This is part one in our LOCALiQ Growth Lab series, where we call on thought leaders in our network to provide business owners and leaders with smart, actionable advice.
In the upcoming series, we’re featuring Neal Polacheck. Neal is a seasoned local business expert who has been advising SMBs on how to keep up with consumers for decades. He speaks at national and international events, focusing on connecting with customers in a complex, always-changing landscape.
In this post, Neal unpacks what it means to be a “modern” consumer, and how you can align your business with consumer buying habits. For a word as ubiquitous as modern – we’re happy to add this clear definition to our arsenal of insights.
Here’s a stat that might alarm you: half of businesses fail within their first five years – and many owners can’t pinpoint what went wrong. I’m not saying business owners should be scared to fail. Fear of failure could lead to of lack innovation, which is also bad. What should be really worrying is the second part of that statement: business owners simply don’t know what went wrong.
With so much data out there – I wonder: how could this be possible? We have access to endless sources of information, and a ton of resources to help us trudge through it: experts, trusted advisors, free online resources. According to a survey completed by the USA TODAY NETWORK, 60% of business owners rely on fellow entrepreneurs to give them advice (LOCALiQ Business Owner Survey, 2018). Networks are great, but there’s a shortfall to this approach, too. You should also (if not mainly) be listening to your most powerful customers to see what they want, and need, from your business.
A window into modern consumer buying habits
Meet Ashley and Matthew. They were born in the mid-80s, and they’re about 35 today. The grew up on digital brands like AOL, Yahoo, Netscape, MySpace, Napster. A world where anything was available via the internet developed in their formative years.
Today, they’re entering a period of their lives marked by big decisions and heavy consumption. Let’s look at a sped-up snapshot of today’s Modern Consumer. Things are moving fast for the Modern Consumer at this stage – for starters, they’re buying a house together. This means they spend their weekend sourcing services they need, for example furnace repair or solar panels. The next day, they’re on the hunt for an installer for their shiny new 4K television. By mid-week, they are on the hunt for insurance – home and life. Friday, the search is on for a massage therapist available today. Saturday, they’re buying flowers for Mom and Dad’s weekend visit.
Ashley and Matthew’s research journey
Ashley and Matthew will consider several different things on their path to deciding to choose you or your competitor. What’s unique, though, is that almost every action that shapes consumer buying habits is digital. They might post a status on Facebook asking what they’re friends recommend. They might read Yelp reviews to find the best furnace folks in their town. They will, almost definitely, visit your website to check out what type of story and unique value you bring to the table. And when it comes to conversion – they’ll choose who responds immediately, who aligns with their personal core values, and who can get the job done for them in a seamless, convenient and transparent way.
Shorter attention spans doesn’t equal flighty consumers
We can’t go on without mentioning the sheer volume of messages the modern consumer is constantly exposed to; they live in a state of perpetual connection. Within 10 minutes on their phone, they’ll bounce from Instagram to Uber, to their Postmates and back to Instagram. An email will come in from their boss, then they’ll Google the question they didn’t quite have the answer for. They are confronted with a lot of content in a short time frame – and they participate in the creation of that content, too. Write a review of their furnace repair woman? No problem! Snap an Instagram pic of the bouquet from the local florist? Absolutely. In this sense, the Modern Consumer is shaping consumer buying habits for others.
Herein lies the Catch-22: the Modern Consumer can be your best advocates - but getting them in the door is tough. However, once they’re loyal to you – you've got an opportunity to have a customer for life.
Learn from the modern consumer
For businesses, the reflex to ask their customers or community what they can do better might not be there. You want to appear like you already know, right? But – hear me out – if you show the modern consumer you care about what they think, you’ve already started to connect with them.
1 – Ask people how you can get better
Create a survey and have it in-store or distribute it via email after you’ve provided a service to your customer. Make it short, simple, and filled with questions you can act on. Try to get the details. Specific feedback is the best feedback.
2 – Read (don’t just gloss over!) your reviews
You might just have your Google star rating cemented in your head, without really reading the actual feedback. Take an evening to re-read what everyone has said and identify common themes. Again, pay attention to things you can action on: inconvenient store hours? Too long to answer back via email? Both of those can be solved easily. Find a way to get ahead of it for the next customers. (Oh, and while you’re there, respond to reviews left in the last 8 weeks!)
3 – Find “quick win” innovations
For example, if you hear that your response time is slow – test out a chatbot on your site to serve people around the clock. Similarly, if customers have complained about a higher price for your products/services versus others, make sure you communicate your value clearly. This might be a matter of producing a quick video (using a local provider) that distinguishes your service from your competitors’.
To summarize this, connection is a vital element of modern consumer buying habits.
Attracting the modern consumer doesn’t mean you need to overhaul your business. It’s all about finding small, easy ways to align with current consumer buying habits and providing your customers with the information – and service – they care about most.