BEIRUT: The Internet has become the digital state we all reside in.
It is the place where all people seek information on every topic imaginable; it’s their healthcare consultant, shopping cart, telephone, the people’s banker, job provider, and their arcade.
One of the things that have changed in a behemoth-like fashion over the past two decades is the way goods and services are marketed and brought forth to the masses.
One can purchase almost anything online—from a sweater to a pizza, to car insurance—and the way brands connect with customers has been completely reinvented by electronic communication.
For today’s small business, the best comprehensive marketing plan may be a mix of old and new methods. “Since the dawn of the Internet, marketers have regarded it as a vast laboratory, launching experiment after experiment to crack the code that generates sales and customer loyalty,” a report by McKinsey & Company, a US-based management consultancy firm, said.
Unsurprisingly, most have failed.
Consumers adopted digital technology as they saw fit, in the process fundamentally altering the way they make purchasing decisions.
“Companies that understand this evolution are now carefully moving digital interactivity toward the center of their marketing strategies, rethinking their priorities and budgets, and substantially reshaping their processes and skills,” the study added.
This increase in all things digital has been made possible by the gargantuan spread and penetration of mobile phones, which have enabled marketers and companies to individually enter the homes and minds of consumers across the globe.
According to a study done by Canada-based social media manager Hootsuite, smartphone penetration has increased globally to 66 percent, while social media penetration has hit a 34 percent penetration.
“These numbers yield rapid year-on-year (YoY) growth that will propel to cover more areas of the globe, as access to high-speed broadband makes its way in all parts of the planet,” the study showed.
Large companies have already taken notice to this, and are rapidly re-shifting their budgets and corporate strategies to involve more digital content that can be streamlined out of corporate offices and onto consumers’ blue-hued mobile phone screens.
At the simplest level, consumers always tend to go on a multistage journey as they make purchasing decisions.
Yet, most companies still concentrate marketing resources on only two stages: brand marketing up front to woo consumers when they first consider products, and promotions at the final point of sale to sway them as they are about to make a purchase.
Digital technology is changing all of that.
Consumers who used to seek out family and friends for word-of-mouth product recommendations now read online reviews, compare features and prices on websites, and discuss options via social-networking sites.
This information flow not only empowers consumers but also allows marketing departments to be part of the conversation consumers have, as they actively learn about product categories and evaluate choices.
In fact, both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) purchasers increasingly want marketers to help them make smart decisions. “They just don’t want to feel subjected to the hard sell—they expect marketers to engage them, not to dictate them,” the study by McKinsey & Company said.
But for startups, it’s a whole new ballgame.
“SMEs and startups, especially in Lebanon, have the flexibility to innovate at a faster pace than large companies due to less bureaucracy and elastic budget,” Marc Dfouni, co-founder of Eastline Marketing and one of the first independent digital marketing agencies in Lebanon, told Annahar.
That being said, startup companies, especially those who deal with creating their own technology such as software or hardware, have the ability to narrow down their market and its supply and demand.
“For startups, digital marketing can be done at a much lower cost than traditional marketing, enabling startups to reach a wider audience at the fraction of the usual cost,” Dfouni said, adding that through digital media, startups can discover which products and demographics suit best their businesses and target the consumer through the different online ads platforms.
While major corporations have years of customer research and knowledge to back each product they streamline into the market, startups are too new to know exactly what their customers want.
Through the means of digital media, these embryonic companies can track, monitor, and interpret buying behavior, and pinpoint which products and demographics work best for their business. “These detailed and specific metrics can drive startups to success,” Dfouni added.
With plenty of resources in their arsenal, startups have a bundle of free and accessible resources that help them push their product or service to market without putting up a hefty fee.
“It doesn't have to be a fully-fledged strategy, but rather a ‘go-to-market’ plan that sets clear performance metrics and ensures the tracking of these metrics across marketing channels,” Nemr Badine, co-founder of Eastline Marketing, told Annahar.
According to Badine, this has caused the creation a whole new league of its own: content marketing.
Content marketing is a marketing strategy which involves creating and distributing valuable content to drive conversations.
According to HootSuite, content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience, and ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
Content marketing can provide a relatively cheap or free way to market a business continuously; since consumers want to find out information about products, and they will search for that information online.
Content does not have to be in the form of an ordinary blog. Infographics, webinars, GIFs, and images can all form a part of the startup’s content strategy.
“If something can be liked or shared, it can become a part of the company’s online content; each share on social media delivers free advertising and new prospective clients for the startup,” said the study by Hootsuite.
But large companies are ready to fight back.
The agile David has been running circles around the slow-moving Goliath of big business and swiping market share.
Innovative, nascent rebel firms have been setting consumer expectations high and large, incumbent empire-like corporations have been struggling to keep up, due to their legacy technology and stuffy culture, whether it’s in consumer goods or financial services, accommodation or retail.
But the war for customers is turning; big enterprise is striking back.
If they can’t beat or emulate them, just buy or join them is the latest mantra. In fact, more than half of the world’s top 500 largest companies now work directly with startups, according to research from OpenAxel, an EU-funded project, with European large businesses particularly active.
Big enterprises are striking back by building their own in-house lab teams, or co-laboratories, to build a proof of concepts in a partnership or mimic startups. For instance, Barclays Accelerator focuses on Fintech, while Tesco Labs lays on 24-hour hackathons.
The good news is that many are set on reimagining the customer experience.
“It’s not a case of David or Goliath. It’s a case of David and Goliath. A healthy economy includes a blend of the two. Big corporates should be supporting high-potential and innovative startups to scale up, as this could be the impetus needed to shake off low productivity and drive growth,” OpenAxel added.
From a local perspective, family-owned businesses are stepping into the digital limelight to make a rapid transformation into all things digital to keep with the tides of change and remain afloat, Dfouni told Annahar.
An-Nahar is not responsible for the comments that users post below. We kindly ask you to keep this space a clean and respectful forum for discussion.