketing outreach methods now allowing businesses to access big data about their customers- better allowing them to understand and target their audience.”
“We all crave authenticity from the brands we follow, and now businesses of all shapes and sizes can enjoy the benefits of user-generated content,” Mr Bradshaw said.
“User-generated content includes photos, videos, text or blogs created by a customer that mentions or includes information or opinions about a brand or product. It’s the digital equivalent of word of mouth marketing and is seen to be a brand endorsement from people just like themselves.
“You’ll find user-generated content most effective across social media, it’s a cost-effective and easy way to earn trust.
“User-generated content can even be applied to paid advertising and promotions with approvals. Polished advertisements are so 2017, by leveraging user-generated content and utilising it in native advertising, an audience is more likely to pay attention.”
Mr Bradshaw beleives there is a real risk small business leaders will find their brands, products and services will be left behind “if they don't get their act together”.
However, Mr Bradshaw goes acknowledged that there was a huge opportunity for small businesses to capitalise on technological innovation and provide that 'special something'.
"Small businesses need to focus on what's important for their customers in this new digital age, and offer that, together with personalised customer service," Mr Bradshaw said.
According to research, following a website, consumers think social media is the next most important tech investment for small businesses.
"Ensuring small businesses have a good website and social media profile means they not only protect their customers, but gain further reach and opportunities for referrals, so they thrive for generations to come," Mr Bradshaw said.
"While small businesses have a way to go in adopting technology that meets consumer demand, I believe that Australians have a crucial part to play to ensure we have thriving small business communicates into the future.”