If 2011 is anything to go by, 2012 is set to be a fast-moving, event-packed year. Social and consumer trends are developing and morphing faster than ever before and they all influence the way we think, interact, play and do business. So what are the top consumer trends we can expect in 2012?
Social networking goes large
In 2011, social networking became more important and influential than ever and this is a trend that's set to continue. Facebook and Twitter are now mainstream, with businesses, politicians, the media and non-profits all claiming space alongside thought leaders, trendsetters, fashionistas, social activists, consumers and the downright wacky.
However, make no mistake about it, this is where conversations are started, opinions formed and trends defined. In addition, this is where messages go viral.
The future is online
So there is no doubt about it, the future of business is online. No matter what kind of business you are in, you need to have a strong online presence that speaks to your target audiences or you'll be left behind.
As more and more consumers gain access to the internet, either through computers or smartphones (or both), purchasing habits are changing. Not only that, but the way in which consumers interact with sellers and with each other is being re-defined all the time, so business models and marketing strategies need to take these fast-developing trends into account.
Now means now
Bottom line: now means now. If a consumer is looking for information about your specific product or services offering online, you have to be there or they will simply move on. Youth and exclusively online brands in particular cannot be caught napping and they have to have an active, engaging and responsive social networking presence - as well as innovative and captivating web sites.
In addition, if something goes wrong, the communications team needs to respond straight away, even if it's just to say "We know what's happening and we're onto it."
Disappointingly, some of South Africa's most iconic brands still don't 'get it' as far as this is concerned. In a world where news travels faster than you can read your Twitter timeline, responding to and managing what happens online and in the social networks is vital and that goes for responding to customer complaints and feedback that arrive through channels that are more traditional too. In 2012 - more than ever - you snooze you lose...
Must love mobiles
In a recent survey conducted in the US, a third of the respondents said they would rather give up sex than give up their mobiles. Therefore, there is no mistaking how important the move to mobile is! The advent of smartphones, mobile apps and mobile web sites has made the mobile phone the fastest-growing and most groundbreaking delivery channel there is.
So providing mobile access to information and services must be at the top of every company's list. Simply put, you must love mobiles.
I want 'easy'!
With so much information out there, making the purchasing decision easy is more important than ever.
If you are lounging on the beach and want to find a great place to have supper, for instance, you do not want difficult. You want to be able to find and compare restaurants in a few easy clicks, make a booking quickly, and then get back to working on your tan. If it is difficult to interact with a business - or the experience is disappointing in some way - consumers simply vote with their feet (and their wallets).
The aim of customer relationship management has always been to build a personal relationship with the customer, but as technology connects us in ways we could not even have imagined five years ago, this is taking on a completely new meaning.
CRM now means more than personalised e-mails, monthly newsletters and special offers, it means interacting with consumers in a way that adds value to their lives. Above all, it means maintaining an active, friendly and engaged social networking presence and building a truly personal relationship with your customers. Be there or be square.
In the same way, loyalty matters - and has to be rewarded. However, loyalty programmes are a dime a dozen now, so your programme needs to add value in a way that is meaningful to your customers.
Firstly, it has to be innovative and engaging - and has to have something that makes it stand out. Secondly, the rewards you offer need to be meaningful for your particular target audience and then, very importantly, there has to be choice about how rewards can be used. The one-size-fits-all approach does not cut it anymore, whether you are a big business like a bank or a small business like a restaurant. Personal choice is everything.
Power up the testimonial
Word-of-mouth testimonials have always been a powerful tool. Leading brands like Omo have built their reputation and their leading market share in just this way. Now, as social networking really takes off, the testimonial is going 21st century.
Therefore, it is important to power up the testimonial in your business. Make it easy for customers to say good things about you - and for you to manage the situation when they do not. The conversation is happening anyway - you have to be part of it.
Martin Rose is director at ComeDine, an online restaurant booking website. He has wealth of development knowledge of the online restaurant booking industry having worked in London at Livebookings, a European online restaurant reservations company. Martin's strength is grounded in the development of web applications and particularly mobile web development. Follow @ComeDineOnline.
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