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Internet industry assumptions can be dangerous for SMB’s

I read a post this week from one of the Internet marketing industry’s big names, John Jantsch. His premise was that we would all be using search engines less and less as we move toward an app centric world. The gist of his position is as follows:

My use of search engine technology is slowly being replaced by the use of apps that provide me with answers relevant to my personal needs. My guess is that while you may not have taken note, you’re doing less and less in search engines and more and more in answer engines.

The question to me is whether John’s assumptions hold.

First, let me say that his point is valid. I find myself using apps to get info. I regularly check the Weather Channel app on my Android device when I may have done some search or even just went to the bookmarked page at the Weather Channel’s website.

John Jantsch
Image via Wikipedia

Where I differ is where it appears that Jantsch’s assumptions come up short. Of course, he is writing for his audience, but his audience is mostly SMB’s who are trying to market their way out of this economic train wreck we are living through. They obviously have a technology angle to their business or at least personally since they are getting information from an Internet personality.

That, however, is where the similarities end and the danger begins. Those of us in the Internet industry are, of course, much more likely to use just about everything that comes down the pike to some degree or another. But even the most tech savvy of the tech savvy set can’t use it all. It’s just not possible and it is not realistic.

Now, take that line of thinking down to the SMB and the general public that most SMB’s are trying to serve through their business. First, the percentage of SMB’s that actually “get” Internet marketing, social media, location-based services and the rest of it is relatively small. Depending on who you believe, 50% of SMB’s still don’t even have a website! Why else would Google be out trying to get entire states like Texas to get online?

So if the mass of business owners are not even close to being Internet-savvy, can you only imagine how disconnected the general public still is with regard to these matters? This is where the industry assumptions that we are all moving toward being this or that online get dangerous.

You see, if a business person is focusing on technology and the latest and greatest techniques in Internet marketing, but his customer base isn’t there yet, then what good does that do him or her? None. In fact, that line of assumptive thinking that this type of behavior is prevalent throughout society can be very dangerous to a business owner.

As a business owner, it really doesn’t matter at all how I use technology. The only thing that matters is if my use of technology in my business marries up perfectly with where my customers are. For instance, if only 10% of the general public regularly uses location based-services should there be an investment in them at the expense of something that reaches the other 90% just because it seems to be cool? That’s not only bad business, but it is just dumb.

Now, back to the idea of the perceived pervasive use of apps. Most business people don’t have the wherewithal to even develop apps. They wouldn’t know where to start and they would, in many cases, be blown away at the cost. Now add into the mix that while people, as in customers, may be using apps, the SMB is faced with the reality that in order to reach everyone that is involved in this “wave,” you would need to produce TWO apps to reach across the iPhone-Android divide. So automatically, your investment doubles.

Now, let’s REALLY look at the customer base for most businesses. If somewhere in the neighborhood of 40% of that customer base has a smartphone, it doesn’t mean that any time soon everyone will have one. In fact, economic realities point to the possibility that smartphone growth may be slowed due to the ongoing cost of data plans. That hurts the reach of the app. The assumption that this is simply where everyone is going is now derailing considerably.

Take a look at these findings from a Pew Institute study released this week.

Do I think that there will be more people getting on board with the app craze? Absolutely. But right now, in order to survive, I recommend that SMBs in particular look at what is actually happening in front of them rather than what might be happening to them personally–or worse, the advice of an expert.

I have been feeling for quite some time that the Internet marketing industry is living like most marketers have forever:  The hype is often years ahead of the reality. The resulting disconnect people experience because they want cool things to be real right now will lead to bad business decisions–decisions that are simply premature.

The ideas may be good and they may come to fruition at some point in the future, but we live in a society where the Yellow Pages still exist. Sure, they are struggling and likely to go the way of the condor but there is still a market and will be for several years to come. I have railed against this kind of spending for SMB’s for a while, but guess what? In some cases, it may actually make good sense because it creates business.

So, let’s be very careful with the assumptions that we throw around. People who are listening might actually make serious decisions based more on hype than reality. Unfortunately, when businesses make those kinds of decisions, their reality becomes one of misfortune.

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