I love looking for patterns. Perhaps it’s the math geek in me. But sometimes looking at the world around me the big picture appears abundantly clear. And sometimes I get it completely wrong. Either way, below are 10 predictions for regional business, or how I see the next twelve months playing out in general.
Caolan’s Top 10 Predictions for Regional Business in 2017
Baby Boomers will sell out and retire
Regional Australia is built on the back of working families, not only in the agricultural sectors but through all aspects of regional life. But we’re in the thick of a seismic shift in business and sometimes we forget that it’s happening. The baby boomers at the head of many of these businesses are retiring (baby boomers are between 52 – 70yrs old in 2016).
Businesses are changing hands. Some are remaining as family businesses and adult children are taking the reins. Some businesses are being consolidated by larger corporations. And some businesses are just closing up shop.
New faces in business leads to new ways of thinking… and the way we do business in regional areas is shifting rapidly.
As much as business owners are changing, consumer trends are shifting too and the words of Veruca Salt spring to mind: “I don’t care how, I want it now!” (before she turned into a giant blueberry that is).
Regional business has struggled to compete with eBay and online shopping for the last decade, but the impact has been capped by infrastructure and technology (there’s only certain things that are easy to buy online and have dropped off in your letterbox). However a range of recent announcements makes me feel that the playing field is about to shift dramatically and consumers will be caught up in a new frenzy of purchasing (and experiential) habits.
Amazon (the world’s largest online department store) have announced that they’ll be opening distribution centres across Australia in 2017. Despite previous claims it looks like they’ll actually be able to make it happen this time around. Amazon used to be known as an online bookstore, but these days their product lines include everything from electrical goods to pharmaceuticals to clothing to fresh and dry produce (yes, at least in the US you can buy your eggs and milk online).
Delivery by drone is a real thing. Australian-based Domino’s made a world first this year by successfully delivering a pizza via unmanned drone in New Zealand. Now that they’ve proved it’s possible (to themselves, consumers and the authorities) they have plans to roll this out in Victoria and other parts of Australia, as well as another five countries globally. Now that they’ve set a precedent we’re sure to see other companies following suit soon.
Virtual Reality has grown up and become a household item. How does this change the way we do business? I’m not entirely sure yet, but I am certain that businesses will begin stepping into this space and creating opportunities for themselves. We’ve already seen the tourism sector jump on board by throwing out their printed DL brochures and instead opting for immersive virtual tours as a critical step in the buying process. This Christmas we’re sure to see people snapping up the PlayStation VR, the Samsung Gear VR, or any of the other headsets that have become incredibly affordable in the last twelve months.
What to the above three things have in common? Each will feed the frenzy of consumers demanding increased control over how they choose, buy and have goods (at least commodities) delivered.
Live Video will become mainstream
We’ve seen live video marketing platforms come and go through 2016. Channels like Meerkat, Periscope and Blab dominated the first half of the year, followed by the dominance of Facebook Live in the second. Niche platforms like BombBomb (video email) and Huzza.io have gained huge market share, and video conferencing tools like Zoom have become an almost household name.
But what does all this mean? Broadly there’s two things here.
Firstly the market is finally ready for live video. Investors are pouring money into the development of these platforms, NBN (despite being inconsistent) and high speed broadband is common across regional areas, and consumers are being becoming familiar with the platforms on offer. In fact consumer thirst for live video is increasing in leaps and bounds.
Secondly, the opportunities for business to use live video have become real and are readily available. In fact as long as you have a smart phone in your pocket you have the ability to record high definition video anywhere.
Things that will become more common place in 2017 across regional Australia include:
- Online product demonstrations – a real estate agent could walk around an open house and take hundreds of people on a tour simultaneously.
- Remote service calls – want to touch base with a customer and see how that irrigation pump is working? Why not ask the customer to flick on video when you phone them?
- Video News or Q&A – have some fresh news that you want to share, or customers have questions that they’d like answered? Switch to video so they can see the expression on your face and build that much more rapport with your customers.
Live video has been around for years (I remember the first time I used Skype close to a decade ago), but 2017 will really see a maturity in the way that regional business engage with their customers and market themselves via video.
Despite (or because of) all these new opportunities, technologies and channels becoming available people are feeling saturated. It’s a noisy world and we feel stressed and busy. Sometimes I wish I could just go somewhere quiet(er) and get the information I need. And I know hundreds of millions of people want exactly the same thing.
Over the last few years we’ve seen an enormous rise in micro-channels. These are highly focused channels, generally smaller in size but offering the ability for people to jump in and engage on a particular topic and cutting out all the other noise.
So instead of trawling your way through your Facebook news feed, we’ve seen a rise in the way Facebook Groups are used for particular conversations (perhaps a local cause, a specific event or around a specific tool or strategy). We’ve also seen this role out in other social media platforms. Further more tools like Slack (which is a messenger tool that allows you to have completely different channels for different topics) have also become mainstream although more appropriate for larger teams.
The point is that our ability to focus on one dish from a smorgasbord of conversations is better than ever. And we love it.
My question is how can you capitalise on this for your business? Can you set up a Facebook group that assists people with just one of your products? Of course you can.
Automation and customisation
I honestly believe that 2017 will be the year that we see a primal shift in the way small business thinks about automation and customisation in business. With baby boomers on the way out, and fresh faces looking for ways to do things simpler and easier our back end processes will become streamlined. This will free up time to have deeper conversations with customers or develop other aspects of business.
In its simplest terms automation is the ability for technology to quickly do a series of steps. We see this commonly in the data entry, but the options go way beyond this. Examples can include your finance package sending automatic reminders for unpaid invoices, your CRM or sales system automatically emailing a PDF manual and warranty information for that appliance, or an automated SMS reminding someone their car is booked in for a service tomorrow. These are things that our software can often do quicker and more reliably than we can ourselves.
We can take automation a step further when we mix it with customer data. For years we’ve been able to send a email newsletter with an individual’s name at the top (“Hi Peter,…”). But you can now do so much more. Imagine you are a retail store and had several hundred people on your email database and you knew some were singles, some were couples and some were families. Your monthly email catalogue could go out and have different information for each of those groups (eg, only show children’s toys in the version that went to families, or only show men’s apparel in another version). Although the technology is still maturing, we’re seeing similar concepts rolling out in other areas (person A might see a different version of your website to person B), or your monthly statement might remind one person of upcoming deals that are different to someone else.
Why would I want that level of customisation? To cut the fatigue.
Our inboxes are exploding with “junk email”. And we class it as junk because it’s not relevant. We end up either ignoring it, or throwing it in the digital trash. But what if it became ‘relevant’. What if we no longer received emails that contain children’s toys if we don’t have kids and instead saw only men’s and ladies apparel. We would cure our fatigue and we’d start paying attention. And that’s an opportunity for business.
We won’t ‘get there’ in 2017 but we will definitely see more regional businesses exploring and finding success in automating and customising their digital interactions. Will you be one?
Trust is now a business currency more than ever
Business has always been about relationships. With the globalisation of commerce we saw price become a huge motivator. People could buy things cheaper overseas. But with the internet providing us with almost unlimited options the pendulum is swinging back to quality as a key driver. We want something that works, rather than just something cheap.
This is where the power of reviews really comes into play. People trust other people more than they trust ‘authority reviews’ (which can be bought) or even a businesses own opinion. Families turn to TripAdvisor for reviews of holiday destinations. Friends are asked for reviews on service and utility providers. People turn to the internet in general for reviews on products they’re looking to purchase.
For a while ‘having no bad reviews’ was ok. But these days that strategy will just see you lost in the noise. In 2017 you need to look at creating a culture of reviews (valuing them, responding to them and learning from them), reminding your customers that honest online reviews deeply appreciated.
For year’s many businesses have been anxious about people leaving poor reviews, but the fact is that conversations about your business are happening regardless and you can choose to be part of them… or not.
Unfortunately I also think the odds are in favour of at least one major global company failing in 2017 because of a cyber breach. Our trust in big business is fragile. The chances of a big business being hacked and losing critical market share because ‘we don’t trust they can keep our details safe’ is surely on the horizon.
Pay to Play
Millions of dollars will be lost, and millions more gained by regional business in the ‘pay to play’ space. Multimedia advertising (video, social media and online advertising) has become the only real way to ensure that eyeballs and their wallets are coming in your direction. There is still a strong role for organic content, but paid advertising is a solid path for revenue… if you can make it work.
Online advertising is a fickle business. And to many of us terms like CPM, PPC, CTR, retargeting, pixels, etc are just gobbledegook. However we know that we need to ‘boost a post’ on Facebook, or think about video adverts.
Businesses will fail at online advertising while they find their feet. Businesses will find successful models that allow them to put $1 and get $2 out. And we’ll see a rise of digital agencies that will help businesses find their way (or do it for them).
My suggestion – find someone who can run Facebook ads for you successfully (or other online advertising). This will do three things:
- It will increase your revenue.
- You will gain confidence that online advertising can work.
- You will learn how it works, and will be empowered to do more of it internally in the future.
Internet of Things
Like that nephew who seemed to suddenly become an adult when you weren’t looking the Internet of Things (IoT) has also matured around us and become ingrained in our world.
In simple terms the Internet of Things describes the connectivity of physical devices in the world around us. We see connectivity in our homes, in our cars and in our workplaces. You watch can send exercise information through to meal planner, the sprinklers in your garden can turn on and off depending on the weather forecast, and you can set your living room air conditioner to turn on when your car turns in the driveway. It’s crazy. And yet it’s not really all that unexpected.
But what we never expected was what happens to all this data that our devices are sharing round us, and what standards we need to have in place to ensure we still feel safe and secure in our own homes.
I suspect that in 2017 we will see the exponential growth of our connectivity surpass our ability to manage it effectively. We’re going to trip up and skin our wrists and elbows in the process. And we’ll learn from the incident.
Perhaps our televisions will be hacked, maybe we’ll burn the house down when you forget that the GPS in your car will turn the oven on (and you visit friends rather than heading home). Or the incident could be more catastrophic.
I’m not getting all paranoid on you, but I do stress that you should think about what it really means to have everything connected around you.
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence is here
Self-drive cars, robots that can cook a meal, and advanced weather modelling are all examples of machine learning (or the ability for software to develop and ‘learn’ beyond the scope of it’s original programming). But the real life applications of machine learning are much more mundane, and yet still relevant to regional business. In fact, they are much more commonplace than you probably think.
Machine learning often has the ability to make good predictions from a really wide set of data.
For example let’s take your entire customer history over the last five years. If you put it in a spreadsheet and assigned each customer a row, and then every transaction they made went into a separate column. The result would be a comprehensive picture of the buying habits of each customer.
From that data you could make personalised recommendations for each customer, better forecast customer loyalty, anticipate future performance, or uncover potential risks.
Perhaps this is outside the scope of your typical day to day business, but you need to remember that it’s already happening around you. Big business is sharing (some) data with others, our connected world around us adding to the noise, and transaction and behavioural data is stored left, right and centre.
In 2017 we will see better access to this data (for a fee) that regional business can access to make more informed decisions.
“Snackable” content will move to mainstream learning
The world is changing and we need to learn constantly just to keep up. But do you know the funny thing? Modalities of teaching and pedagogy, at least in the business space, haven’t changed in years. Formal learning follows a certain path (often called scaffolding)… learning A and B is the pre-requisite to learning C. As someone with a double teaching degree, I get this.
But in a world where “snackable” content has become the norm I suspect we’ll see a huge shift in the way business education is delivered.
For example most business books are 20% content and 80% filler. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just read the cliff notes version? Or more importantly just the chapters that were relevant to you?
The world of online learning and courses is exploding as people realise that they can teach their unique skills and market them to a global audience. But I suspect we’ll quickly see a shift from extensive video courses covering 20+ modules that are designed to be taken in order, to a more ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ style learning (sometimes referred to as “just in time learning”) where you as a business owner can pick up just the skills or knowledge you need and forget the other gaff (or come back it at a later time).
So through 2017 I see regional business having more tailored access to training opportunities for you and your staff. This will lead to shorter but more engaged learning, and ultimately more time implementing these lessons in day to day business.
So that’s 10 predictions for regional business in 2017, at least from my perspective.
But what about you? Which of the above predictions do you see most likely to become a reality? Or is there something that you think I missed? I’d love to know.
Leave me a note in the comments below as I’d love to chat about it.