As Main Street begins to regain its steam, small businesses alike have many opportunities to increase their digital marketing efforts without having to empty their pockets on an agency. As digital merges more closely with the in-store experience, business owners should begin to see the potential that lies in their consumer's hands, and take advantage of what marketers have deemed the "SoLoMo" trend.
"Get Social, Think Mobile, Spend Local"
According to a study by Pew Internet & American Life Project, 74 percent of smartphone users utilize location-based apps and services such as foursquare and Yelp to find information on local restaurants and retail stores, and 18 percent of these users actually "check-in."
I will preface by saying that not every small business can afford, nor should they need, a branded mobile app to boost their in-store experience. By signing up and claiming your business on foursquare, Yelp and Facebook, you will be able to communicate directly to your customers and provide them information such as store hours, check-in deals, product reviews, directions to your store and all that fun stuff. It also allows you to boost your customer service by responding to any customer complaint or concern.
The benefits small businesses have over large retailers or chain restaurants are their uniqueness, or their place in a niche market. Every small business has products or services that serve a specific target, and as social influence becomes a staple of digital marketing, your in-store experience is how you will get your current customers to become advocates, and how you will grow your consumer base on social media through 'friends of friends.'
Empower Your Employees
By now, every small business owner knows that its employees are the biggest representatives for their brand; they communicate directly with consumers, provide them with assistance and recommendations, and ultimately are your in-store marketers. So why not train and empower them like marketers?
Side note: I can't tell you how many times I've checked-in and claimed a perk on foursquare, only to have the manager look at me completely befuddled and say, "I didn't do that. We don't offer any promotions. What's Foursquare?"
Mind you, it is difficult to train employees if you, the business owner, aren't familiar with social media or the mobile experience, so I would recommend that this should be a part of your training as well. Furthermore, how effective can your SoLoMo marketing be if your customers, or even worse, your employees are unaware of it?
By removing the barriers between your website, social profiles and the in-store experience, your customers will receive consistent communications both online and off. If you and your employees directed customers to visit your social channels to stay informed of the latest products or promotions, and to receive special offers, you don't think they would have an incentive to whip out their iPhone and take the 30 seconds to check-in?
Empower Your Customers
The mobile experience is a huge advocacy opportunity that should be built around your social media efforts. Consumers these days want emotional connections with the brands and businesses they support; they want to feel empowered, and brag to their friends, usually through social channels, how they received 10 percent off because they are now the "Mayor."
With small niche businesses, your consumers have a specific mindset; they're looking for something to do and something to buy. Through mobile recommendations and reviews, they can see how your in-store experience stands up against your competition. For example, if they turned to Yelp and noticed numerous reviews on how bad your customer service was, they'd immediately search for other options before stepping foot in your store.
By training your employees to develop relationships with your customers, you'll not only build trust and create customer loyalty, you'll empower them to market your brand for you. They support your business because it represents a certain attitude or characteristic that they relate to. Because of this, they will become your biggest advocates both online and off, and will be much more valuable than any high-budget advertising campaign.
The Future of Mobile Payments
Again, I'll preface this by saying that small businesses are most likely one-to-two years away from having to worry about upgrading or adding a mobile payment option, but as iPhones and Androids evolve into the marketplace, this is obviously the future.
According to an article on AdAge, mobile payments will total around $1 trillion by 2014, up from $162 billion in 2010. The incentive for mobile payments lies in the dynamic opportunity to deliver targeted coupons and deals based individually on your customers purchase patterns and location.
The term "Point-of-Sale Value" will become widely recognized, as customers will begin to have an incentive to pay through their mobile device, and will receive rewards when they share their experience to their social networks.
We're already seeing this integration with apps such as shopkick, which tells consumers they will "Get FREE STUFF while shopping."
Shopkick provides consumers with loyalty points, or 'kicks', every time they walk in the door, scan a bar code, spend a certain amount etc., and it has already been introduced in Target, Macy's, Best Buy and American Eagle Outfitters, which has actually integrated shopkick points with their branded loyalty program, AEREWARDS.
"Retailers and brands can attract shoppers by working together, through shopkick, to offer rewards to shoppers for visiting, interacting with products and for purchases," said Doug Galen, chief revenue officer at shopkick.
While this integration is just starting to make its way into large retailers and chains, it won't be long until small businesses can benefit from these types of mobile loyalty programs. Apps like shopkick will not only boost your in-store experience, but will provide your most loyal customers with an incentive to shop at your store more frequently, and reward them in real-time for telling their friends how their experience was.
Follow Michael Tasner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/michaeltasner