Every small business owner knows that building — and maintaining — a strong brand takes a lot of work. And while the internet is a great tool that helps draw customers in, sometimes the biggest changes and trends both online and in the real world can make waves that impact your business operations. With smaller budgets, less manpower and a crunch on resources, small businesses can feel passed by when it comes to keeping up with emerging trends that disrupt or help their businesses more and more each day. But knowing about these changes, and how you can take advantage of them, is one way to stay ahead of the game

Midway through 2017, it’s easy to identify trends with staying power that can help you open new ways to market to and connect with consumers.

  1. Mobile-Friendly Web Design
  2. Innovative Robotics and Artificial Intelligence
  3. Live Streaming Video
  4. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
  5. Personalization in all forms of Marketing

And luckily, many of these can be incorporated into your small business strategy as ways to successfully interact with internet users and prospective clients.

Mobile-Friendly Design Having a strong SEO-optimized website is no longer enough when it comes to drawing visitors to your site. As smartphone and tablet use continues to surpass the use of desktop computers, it’s increasingly important to utilize mobile-friendly designs that make it easy for visitors to browse, shop and find the information they need. Businesses that fail to plan for mobile-optimized sites often turn mobile device users away — also known as potential customers — simply because their websites may not display or work well on small screens.

You should know that having a mobile-optimized website also impacts the way your content is found. In late 2016, Google announced that it would begin mobile-first indexing, meaning that the mobile version of your site will the primary version indexed. Desktop versions are secondary. While Google often makes changes to its algorithm, it’s clear that the need for mobile-friendly websites is here to stay.

Successful small businesses have also jumped on the mobile app bandwagon to make shopping and surfing that much easier. Quick-loading, clean and useful apps help users interact with content in a way that’s perfectly optimized for smaller digital devices. Luckily, app building doesn’t have to be a daunting task; app-building programs can make this project an easy way to build engagement and interaction with your customer base.

Innovative Machinery
Whether it’s customized robotics that take your assembly line from slow to peak production, or a 3D printer that helps create new items for your retail line, a leap in innovative machinery is making an impact on small businesses.

In fact, the rapid pace of technology should give small businesses a leg up in the way they produce items; what once required multiple production steps or material, outsourcing, or a set amount of time can often now be replaced with faster production methods. Small businesses can take advantage of up-and-coming machinery to help improve their manufacturing processes and reduce overall costs, driving up profits or helping to pass on affordability to consumers.

Video — In All Forms If you’re taking advantage of Facebook Live streaming to connect with your audience, you’re already onto this trend. Videos have been one of the most successful ways users connect with businesses and brands, especially for content that is easily sharable. Facebook Live videos, in fact, often receive longer viewing time than native videos (original content uploaded to the site). And, stats show that these ad generating videos are often specifically searched for.  But, this isn’t the only way to go about connecting through imagery. Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter videos can be just as successful at marketing your business and interacting — especially when it comes to creating trending, shareable information tidbits about your brand, products or a particular topic.

Virtual and Augmented Reality
Virtual reality games, news stories and videos have emerged with use by larger technology and marketing companies, making them often feel out of reach for small businesses — cost being a primary factor. But now may be the best time to jump on the VR bandwagon as an early adopter. With room in the market to explore, create new uses and establish niche trends, small businesses can be first to market, using virtual and augmented reality as a tool to strengthen their brand.

Millennials often get a bad reputation as being self-centered, but take note of a large trend among this age group: the need for individuality. This demographic is leading the way in demanding that retailers and business treat them as individuals, small businesses can take advantage of an audience that is looking for personalized items and content. Collecting data from web or app users that can tailor their experience with your brand can be beneficial for small businesses, creating a specialty, niche feel for end-users. This can go as far as using push notifications, loyalty or rewards programs or geo-location notifications. Failing to offer an individualized experience is one trend that small businesses just can’t afford.

Each year, new trends emerge — some of them just as beneficial to small businesses as larger companies. How you choose to incorporate these into your marketing strategy or digital approach is based solely on your company’s individual needs and goals. But, knowing these trends are out there, and can offer some benefit, allows you to cherry pick what works best now while looking out for what’s to come in future.