5 Things SMBs Need to Know About Their Customers in the Multiplatform Era

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multiplatform-desktop-mobile-phoneAs technology increasingly invades our busy lives, the marketplace is fracturing. Potential customers have a rapidly rising number of ways to find small businesses and each customer has a different set of needs and desires.

In a Street Fight webinar Tuesday sponsored by YP, Greg Sterling, a senior analyst with Opus Research and contributing editor at Search Engine Land spoke with Sanjay Sood,¬†YP’s SVP of consumer platforms, about new strategies small businesses can use to get discovered by consumers in the smartphone age.

But first, a few facts. Ninety percent of media interactions come through one of four screens (smartphone, laptop, tablet, television) while just 10 percent of media time happens through traditional channels (radio, newspaper, magazine). Moreover, mobile (smartphone and tablet) is the primary research tool for local searches as 62 percent of the U.S. mobile population owns a smartphone and 34 of people own a tablet, including 49 percent of college grads and 56 percent of those making more than $75,000. These numbers will continue to climb as mobile plays an increasingly large role in the lives of consumers.

There is also a difference in intent when searching on mobile versus traditional web: “A lot of the searches on mobile devices are all about utility,” Sood said. “They are looking for pizza, pharmacies, grocery stores, movie theaters, banks, ATMs. It’s very in-the-moment, ‘I’m trying to get something done.’ On web, we’re still seeing a lot of behavior that’s more research-y. People are looking for apartments or physicians and surgeons, attorneys, funeral parlors. That’s still a web-based activity.”

So what lessons can SMBs learn?

1. Local search is undergoing dramatic change
Local search is fragmenting and it’s vital to be in the right places and where the consumers are. “Historically we have had a query in the box and that’s been the model for search. Now what we have is a more complicated and interesting phenomenon that is driven by the explosion of social data, check ins, links, shares, and all the data being captured by mobile devices like contextual data,” Sterling said. That, combined with historical information such as personal search queries, can allow for an algorithm that gives a user personalized recommendations for discovery. Some examples of this include Foursquare Explore and Yelp, which uses social data; Google Maps; and Pinterest, which showed trending and popular products in its stores.

2. Create a platform effect
Gathering data used to be simple, but more devices raise the level of difficulty. Mobile also alters the user’s reaction to a site. Or, put another way: “From an experience point of view, what do you do to make sure that experience is seamless for a user who is looking at a 17-inch monitor and now they are going down to an iPad that has a nine-inch screen? As people cross platforms, how do you make sure that experience is united and you are creating a platform effect?” Sood asked. He answered his own question: “One of the interesting things there is that tracking people across devices is very difficult unless you have them sign in or provide a unique identifier. As you create functions and utility across that cross-platform that will drive people to truly use these sites as a platform as opposed to I need a phone number or directions.”

3. SMBs should work with partners
“The market is super, super noisy. It’s very confusing to everybody,” Sterling said, noting a slide showing the ridiculous number of companies in the space. The good news is that those companies can help an SMB. “Leads are going to come in a whole bunch of different packages, and they are going to require more and more action on behalf of the merchant themselves,” Sood said. “An email or a call or something that is a-synchronous is one thing, but [you need help] once you start getting into the more sophisticated, real-time interactions that consumers want more and more and more,” As the market shits to real-time gratification, SMBs will need to partner with services that can create experiences for consumers.

4. Mobile is the primary use case
Marketers and SMBs must address the mobile first audience. For YP, mobile represents 50 percent of its overall traffic, a number that grows every quarter. While PCs are just one device, consumers use multiple kinds of mobile devices to look up multiple different bits of information. All of these need to be addressed by SMBs.

5. Understand when consumers need feedback
Some types of SMBs have different relationships with their customers. Whereas Open Table powers scheduling system,s for restaurants, “you think about the electrician, the roofer, the plumber, maybe it’s just him and another guy. They are driving around or working on a job, and how are they going to work in this increasingly digitized and real-time world where consumers want responses? There are things that can’t be left to the weekends or evenings,” Sood said. There is plenty of space in the industry to solve these types of problems.

Noah Davis is a senior editor at Street Fight.