If you’re a small to medium business operating in South Africa, finding any kind of competitive advantage is a must, especially as the threat of being disrupted by more agile and forward thinking competitors always looms large.

In order to find said edge, many are turning to digital solutions.

While many businesses have optimised their website to offer a better mobile experiences, that is only part of the digital journey they need to be taking, especially as those sorts of enhancements are more superficial than anything else.

According to GoDaddy’s VP for EMEA, Stefano Maruzzi, South African small businesses need to be looking to the next wave of digital trends in order to identify solutions that could potentially have a disruptive effect for their organisations.

What to take note of

With that in mind has looked at four digital trends in particular, or game changers as he terms them, which could hold the keys to that ever elusive potential.

The first is chatbots which are becoming more commonplace across a myriad industries, and in particular the financial services market.

“Chatbots are getting more sophisticated all the time. Already, they’re capable of having full conversations regarding most customer concerns. In 2019 and beyond, chatbots are going to become cheaper, more capable, and more accepted by the general population,” explains Maruzzi.

“The potential of chatbots for small businesses is immense. As a small business owner, you probably cannot afford a 24/7 call-centre or a large sales team to handle sales and support. But you can afford a chatbot that answers simple queries and helps customers get responses quickly or while they are actively considering your small business,” he continues.

The next digital trend is voice-optimised interfaces in Maruzzi’s view.

This is very much being driven by the pervasive functionality that digital assistants like Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Assistant afford. As such the GoDaddy VP anticipates this assistants to be more frequently used in South African homes in 2020, as more consumers look to purchase smart speakers.

As these smart speakers are often used to assist their owners with queries, Mazzuri says businesses need to start tailoring their content to this need.

This means that businesses need to ensure that the online content about their organisation is customised specifically to be more SEO-friendly, especially as search and voice search in particular becomes more widely used.

Shifting to something a bit more technologically advanced, Maruzzi espouses the value of VR and AR, in terms of their ability to open up new experiences for consumers.

“Now, global headset sales are taking off, and more people are warming up to the idea of VR. It’s still in its early days, but we can expect to soon see some pioneering South African companies introduce VR- and AR-based content for their websites and apps,” he expects.

“VR and AR both offer some interesting ways to blend your real-world and digital presence. A virtual tour of your store, an immersive 360-degree experience of an event you’re attending, or an AR game that keeps your customers engaged – the possibilities are numerous,” the VP notes.

There is still a long way to go until VR and AR gets fully up and running in South Africa, but Maruzzi says the interest and appetite from local consumers is there.

The final digital trend is live video, with consumption of online content only going up, according to Maruzzi.

With the Cisco Virtual Networking Index recently stating that 82 percent of global IP traffic being video-based by 2022, it will be increasingly important for businesses to make video a part of their online content strategy.

“With so many other businesses competing for attention in the space, you’ll need to find ways to set yourself apart,” says Maruzzi.

“One way to do that is via live videos. Stream yourself during a speaking engagement or host a live Q&A session to engage further with your audience. It’s authentic, fun and spontaneous. It can help you to get closer to your audience on a reasonably small budget,” he suggests.

Mix and match

Concluding his thoughts Maruzzi stresses that not all of the above solutions will work for your business. Also adding that businesses should adopt a balanced approach when it comes to technology strategies they want to try.

“Different brands and audiences require different combinations – and it’s up to you to figure out what those combinations are,” he says.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment. That can be a great way to learn and to get a head-start on your competitors,” Maruzzi ends.