Smart. Small.

Guardian has this piece on what small business can do today to do more than survive – thrive. As I discussed the need for a service like Shoplocal and the ecosystem it will operate in, with our sales team today afternoon, it struck me that there have been three phases of SME marketing in India. I have named them after three popular films that represent a certain type of hero – small business.

1. Hum aapke hai kaun – (Post-Liberalisation) : with the entry of satellite TV, the small business was forced into the modern marketplace. The Indian buyer tasted forbidden goods for the first time in the form of ‘imported’ brands. The strong initial demand for these brands brought in more customers. MNCs looking to trigger brand recall offered sponsorships, painted signboards, in-store merchandise and jolted the domestic brands into action. New business opportunities sprung up and franchisees mushroomed across the country spreading the good word about brands & services people hadn’t ever heard of. In the newly liberalised India, life was good if you were a small business. After years of living cautiously the Indian consumer was beginning to break free from the shackles of guilt everytime she indulged a bit on something other than food & education. The small business began to see a bigger place for itself and make stronger connect with the customer.

2. Dil Chahta hai – (Digital era starts) : the actual internet era in India began with Naukri & Rediff rolling out their platforms. Small business woke up to the internet and started experimenting with making their own websites. The telecom rollout added rocket fuel to this. Dedicated mobile numbers, text to call, text to groups. ‘Digital Listing’ as a category began to take off. Call a dedicated number and get instant information on any small business you want. Customers began to ‘google’ items and sellers. Thousands of enterprise grade apps and vendors popped up who provided exactly the type of intrusive marketing that begged to be regulated. Post telecom regulatory action the smart small businesses took to the burgeoning social media revolution. This has now evolved into a full blown digital ecosystem with small businesses using Facebook & Twitter quite naturally. during this period the sheen of the MNC faded as a lot of small business found themselves competing with large domestic as well as international retailers who came to the high street armed with slick brand ambassadors, shiny ads and the latest in analytics & technology. Against these odds, the small business seemed to be exactly that – small. Aspirational business owners began to look at ways to tilt the odds in their favour and a significant number began to explore deeper digital options. the end of this era firmly established the need for services such as Zomato, Quikr, Olx etc. The small guy wanted to be big.

3. Chennai Express + + (post digital world) : everyone, big and small has the same tools. or at least, similar. customers are returning to buy locally. relationships are in vogue again and brands are experiencing a fatigue, not to mention the fact that most big global brands are still re-organising after the global financial meltdown. its easy to spot a small business that does an excellent job at social media and e-stores can be had and managed for a pittance. The small business owner can easily learn about analytics and visual merchandising from youtube videos even as she sources material from China over skype. Recently, while speaking to a small business owner for Shoplocal, I had to cut short and modify my pitch when he said, somewhat impatiently, “everybody has a smartphone. everybody. it’s a fact’. And herein lies the opportunity. Anybody can build a formidable marketing presence. It’s no longer an exclusive club but more like a ‘indian railways train’ that everyone can get on as long as they have a ticket. And that ticket is the mobile. 

There is no effective bridge between the small business and its local customers. something that bundles CRM, Social, Commerce, Classifieds into one powerful package. A simple tool that is useful for the consumer and handy for the merchant. So there, the market is ready for a blockbuster, only if someone would cast the right actors.