It’s no secret that consumer behaviour has changed – for good. But it’s not just big brands who’ve been impacted. There’s been a distinct ripple effect on small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) and the brands that market to them.
There are a multitude of consumer and market forces currently at play in European marketing as things try to reopen and return to whatever normal is, including the travesty that’s happening in the Ukraine and the continually resurfacing pandemic. The business, and personal, impacts make 2022 potentially even more uncertain than 2021.
But one thing that is certain about 2022, and beyond, are the shifts in consumer behaviours we’ve seen born from the last two years are unprecedented. And the shifts have forever changed B2B marketing as their ripple effects impact all aspects and sizes of businesses, especially SMBs. That ripple carries through to us marketers and brands that are tasked with trying to grow and retain SMB customer bases.
There have been many studies around the future of work. What was once thought to be a gradual transformation, especially for SMBs, to a more digital and online world, has been hyper-accelerated. It’s no longer adapt or die for SMBs – It’s reinvent or die for many of them. From mass digitising and adapting how, where and when work gets done to customers owning their purchase journeys to the increasing influence on B2B buying behaviours, SMBs have changed for good – and so has B2B in how we market to them.
Covid-19 has done something that only a global pandemic could do, changed consumer behaviour and expectations at a planetary level, overnight.
What does this mean, and what can you do about it if you’re a big brand that is trying to find, engage, motivate, and retain current and future SMB customers? Here are a few thoughts to potentially help shape what’s next for us.
Think ecosystem vs. routes to market
The future shopping and buying behaviours of SMBs are driven by the same consumer shifts they have adapted their businesses to match. This means SMBs are going to buy from your routes that give them the most value and best frictionless experience. The days of big brands trying to influence or drive the buyer journey or pushing SMB buyers towards our more profitable routes is over. It’s actually been over for some time but now it’s much more obvious.
Going forward, European SMBs will gain, and demand, more control on how, where, and when they shop and buy from companies. For big brands, think less about right place, right time, right message, and think more about every place, every time and one experience if you want to win the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of SMBs in 2022 and beyond.
Best experiences breed loyalty more than best product/service
There is a common belief that chief experience officers (CXOs) will someday either replace or at least leap over CMOs. This was happening pre-pandemic but is another trend that has been accelerated.
SMBs value shopping, buying and owning experiences more than the products and services themselves. Whether we want to label it as frictionless or ‘phygital’ (physical + digital) or omnichannel, best experiences will be the ultimate loyalty and advocate builders going forward. For us, even if we don’t control or manage all customer touchpoints, it’s imperative we influence or participate in all aspects of CX going forward to optimise and maximise our marketing and brand investments and activities.
Digital transformation or else
Transformation implies a process, i.e., time, to get to an end state. The reality is time isn’t on SMB’s side. Dramatic shifts in consumer behaviours over the last few years have accelerated and forced some SMBs to digitally transform their business more rapidly than they planned. SMBs have known they needed to digitise their products, services, operations, and experiences. But some, who continued to succeed in an analog world, realise it’s a matter of survival now.
From touchless payments and experiences to automated processes and frictionless omnichannel shopping and buying, SMBs over the next 12 to 24 months will continue to reshape their existence if they want to stay in existence. This demand on them from their customers translates to SMB’s demands on us. They are dealing with an impatient consumer with seamless digital expectations that will switch brands and alliances when expectations are not met. We can expect the same treatment from our SMB customers. Just another example of the ripple effect of new consumer behaviours.
These three observations are just that, our perspectives based on what we are seeing and anticipating across the spectrum of European SMB shoppers, buyers, and owners/users. There are plenty more to discuss and explore. One thing’s for certain – big changes are coming. And coming fast.