1. One way vs two way conversations
Even on such a large scale, there is a conversation happening, it takes a long time for multinational marketers to pick up on trends and comment on them, and the success rate is by no means 100%. This is irregardless of how much money they spend on an ad. Sometimes, they just miss. This is partly because of the scale of the audience and partly because they too are learning that with the internet, the market is changing much more rapidly than it used to. In order to get an ad that hits, marketers are finding themselves getting deeper and deeper into conversations with the consumer.
At the SME level, businesses have the distinct advantage of having a smaller group that can be addressed in a more granular fashion, thus addressing questions and concerns that are specific to the products usage and materials. Large companies trying to shift millions of units a year have pretty much painted themselves into the corner of projecting image over product or service merit.
Social media enables these conversations to take place and the content of these dialogs can be measured and analyzed in order to provide fast and effective responses. People are gradually picking up on the fact that they no longer have to sit back and have their wants and needs dictated to them. Social media marketing starts out by asking the questions, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘What do you want?’ ‘What is your opinion?’. This is a major shift and it immediately gives advantage to smaller businesses that have already been differentiating themselves based on the level of personalization that they can provide. Even if you are not directly involved in a particular conversation, there is a lot to be be gained by seeing what others think and how they themselves are interpreting the changes around them.
Because we are still in the very beginnings of this era, we are all now uniquely positioned to capitalize on this awakening among shoppers to the new kind of power they have when looking for products or services. In the game of establishing trust and authority every business whether large or small, is on a level playing field. Because of this, we now all have a unique chance to strengthen brands and develop more compelling products/services without the expensive and often secretive practices of large multinationals.
2. Real or near real time response
Social networks today are evolving to respond to user input and environmental input instantaneously. This is enhanced by mobile technologies’ addition of richer interfaces. What this means for businesses is that they can track tastes and requirements as they occur. It is a greater degree of precision in marketing data that can lead to more accurate assesments of consumer sentiment along with more reliable predictions as to what consumers will or will not adopt.
3. Authenticity in consumer data
Rather than having to rely on samples of data from a source that is estimated to be authentic, we now have the real time input from people providing not only their first impressions, but also their opinion on a product several months into use. We have all been solicited with customer surveys and have all usually closed that popup window. Today, that information can be found in forums. Not only this, but the information is much more heartfelt. It does not come in the form of a multiple choice survey but in the form of a handwritten message from one user to another (or a potential user). This is a degree of honesty and forthrightness that is difficult to acheive with traditional marketing surveys. It is spontaneous and sincere.
4. A spectrum of relationships
Traditional marketing focuses most on company to user and user to company. Today we have:
- current customer->potential customer
- potential customer -> current customer
- accessory customer -> current customer
- retailer -> current customer
- There are many others, and all of these relationships are broadcastable to tens of thousands or even millions.
5. Interactive media
Sure, this is a 90’s buzzword, but like many of the concepts from that era, it is now being realized. YouTube and other video sharing sites are a great source of commentary. Many times it is more insightful than the video itself. In addition, ads are now placed in video and it won’t be long before those ads behave more like flash games or navigation systems. The marketing value of this is that it allows the potential customer to become more engaged with the brand identity because he is spending more time in it’s space. He or she learns more about the culture associated with the brand and has more time to visualize ownership of the product. All of these things operate at a deeper level of cognition than the traditional sit and watch approach. It is direct involvement.
6. Self produced media
Obviously, we can all broadcast ourselves now, but what is more interesting is that large companies are relying on the handheld lo-fi aesthetic to show authenticity. What this means for the SME is that for your very limited budget, you are getting the same video quality as the big guys. It is a nice twist of irony that merits immediate leveraging. What’s also important about this idea of self produced video is the inclusion and instruction element. People who make videos on their own are likely to respond to comments and they are passionate about the content of the video, not just the shifting of product. This element is becoming a driving force and it’s key ingredient is the value of the content, not it’s cost prohibitive style.
7. A focus on content
As mentioned above, valuable content (The kind that creates value) is much more available today. Many times, it takes a bit of effort to get to, but it is nonetheless attainable at far less than a premium cost. Because of this, people are now more expectant of this kind of information and are now expecting it of larger companies as well. They have become used to transparency and sales approaches that appeal to critical thinking as well as stylistic reasons. For large organizations, this transition can be much more difficult than it will be for a small business that has been struggling for an opportunity to explain, logically the benefits of his or her service.
8. Equalization amongst authorities
Authorities can no longer simply be proclaimed by loud booming voice on one of 10 channels. Claims are easily confirmed via elctronic resources and during this investigation, they are exposed to other options. The question then becomes who to trust? This is when relationship building with a consumer becomes important and again, where an SME has the advantage of a more granular dialog. This in turn means
9. A nearer proximity to authority
Name your area of interest, and there is very likely a blog, Twitter account or forum moderated by someone who a)Knows more about you on that topic and b) is very willing to discuss it with you. This puts you into direct contact with any number of authorities. Being this close to people with first hand expertise on a given topic will rapidly educate the market to a point that is inconvenient to very large organizations, who only want you educated up to the point that you desire what they are selling.
10. The ability to establish real trust
Because of the proximity of the potential customer and client to the source of the product, real trust can develop. This comes about from fewer scripted emails, more timely response and a higher chance of getting a question answered correctly the first time.
11. Constant adaptation and growth
Big boats take longer to turn around. As an SME, your advantage is agility. Software tools and even manufacturing costs are dropping dramatically making the biggest challenge one of adapting to customer requirements in a more customizable way.
12. Diverse distribution channels
Traditional media has been print,TV and radio. Today there is microblogging, Social networks of myriad flavors, video sharing, forums and chat. All of them have various protocols and audiences. Because of the diversification, it will be difficult to master them all, but much easier to dominate the one that serves your niche the best.
13. Low cost
To say that the cost of exposure to a wide audience has dropped dramatically is a gross understatement. The fact is that we all now have the capacity to reach a unique audience that is receptive to your proposition and very targeted. Doing so takes a great deal of work and effort, but this is the trade of for the low cost. At the end of the day most small businesses are happy to make this transition.
14. Low barrier to entry, higher barrier to success
Yes, everyone can start up a blog and host it for $3.95 a month, but that is just the first stage of the beginning. It is wonderful to be able to enter the playing field at all, but there is a lot of game still to play. The good news is that we are not even one minute into the match yet.
15. Tons of gaps
Traditional media has certainly been of a more monolithic and dictatorial nature. Because of this, options were limited to a lowest common denominator type of product development and marketing. With that wall coming down, there are massive gaps of unfulfilled needs emerging. They are all much smaller markets than the one hungry for a Big Mac, but they are certainly large enough to provide ample opportunity for someone who is passionate about what they do.
16. Smaller competitors have many advantages
Smaller competitors can speak to customers in the same ways that customers speak to their friends and family. This lack of a need to adjust one’s mindset before calling customer service will become a huge asset for smaller companies.
17. The emergence of the passionate supplier
Giant monolithic organizations tend to lose their passion for a product as they grow larger. This is because they eventually approach a size that makes it difficult to address exceptional cases or very specific need. Small businesses are adept at this and it is their bread and butter. As the sit and listen marketing approach fades away, consumers will beginning to expect a more direct relationship with knowledgeable people.