The contemporary shopper is savvy, omnichannel and prioritises personalised products and services. Today, rural high streets, metro CBDs and the internet are saturated with retailers – big and small – battling for attention, relevance and customers. In competitive markets and faced with consumer habits that are changing faster than ever before, the retailers best placed to succeed are those who recognise these changes, and offer personalised, rather than one-size-fits-all, marketing.

Until recently, the gap between big and small businesses was more pronounced in retail than many other industries. Traditional marketing, such as newspaper advertising, billboards and TV slots came at a premium that smaller retailers simply couldn’t afford. Big retailers got bigger, while local retailers relied solely on word of mouth, organic foot traffic and the ‘support local’ sentiment. However, a change is occurring. Digital marketing is becoming more sophisticated and more accessible, and rather than widening the gap further, it’s helping to level the playing field.

Modern marketing for contemporary consumers

Consumers spend on average six hours on the internet everyday browsing social media, reading the news and engaging with brands. At the same time, they’re spending less time absorbing traditional channels – those monopolised by big businesses – such as physical newspapers or billboards. They’re also becoming more conscientious about the brands they engage with, prioritising local businesses more in the wake of the pandemic.

Combined, these trends present a significant opportunity for smaller retailers, who can use the affordability and accessibility of enterprise-grade digital marketing technology to engage with contemporary shoppers who are eager to engage with them online. In doing so, it’s also allowing retailers to unlock innovative marketing capabilities that for so long were only accessible to big box retailers.

Data and personalisation

In few other industries do local businesses have more access to data than in retail. Today, most small retail businesses are still not using data to its full potential, if at all. For small retailers, data is far more than numbers, it’s insights into shoppers’ engagement patterns, favourite products, purchase history and much more. Through it, retailers can build comprehensive, omnichannel pictures of each shopper. Whether they’re shopping in-store, online, or both, retailers can now understand what their customers want and ‘segment’ them with other shoppers who share similar traits.

These insights can be used by small businesses to understand the messaging, channels and tactics their customers desire. When consumers feel understood like this, and not just a sales target, their affinity to that brand grows. Just as big box retailers can provide personalised marketing based on a customers’ search, purchase and engagement behaviour, so too now can small retailers. While data and personalisation are crucial in creating marketing messaging, so too is the delivery.

Unification and automation

Effective digital marketing is about more than just delivering a single message on a single channel; it’s about a unified approach across multiple channels to get maximum reach for your brand. When you approach different channels with different strategies, you create silos. This means everything operates individually, without collaboration. Crucially, data cannot flow, so you cannot determine how and how not to market to different shoppers.

Instead, a unified approach empowers small retailers to build consistent, strategic and personalised marketing experiences for customers across every channel, including social media, SMS, email and more. What’s more, a unified approach is built around automation, which removes administrative burdens and allows retailers to spend more time working on their business and less time working in their business.

A unified, omnichannel and data-driven marketing approach sounds daunting, but is far from it. Platforms like Zoho Marketing Plus combine marketing activities across campaign ideation, creation, execution, management and measurement allowing small businesses to create, deploy and customise targeted, data-driven, personalised marketing campaigns as powerful as any big business. It’s built with small retailers in mind, so they can spend less time worrying about marketing and more time on creating beautiful products and building deeper relationships with their shoppers.

For retailers concerned that digital marketing is strengthening the gap between local retailers and big box competitors, the opposite is more accurate. Small retailers have always had an inherent ability to form relationships through organic foot traffic and word of mouth, and now through the affordability and accessibility of powerful marketing software, they can do it on a broad scale like never before.

Vijay Sundaram is chief strategy officer at Zoho.