As we have discussed in these pages before, one of the ironies of the digital world and all it promises is that the businesses that can most benefit from it are least able to do so.
For once, smaller businesses can take advantage of the myriad of no-cost/low cost promotional opportunities the online world can provide them.
The problem is that while these cost barriers to entry have been virtually eliminated, they have been replaced by a factor smaller businesses have even less of – time. The time to investigate, research, plan, implement, monitor, modify and maybe one day master the many new digital promotional techniques now available to them.
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Adapting to an always-on world
For example, whilst terabytes have been consumed in discussing the virtues of social networking, very few smaller businesses have ventured into this potentially fertile field. Not so much due to intent as to finding the time and resources to properly investigate and plan placing a toe in its still murky waters.
The inherent problem is that whilst it may be free to join in the perpetual conversation that is social networking, taking time out of your busy day to do so is quite another thing – particularly when there are customers to look after, staff to manage, bills to pay, fires to put out and wolves to keep from the door.
Time is simply too precious to the smaller business operator to invest in this still unproven medium or to get across it enough to be able to brief someone else to do it for them.
Hanging on to the old
The reality is that the ‘old’ way of organising your promotional effort, with quarterly or even yearly planning and implementation, was simply more practical and convenient when there was so much else to manage.
Many SME managers will attest to dreading the annual visit of the Yellow Pages rep and their barrage of statistics justifying another price hike.
But the same managers would gladly wind the clock back to those tough but certain days in preference to the constant barrage of calls they receive from the web companies of today and their promises of online riches.
Resisting the new
At the same time, they are witnessing revolutionary changes in the way their customers are moving through the traditional purchase process of Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action.
And none of the incumbent advertising media purveyors are untouched by this shift.
Yellow Pages has finally seen unprecedented migration away from its famous rivers of gold. Newspapers have been decimated. And television has had to find new ways of keeping its viewers glued to ad breaks instead of their various portable devices.
Interestingly, despite the explosion in alternative aural channels and devices, radio remains the least affected by the digital revolution, potentially because one of its mainstays, the human and real-time voice, is still very much sought-after in an impersonal digital world.
Market shifts by the hour
The juggernaut that is ‘pay per click’ advertising as provided by Google and its ilk is no different. Because competitors are changing their bids and optimisation practices on a daily basis, today’s prominent position amongst search results might be tomorrow’s cellar dweller.
Marketers who fail to respond to this kind of competitive action may find a sudden plunge in enquiries, sales and their employment prospects!
The result of all this change is a tug of war between the old and new.
Consumers vote with their fingers
On one side, consumers who have embraced the digital world like ducks to water and are consuming it in unprecedented haste. On the other, smaller business operators who are not geared towards the demands of constant communication and the resourcing it requires and hence resist any move towards accommodating them.
The problem for the SME operators is that their communications preference is irrelevant. If they don’t move with their customers they will very quickly get left behind and open the door to a more attuned competitor – a situation that needs to be avoided at all costs.
Like it or not, smaller business operators will have to accept that the days of longer-term planning and implementation are numbered and ways will have to be found of feeding the new digital beast on a far more regular basis.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. www.theeteam.com.au.