The Internet has come a long way from its early dotcom days when people mainly associated the World Wide Web with searching and browsing. Today, having an online presence is no longer enough. Businesses are now utilising social media, paid advertising, mobile marketing and as of this writing, Big Data, in order to conquer the competition and stay ahead in their respective industries. With the rapid advances that continue to take place in Internet and device technology, companies must be flexible to embrace new ways of doing business or risk closure.
A business website is now a basic necessity not only for large organised entities but also for small businesses, start-ups and individuals such as professionals, consultants, and specialists. Through a website, potential customers and clients can get to know a business and its product or service 24 x 7, regardless of their location.
Sale of goods and services
By now, anyone can buy almost anything on the Internet using secure and trustworthy payment systems. From a secondary marketplace for selling items, the Internet has evolved into a primary medium for doing business. E-commerce has become acceptable to more people now that businesses such as Amazon and EBay have successfully operated as sales websites without maintaining a brick-and-mortar shop and have grown into online retail giants. With a minimal investment (usually a laptop, broadband connection and digital camera), home-based entrepreneurs, work-at-home moms and small start-ups are able to set up shop and conduct sales right from their home or even from the beach.
Outsourcing and telecommuting
On the other hand, the Internet has also allowed companies to outsource services, reducing their costs and increasing bottom lines. Thanks to the Internet, it is not rare for a client call to be attended by technical or customer support based in another part of the world. Smartphones and tablets also promote telecommuting, expanding the virtual office as staff and employees access the Internet on the road or wherever they may be. Online collaboration breaks down geographical barriers allowing businesses to access important skills from anywhere in the world.
Exchanging messages and information are much faster and less expensive due to email, VoIP, video conferencing and cloud storage. As a result, deals are closed sooner, repeat transactions become frequent and customer relationships are enhanced.
Technology has made it possible for businesses to develop digital products such as eBooks, MP3s, and apps. The music industry today is a clear example of how Internet has revolutionized its business, boosting online sales of music and threatening the extinction of compact discs. Businesses that are able to digitise their products enjoy greater profits due to the lower costs of manufacturing and delivery of digital products.
Mobile apps continue to flourish with the increasing growth in mobile Internet access devices such as smartphones and tablets. In 2010, due to the popularity of smart phones and tablet PCs, 12.5 billion devices were connected to the Internet. By 2015, at least 25 billion devices will be connected to the Internet.
Some businesses use apps to improve their processes and provide better customer service. Others develop apps as tools for internal staff use or as paid downloads. If there’s one thing new you must do for business this year, mobile marketing is it.
Far less expensive than traditional TV and print media, online advertising may be laser-targeted, allowing you to customise a number of ads that speak directly to specific audiences. Paid advertising have evolved from simple banner ads in websites and blogs in the early days of web advertising and now appear as sponsored endorsements in Google, Facebook and other social media sites. Online advertisers pay the advertising platforms to show their ads to Internet users who type identified keywords, increasing their chances of attracting the right kind of customers.
More people now use smartphones and tablets to search for products that they need, learn about their features, read product reviews and buy online. Website elements appear differently on smaller phone and tablet screens and may not be as easy to navigate on touch screens. Businesses need to adapt by adjusting existing websites to ensure that they run well on both PC and mobile devices or by developing mobile versions of their sites.
Online reputation is vital to business and consumers gravitate towards businesses that are able to share important and useful information through social media pages. Sharing, responding to online questions, and managing comments that can hurt the business are all part of an effective social media strategy. Businesses, regardless of size and market position, cannot ignore the power of social media to build or destroy organisations as the Arab spring has illustrated.
As large volumes of data are generated everyday, businesses cope with increasing costs of data storage by turning to less expensive cloud storage solutions. Data stored in a cloud enable employees to work on the road by uploading and gaining access to important business information quickly and on real-time. Carrying voluminous records are a thing of the past due to the availability of cloud storage.
An emerging technology that can impact all parts of the business, big data is a sophisticated form of marketing intelligence using large sets of data gathered on the Internet, analysed, linked and compared with other sets of data. Big data is significant because analytic methods are able to identify certain patterns that can be used to predict consumer behaviour with greater accuracy than the traditional gut feel or instinct. Businesses are investing in big data solutions that can help them in product development, refining online customer experience, laser-targeting online ads, and developing an individualised strategy for generating more sales.