Predicting the future. What NI Businesses need to know for 2017.

"...If you don't stop to look around once in a while, you might miss it." Ferris Bueller

Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Smart everything. These are just some of the big tech shifts coming our way. As a business owner its hard to keep up.So here's 5 things you need to consider and act on as a business owner in 2017.

1. A new wave of social media. Facebook remains the dominant figure in social in Northern Ireland but there are changes coming. Expect a big shift to video. All platforms are investing heavily in video and live video. Do you have a company overview video? Do you have videos of your products in action? Or video testimonials from your customers? These are things you should consider for 2017.

If your customers demographic is younger than 25 then you'll need to consider other social media channels. i.e. If you're a nightclub or bar with a particularly young crowd and you're haven't got a good Snapchat and Instagram strategy... Ermm. Good luck.

Twitter remains a little stagnant. (Journalists and Celebs mainly. (You can see why it's stagnant.)) LinkedIn will remain the best platform for B2B marketing in 2017.

2. Mobile First. Sounds like old hat now, "You're website must be mobile friendly... bla, bla bla.". But you'd be amazed how many businesses we encounter that haven't began to create content for mobile devices. Put simply, if your website or content does not work effectively on mobile devices and tablets - you're losing money, and new customers!!

Mobile is only going to get more popular in 2017 so when creating any digital content such as imagery, videos and emails - consider that 90% of the time it's being viewed on a mobile. So how does that change the layout? The size? The easiest way is to TEST. Test everything on your own mobile device before allowing it out into the big bad world. How does your blog look on your Samsung? How does your website work on your iPhone? How does your online store work on your iPad?

3. Websites changing industries. Anyone in the hospitality industry should be sincerely considering AirBnB and what it means for their business. If you're a guesthouse then get on it! If you're a hotel next to a load of guest houses that are on AirBnB. Ermmm. Good luck. Also, anyone in the taxi business. (Hi ValueCabs!) Should consider the impact of Uber immediately if they haven't already.

The point here is - what if a new website comes along in 2017 and completely changes your industry. Like, overnight. This is a real possibility. So what can small business owners do? Diversify. Yes, it's important to focus but it's more important not to put all your eggs in one basket. Did HMV see iTunes coming? Did iTunes see Spotify coming? Did the Hotel industry see AirBnB coming? Did travel agents see and Skyscanner? Did Estate agents see the thousands of sites allowing people to sell their own house?

Even in our own industry, websites and tools are making it easier for businesses to do their own web-design, eCommerce and social media. This has forced us to learn these tools inside out and ensure we're always a step ahead of the game. It also forces us to change our range of products and service and diversify.

4. Amazon takeover. Amazon is set to takeover pretty much everything. They're now looking into selling cars on line. It will become more and more difficult for retailers to compete with Amazon in 2017. Unless you're selling something pretty unique and you can sell it cheaper or exclusively, then it will only be a matter of time before Amazon takes over.

A bricks and mortar store may help, as people can view your stock online and then come and visit your physical shop. At this point you can up sell value added products. It may also work the other way around in which people visit your shop and talk to "Dave" and then go home and buy the product from your website because Dave demonstrated it to them in-store. The likelihood is though that they'll allow Dave to do an hour long demo and then they'll go home and buy the product on Amazon.

5. Content, content and more content. Content is the modern day equivalent of column inches. Content includes videos, blogs, articles, website pages, social media posts and imagery about your business or brand. More content = more business. Simple. If you have 2 businesses with the exact same offering to their customers, the one producing the most digital content and showcasing it well will win. This is why Barrack Obama is president. His campaign had a massive digital and social strategy.

We also think this is why Donald Trump will be the next president. While Clinton is holding back on all manor of press conference or public appearance, Trump is on Twitter, YouTube and even Snapchat. Whether or not people like him - they're becoming familiar with him. And it will end up becoming a case of "better the devil you know". By the time Americans go to vote - Donald Trump will be as familiar as their crazy old uncle. Trump is creating huge levels of self branded digital content and this is exactly why he'll win.

5. Smart houses - this will be a big reality in 2017. Everyone will have some sort of smart centre in the home. Like the Apple Home, Google Home or Amazon Echo. These devices will be voice controlled and do everything from booking an Uber taxi to re-ordering your shopping. So why is this important for businesses? Well - small businesses will have these devices too. They might become like your personal assistant, sending emails and booking meetings. And if you're selling your products online, you're going to have to think about how your customers can easily purchase via these devices.

That's about all we think of for now. (Lie. We just have to stop somewhere.)

We wish you all the best of luck with your digital strategy coming into 2017. If you need some help in staying ahead of the pack on line - please don't hesitate to contact us at Beacon13 for a free and friendly chat.

Beacon13 Ltd