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The line between large and small business grows blurrier every day. Large corporations have begun their march into small-town America, which was once the territory of small, local businesses. While tons of these businesses still thrive around America, they face ever-increasing competition from industry giants. As a small business, it is difficult to compete with the prices and efficiency of big business while maintaining the local business ethos and community standing.
However, in this increasingly technological world, some small operations have been able to expand their footprint and customer base using the same methods as large corporations. Through data analytics and other high-tech methods, smaller shops and service providers are able to understand their sales demographics and customer base better. But how does a small business take on big business tactics without forfeiting the very qualities that make a small business so appealing?
A Changing Marketplace
In the past decade, the internet has expanded to almost every American household and has ushered in a new era of data science. An enormous amount of information, buying patterns and customer profiles are now available for business owners who are hoping to tap into new markets and innovate in their current area. Luckily, much of this information is relatively accessible in its raw form and can be applied effectively by smaller, more streamlined teams than was previously possible.
However, the concept of data carries with it some troubling associations. When tapping into a smaller, localized market, applying data analytics to expand a business footprint and draw new customers can strip a business of its reputation for local service — similar problems have arisen with the advent of online buying. For large corporations, most of which have outgrown any realistic expectation of community ties, stepping fully into the realm of big data and data analytics has caused no problems.
The same cannot be said for small businesses, which typically rely on community support and a comparatively static customer base to get by. Expanding business elsewhere through complex and calculated concepts like data analytics and big data — while attempting to maintain community ties — is a thin tightrope many aspiring small companies currently walk. And with the intrusion of larger corporate entities everywhere, it is an increasingly necessary risk.
Data Analytics and Big Data by the Numbers
Small or large, a huge percentage of business owners have identified data analytics and big data as vastly important for the future of business. Digital marketing, for instance, has blossomed in the past years, accounting for over $150B in 2015. And if predictions are accurate, that number could swell to well over $250B by 2020. Data analytics, especially in regards to consumer patterns and web traffic, has increasingly beaten the path for digital marketing, a trend that will continue for the foreseeable future.
For smaller businesses to compete in this high-tech, big-data field, some of these practices must be adopted. Traditional marketing campaigns have widely yielded to continually-specialized and personalized digital marketing strategies. Often, small businesses are relying on older methods that are neither cost-effective nor particularly attractive to the community they are trying to tap.
Another huge concern for local businesses is the overuse of big data and the potential for cybersecurity breaches. For large corporations, data is often kept under lock and key, protected by state-of-the-art security — a luxury not afforded to many small businesses. Without adequate protection of everything from customer receipts to masses of geospatial data, small businesses run the risk of losing information and customers, as well as more traditional cybersecurity risks.
Overreliance on unprotected data runs a huge risk, and all businesses should invest in adequate cybersecurity before they step into the realm of big data. The risks to both individual business and the potential to open the door to greater risks for customers and the area — viruses and ransomware, for instance — make data protection a top priority for businesses large and small.
Some Potential Solutions
When dipping into data, small businesses need to keep their local area in mind constantly. Having an active lifeline in the community is part of running a local business, and until a company has dreams of taking on a more corporate role, marketers need to keep in mind the importance of a static, returning customer base. The biggest mistake a small business can make is alienating the local base in pursuit of marketing outreach elsewhere. After all, people are more likely to walk down the street to go shopping than driving an hour out of their way.
In fact, data analytics can help businesses understand exactly where their customers are coming from, and for what purposes. A simple analysis of digital receipts, call tracking and other data can help a company determine where their most loyal customers cluster and how they heard about the company. Similar analysis allows businesses to show their appreciation to specified areas and individuals. Likewise, if there is an area of the community with lower sales numbers, some targeted marketing and local affection can go a long way.
Expanding a company’s reach is uniquely possible today, and it can be accomplished through online purchases and shipping, as well as other digital products. However, outreach should not eclipse relations with initial leads and customers in a business’ original community. Business owners should make sure their websites reflect their hometown pride, while also opening their arms to previously-untapped markets.
Data analysis allows companies to understand exactly who is buying their products and for what reasons. A huge part of running a small or local business is understanding your customers and the community. That way, you can offer specialized, sought-after services in a way that larger corporations aren't able. Through location intelligence, for instance, a business can learn who is regularly walking past their store. With analysis of website traffic, a company can determine who is looking at their site, and target accordingly. As long as a business maintains its reputation of local care and community interest, expanding a customer base is not a direct problem.
The Digital Age
With access to data analytics and big data, companies know more about their customers than ever before. For corporations, this has been a huge boon, allowing them to target local markets online. On the other hand, small businesses have had trouble integrating effective customer analysis into their marketing strategies without alienating their local customer base. However, showing love to the local community while harnessing data analytics to expand outreach can help a small business compete in the strange new landscape of the digital age.