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7 Trends Startups & SMEs Need to Know About in 2022

Startups and SMEs have endured a difficult couple of years. However, the resurgent, post-covid economy is providing opportunities for potential growth across all sectors and industries.

Recent world events have made doing business…challenging. With everything from global supply chain friction to enforced hybrid working, it’s not surprising that only the most dynamic and resilient businesses have survived.

For those that have, they’re looking to find technological solutions and exploit new opportunities. 2022 is the time to manage both ongoing and upcoming risks, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change, whilst thriving in new market conditions.

Where there’s change, there’s opportunity. And, as the economy bounces back and consumer spending starts to rise, there’ll be plenty of ways that startups and SMEs can plan, procure, and market to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to up and coming developments.

This blog will look at 7 business trends for startups and SMEs to keep an eye on and take advantage of in 2022.

Metaverse and augmented reality

The potential of the metaverse and virtual reality (VR) is so enormous it’s hard to overstate. This technology can be applied to exceed customer expectations and gain an advantage over competitors. There are applications far beyond its use in video games and entertainment.

VR can be used by designers to create and present concepts and ideas in different scales, up to life size.

This can be an innovative boost to creatives, allowing them to produce virtual versions of anything, from smart watches to buildings, and then interact with it. This is often a lower cost way to conceptualise products and environments to gain a greater understanding of what the project will look like when finished.

Customer experience:
Retailers of all kinds are incorporating VR and augmented realities (AR) into the shopping experience to enhance it. Examples of this include virtual test driving and interior designing. The benefit to customers is the ability to essentially ‘try before you buy’, with products that wouldn’t traditionally be accessible to them. Imagine being able to virtually walk into your dream kitchen and make a coffee before you commit to paying, or driving a high-spec sports car not usually available for test drives. These offerings expand retailers' markets and make their exclusive products available to a wider audience.

In 2022 startups and SMEs will be incorporating this technology more and more as costs come down. Allowing for products to be accessed from home reduces the barriers to participation for the customer network.

All companies of all sizes can incorporate VR and AR into marketing campaigns. Using QR codes, such things as advertising posters can become fully interactive, and 360º videos can be used as an immersive experience. WIth the technology allowing for virtual reality to be employed on smartphones through a downloadable app, there is no prohibitive cost associated with incorporating virtual reality into a marketing campaign or product launch.

This is a powerful business trend that startups and SMEs alike can use to connect with younger and more tech-savvy audiences, who also have higher expectations!

The metaverse is an exciting and new space that doesn’t really have a fixed definition yet. It’s been propelled into the limelight by Facebook renaming itself Meta and announcing it as the “next evolution of social connection”.

Loosely, the metaverse can be described as a set of virtual spaces that can be used to create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical location. Potential uses include all forms of leisure, education and work activities, such as hanging out with friends, working, playing, learning, shopping…you get the idea.

Currently, tech companies are working on building the tools and infrastructure needed to be able to bring the metaverse to life. Certainly, the increased trend towards VR and AR will accelerate this. With these virtual environments becoming interconnected and the tools needed to access them (VR headsets, smart watches, smart glasses), becoming more ubiquitous, the metaverse could become a reality sooner rather than later.

Digital and cloud technologies

The business trend towards digital and cloud technology will continue to be important for startups and SMEs in 2022.

These technology solutions can empower and drive collaboration and connectivity for businesses. Rapid advances in technology are challenging traditional business models like never before, and digital innovation will become more and more important as the economy shifts ‘online’ through the cloud and the Internet of Things.

Business leaders who engage with the cloud and other high-tech solutions can provide secure environments to facilitate collaboration, manage complex workflows and integrate processes across not just businesses, but different geographical regions too.

Incorporating technology into startups and SMEs can radically improve data insight. The processes and technical know-how needed to perform this can be accessed by entrepreneurs to turn ideas into real-world applications and products. Data is everywhere these days and analytics can be performed on all kinds of data to provide powerful customer insights and better connections with an audience, increasing sales and engagement. AI and machine learning can be used on big data and by doing so, predictive solutions can be provided, making a big difference to your business. Such AI applications can include allocating resources, managing supply chains, predicting market trends and detecting fraud.

Startups and SMEs involved in digital innovation have to ensure the security of data. Protecting data will become more important in 2022, as industries become ever more digitised. Engaging in the ordinary course of business now produces big data sets. And, with big data sets come even bigger security challenges, and catastrophic consequences if you get it wrong. This data has to be managed effectively, and the priorities of securing and protecting it whilst also making it available to customers and analytics have to be balanced. Companies have to operate secure networks and threats to these networks are becoming more sophisticated, so too has the response. As the economy bounces back post-Covid, the opportunities for businesses to find solutions and offer support in cybersecurity might be very lucrative.

Omnichannel ecommerce

An omnichannel ecommerce strategy is a way of providing a customer experience that allows for someone to start their journey on one platform and continue on another one. This ability to transfer from searching on a phone, to completing the transaction on a laptop, gives an optimised experience to an audience used to using technology.

The business trend towards omnichannel will continue into 2022 and beyond as there are many benefits. Omnichannel strategies offer a cohesive message about a brand to customers. As people explore your channels using different devices, they will receive the same brand message and the offer will be joined up and consistent. Giving a similar experience no matter how or where the brand is accessed.

Omnichannel ecommerce businesses can gain an advantage by presenting an omnichannel approach. By collecting data across all channels and combining it, there is an opportunity to perform analytics and fully understand the customer journey. This information can be used in a variety of ways to reduce friction points and prioritise features, enhancing the experience and making it unique.

This can be taken a step further by incorporating AI into the analytical insights. Personalised experiences can be provided to give customers a truly bespoke journey, highlighting products and ensuring the elements important to the individual are prioritised. Keeping this experience and delivering it across multiple channels can create a powerful customer relationship, establishing retention and brand loyalty.

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Influencer marketing is dead, long live virtual influencers

There’s a lack of trust surrounding influencers. The authenticity of celebrity endorsements and the rise of challenging influencers who post filtered and unrealistic content has broken down trust with followers. As influencer marketing struggles to find its compass and in many ways has to deal with becoming saturated, a new type of influencer is on the rise.

Introducing virtual influencers.

This is an online trend that has been with us for several years but looks set to see real growth in 2022. Virtual influencers aren’t new, think about old Coca-Cola posters including Santa Claus and other characters created over time to support a message or brand. This new business trend is for companies to create a virtual influencer across social media platforms, with some having millions of followers.

CGI characters online have been gaining followers steadily over the last 5 years, with some branching out into pop music and even politics. Brand endorsements include luxe companies such as Prada, Chanel and Calvin Klein. Not bad for someone that doesn’t exist.

This trend is just a small evolutionary step away from traditional influencer marketing and provides an exciting opportunity to exploit a novel new area of social media and promotion.

Influencer marketing is a huge market, with up to $15Bn projected to be spent in 2022. Brands are catching on to the virtual influencer trend though, so expect to see brands launching their own influencers and using some of this spend in-house to promote their products organically.

Hybrid working, it’s here to stay

SMEs and startups, like all businesses, have suffered over the last two years. One of the challenges faced was the sudden adoption of hybrid working.

This ‘new normal’ is here to stay. Hybrid working forms part of the future of the UK workforce and will be an important trend in 2022 as it becomes part of the DNA of a business, not just a short term fix out of necessity.

As lockdowns have eased and the economy is opening up again, SMEs and startups have to maximise the benefits of flexible working.

Over the last two years, employees across the UK have increasingly asked for hybrid working to be a permanent arrangement. This is especially true of younger people coming into the labour market who may have different expectations and are less bound by tradition. This demographic is comfortable using the technology needed to work remotely and has probably experienced a significant amount of remote education along the way.

Undoubtedly there are benefits of bringing people together in a central workplace, especially in SMEs and startups based on collaboration, creativity and culture. There may also be parts of the workforce who do not have a suitable environment at home to carry out work. So there are benefits of having a physical space but a balance must be struck to be most effective.

Businesses such as Google and Amazon have adopted the hybrid working model, as they believe that this best supports their workforces and best balances the pros and cons. Although hybrid working will have to form part of any SME or startup business plan in 2022, care has to be taken to be inclusive across your workforce, some of which may not want (or be able to) remote work.

Pros of hybrid working:

• Efficient use of space

• Increased motivation

• Culture

• Work-life balance

• Productivity

Cons of hybrid working:

• Disadvantaged remote workers

• Boring head office

• Management challenges

SMEs and startups usually value their creativity and adaptability. Using the hybrid working model as an advantage is possible, with some resourceful and original planning you can set up your business in a way that gets the best out of staff whilst minimising the drawbacks.

The blockchain

Without a doubt, blockchains will form an ever-increasing part of the digital landscape in 2022. Recent developments in technology have brought blockchains into the lexicon of public discourse, but what is it?

Blockchain: This is essentially a database that’s shared across a network of computers. Being a database, the blockchain stores information electronically. Blockchains are best known for their role in cryptocurrency systems, essentially making a secure and decentralised record of currency transactions.

In the future, blockchain technology may be involved in a wide range of applications and transactions. As the internet becomes more ubiquitous and the metaverse promises so much, populations are more open to a decentralised (and trustworthy) way of doing business. As blockchains are used in more transactions and new ways, trust will grow and they will be used in more expansive ventures and investments. As we become more connected and the internet brings us all closer together, the idea of supra-national accounting systems, under the control of no individual entity, can be attractive to some.

As the blockchain trend moves into 2022 it’s notable that some large corporations are making significant investments in blockchains and the associated technology. These include big multinationals like IBM, Amazon, Google and financial companies like Visa. The use of blockchain technologies can be spread across all kinds of different organisations, such as online music streaming services that could use them to manage copyrights. Areas, such as banking, voting, transportation, and healthcare could benefit from this technology.

There is enormous space for this industry to grow. The blockchain is still in its infancy yet it’s already had a profound impact in some areas. In some aspects, it may be that public opinion has to catch up with the technology before it’s fully embraced. The promise posed by blockchains could provide for an intriguing 2022 and beyond.

Ways to pay

Customers in 2022 are comfortable using technology and expect flexibility and ease of access. This extends to payment methods and if these expectations aren’t met, they are likely to find a service that can offer them their preferred method of payment.

In 2022 it will be important for SMEs and startups to provide a range of payment options, not just to boost revenue but also to retain customers. An important aspect of this will be remembering each customer’s preference, enabling them to be able to checkout faster when they make a purchase.

2022 will be a transformative year in terms of finding technology solutions, not just in ecommerce but across all industries. To be successful, it’ll be important to remain at the cutting edge of technology and software, otherwise, there is a danger of being left behind as other businesses gain a competitive advantage.

There are some exciting opportunities that can be exploited when it comes to online payments options. These can be taken up and brought into business models to help businesses grow and scale in the future.

Apple Pay and fingerprint payments through smartphones: There are about 500 million iPhone users that have Apple Pay setup on their devices. This number will continue to grow as this payment method becomes more widely available. Apple Pay presents customers with a convenient and quick payment method and the benefits of it include an improved checkout journey and improved transaction security.

QR Codes: QR codes are growing in popularity and retailers are adopting QR codes as QR transactions become more secure and subsequently less expensive to process.

Bitcoin and other blockchain currencies: Cryptocurrencies are constantly in the news and as a result of this exposure is increasing in popularity. Cryptocurrencies are becoming more secure and mainstream, with new currencies launching all the time. Some major companies are investing in cryptocurrency and PayPal (a major online payments system) now allows you to store cryptocurrency in your online wallet and has introduced a ‘pay with Bitcoin’ option.

Other advances in payments are the rise of novel fintech payment options such as Klarna, which offers point-of-sale loans for online purchases. These types of loans can give customers flexible options such as ‘buy now and pay later’, in Klana’s case this is over three months. Other companies also offer these services, including PayPal with their “Pay in 3” offer. These payment methods can be attractive and are really popular with younger customers. Regulators in the UK closely watch these products but they look set to stay and form an important part of online payments for the foreseeable future, particularly as the cost of living continues to eat into wage growth in the UK.

These payment options will be expected by consumers and SMEs and startups should be aware of this trend. As new payment products come online it’s important to keep up with the advances as they will quickly become market standard if consumers connect with them.

In summary

Where 2021 was a year of profound challenge, 2022 may be a year of profound opportunity. There’s no doubt that some challenges remain, and will continue to do so, but there are real reasons to be hopeful as the economy rebounds and markets open up again.

This blog has covered seven areas where opportunities exist for SMEs and startups. Knowing about these can help shape and develop business plans to ensure that there is the best chance of growth and success. When a business is going through its early growth cycle, it’s important to have all the information (and time) you need to make smart leadership decisions. This is where partnering with professional experts can help.

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