By Troy Smith
Whether we're browsing, snapchatting, tweeting or texting, technology has forever altered how we connect, learn, interact, shop and more. It has also had a huge impact on San Diego businesses, especially for consumer-facing companies such as retailers, automotive dealers, law firms or other professional service providers. Digital transformation has forced these businesses to recognize and adopt new approaches to attracting customers and earning their business. Those companies that stay ahead of digital trends are seeing profits rise as they adapt. Those that ignore the trends are doing so at their own peril.
The Evolving Customer Journey
With a world of information at our fingertips, the way we evaluate goods and services has changed dramatically. From baby boomers, to emerging millennials and generations X, Y and Z, today we conduct far more research on what we want to purchase before heading to the store or clicking on the "buy" button.
Retailers who have ignored evolving online shopping practices are facing big challenges. And those retailers that have embraced the digital revolution are finding new ways to be successful. Westfield shopping malls, for example, has transformed many of its properties into "experience destinations," complete with shops, popular restaurants and high-end movie theaters. The same goes for the Century City mall in Los Angeles, which is undergoing a $1 billion renovation that will include A-list elevators, luxury car parking, and high-end furniture and luxurious restrooms.
Other retailers are shrinking their large store inventories and floor space to serve only as enablers for the online experience. Bonobos at University Town Center, for example, displays one example of everything in its menswear line, allowing shoppers to make an in-person evaluation before ordering the merchandise; however, in a complete turnabout from traditional retail, shoppers can't purchase in-store inventory or leave with their purchases. Instead, the merchandise is shipped to them.
Google search and the rise of the mobile device
With the emergence of digital technologies, the way companies market to and communicate with their prospects across the consumer landscape has also changed dramatically. Previous methods, such as direct mail or advertising, no longer resonate with younger demographics the way they once did. As a result, successful marketers have gotten smarter in leveraging digital technology to deliver the right offer to the right audience at the right time in their buying journey.
As most consumer purchases begin with a Google search, it's important for businesses to appear front and center in those searches. This can be accomplished through ensuring their business name ranks high in "organic" (non-paid) search results, as well as with advertising (Google AdWords) that features special offers to encourage an in-store visit or online purchase. There are also more advanced search techniques that make use of time and geolocation data to provide users specific offers - such as an offer to visit their local auto dealership for a sale going on at that moment.
This concept is accentuated by search conducted on mobile devices, where the prospect might immediately call the retailer directly from their mobile phone. In fact, local businesses may be one of the biggest benefactors of mobile search. It's been reported that two out of five mobile searches have local intent, while nearly 90 percent of consumers who search for a type of local business on a mobile device will call or go to that business within 24 hours. These numbers are vital as businesses develop their digital marketing strategies.
Tips to boost your online presence
There are many ways that businesses can make sure they are optimizing their web presence and attracting the right local customers:
• Every business website should be built with its customers in mind. That means if you're selling lumber or plumbing supplies, your site shouldn't look like it belongs to Nordstrom or a Four Seasons Resort (or vice versa). Speak your customers' language.
• A business website must be responsive, meaning that it renders correctly - and looks great - on any mobile device as well as a desktop computer.
• Companies should ensure their addresses and phone numbers are correct and easily visible so visitors can find them with little effort.
• Consider using social media to attract customers. Facebook, for example, tracks more than 100 points of information about its users, which marketers can then access to target specific messages to specific audiences. Thus, these ads can influence prospects who may not be necessarily searching for a product or service yet based solely on their Facebook profile details.
As search is usually the first step taken by your customers (think "lawyers near me"), your site needs to be recognized by Google's search engine, even if you opt not to advertise via Google AdWords. To test this, start by going to the Google site and entering your own business name. Your company should come up at the top of the organic search results.
Next, type in some key words that your customers would search for, or in which you would hope your business would turn up in the results. If your business is among the organic results, great! If not, you may want to investigate paying to appear in the results via Google AdWords. If you're not consistently finding your business in the results or are not happy with your rankings, you may need to seek out a digital marketing firm or expert who can help you improve your results.
Turning visitors into customers
Visitors to websites should be encouraged to provide their contact information in exchange for some sort of asset - be it a report, video, webinar, newsletter or coupon. Then you'll be able to email them relevant information or special offers at a later time. This is known as "nurturing" your prospects. Creating a bond with website visitors and engaging with them makes it even more likely that they will become paying customers. When establishing email campaigns, test which messages and offers work the best for your prospects, and adjust as you go along.
While the digital revolution continues to impact all of us, businesses need to adapt and embrace these changes. But not every digital marketing strategy makes sense for every business. It's important to invest sufficient time and energy to get it right, setting your business up for success now and in the years to come.
Troy Smith is President & Founder of Search Optics, a leading global digital marketing provider with expertise in automotive and other industries. Search Optics is headquartered in San Diego.