A Future Thrust Upon Local Business
It’s become a widely-accepted narrative that the COVID-19 pandemic not only accelerated the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but in fact revolutionised how many businesses operate. Except for essential services like grocery stores and hospitals, everyone — from large corporates, to family-owned businesses in South Africa — was forced to close shop as they knew it overnight when Level 5 lockdown was announced.
Call centres and office parks were essentially deconstructed and those who were able to, kitted their staff out to work from home. This process included the almost instantaneous creation of policies for “remote management of staff,” purchasing of internet dongles for employees who did not have reliable internet connections at home, and excusing the occasional toddler popping in during a Teams meeting. Many companies were unfortunately also forced to place staff on reduced salaries and later downsize as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.
Reinventing the Marketing Wheel
In addition to the economic effects of the pandemic, the fluctuating lockdown levels also compelled people who otherwise shied away from technology to embrace it in order to connect with loved ones or (at some point) access take-out meals. This created an opportunity for businesses to engage with a greater demographic of consumers in real-time and become more innovative with their advertising.
Over the past 18 months, marketing teams and advertising agencies have also had to rethink how they approach consumers, from adopting digital marketing campaigns, to redesigning their messaging to be less “pushy” and more compassionate.
For small businesses who were now unable to hand out pamphlets outside their stores, it meant venturing into the world of social media or creating a website to advertise their goods and services as lockdown restrictions eased. Digital transformation become a buzz word, as business owners integrated new technologies and shifted their mindsets from the proverbial brick-and-mortar way of thinking.
Investing in Online Customer Journeys
Digital branding is not merely about creating a social media account for your business, it’s about sending a message to your customer about who and what your business is all about.
On any given day, there are dozens of people selling the same goods and services on Facebook, often at similar prices. So, what drives customers to purchase from one seller instead of the other?
According to esteemed brand philosopher, Timothy Maurice, creating a community with your brand and then telling people why this community will matter to your bottom line is the key to maintaining a healthy brand presence.
According to him, people like to see patterns and creating an online momentum that leads people to wonder “what’s next?” is one of the powerful things that a small business can do. “And by leveraging this understanding of how the brain works, you're not even spending that much money.”
In other words, in the online Marketplace scenario, if a customer were to click on your seller profile or visit your business page and see consistent messaging, they are more likely to purchase your goods or services.
Many thought leaders in the business world also speak to the importance of selling what you do, your story and your “magic” rather than merely selling your product or service.
Speaking in an earlier interview, which formed part of our Conversations to Innovate series, Maurice reiterated this. He added that people tend to have a lack of hope in times of uncertainty (such as a pandemic) and that’s when they look to brands they can trust. He referred to the “endowed progress effect” as a great way for small businesses to earn loyalty. This could be done through a loyalty or rewards system, where you provide them with an incentive at the start of their journey and in doing so, “create a story in their mind that they’re a part of this already.”
Investing in Technology
While much has already been said about the negative effects of the pandemic on small businesses, there are also several success stories involving those who were able to use technology to create employment opportunities and render important services to communities since lockdown began.
Many small businesses fear that embracing technology means incurring exuberant costs, and while this may be true for some physical resources, there are also open source and free tools that can be used to nudge your business into the future. Whether you’re a start-up who cannot afford a professional designer and needs an easy online tool to create professional-looking posts, or a growing businesses in need of project management software, the solutions are available if you know where to look.