While we’d all hoped that 2022 would bring some respite to UK small business owners, the next few months look set to present a whole new set of challenges as inflation continues to rise.
Amidst this disruption, prioritising anything beyond the day-to-day of keeping a small business afloat seems daunting. Marketing and growing new customers can easily fall by the wayside.
But perhaps more than ever now is the time to evaluate what is happening with your current customer base and identify who your potential new customers are. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about permanent, seismic shifts to consumers habits and the way we live our lives and businesses need to be aware of these changes in order to reflect and meet these new demands.
For example, if your business isn’t based in a big city, you might wonder how the growth of ‘flexible working’ and the impact it has had on the lives of city-based office workers would affect you.
In fact, lockdown restrictions look set to leave a lasting impact on the whole country. As most city-based offices are continuing the flexible approach, people are realising they no longer need to be tied to their office. They can have the best of both worlds; a longer commute becomes an acceptable compromise for more space, the countryside and a better work-life balance.
But how is this changing the demographic of the UK’s market towns, and how can your business take advantage?
Flexible working in the city impacts small town demographics
House prices are rising, with the ONS House Price Index showing the average house price in the UK now stands at £275,000, and £521,146 in London. When combined with the fact that many city-based employees now work from home several days a week, these costs have inspired people to relocate.
Experian’s latest analysis of home moving data reveals the pandemic caused a significant shift in where homeowners are choosing to live in the UK. City employees are now swapping urban centres for smaller market towns nearby.
For example, the rural district of Harborough in the Midlands has seen an influx of movers from Leicester, while the market town of Selby in North Yorkshire has seen arrivals from nearby cities Leeds, Bradford, and York. Meanwhile the London boroughs of Camden and Brent, along with Oxford and Cambridge, have seen substantial population drops.
Movers tend to stay within the region in which they already live, but outside of the main city locations. London saw the largest proportion of movers leave their region, with 12% relocating elsewhere in the south-east and 8% heading further afield into the East region.
The significance for small business owners
Local business owners in towns and suburban locations outside need to be aware of these evolving demographic changes, as it opens a completely new audience to them. Families that have swapped the city for the country bring with them new spending power and interests – if you’re able to bring these potential customers on board, they can spread the word about your business and boost sales.
However, research is required to ensure you’re targeting that audience as appropriately as possible. And this new audience will likely have different interests to the ones you’re used to catering to. They might desire different products and services, or their need to commute to cities could impact travel trends. Their tastes could also be very different; Londoners moving out to the suburbs might still want trendy local coffee shops and breweries, vegan offerings or be used to a multitude of takeaway and online delivery options.
How they want to be communicated with is also different. Most businesses now engage their customers across multiple marketing channels using different targeting methods but by understanding new and existing customers’ actual preferences, you can talk to them through the channel they are most likely to respond to.
Making these changes work for your business
Of course, many business owners dream of being able to buy advertising and hire a marketing expert to reach their audience. But, with some research, there are quick and budget-friendly steps you can make to ensure you don’t miss out on this new opportunity.
You’d be surprised how much data you can access online for free. Organisations such as YouGov or the Office of National Statistics host data on their websites that you can use to find out your audience’s attributes, including where they live, their education level, the media they consume, their politics and how affluent they are. Experian also offers a host of services and tools which can quickly and easily help businesses better understand the likely characteristics and preferences of existing and potential new customers.
These insights can be invaluable in adjusting your brand strategy to meet ever-changing consumer habits in times of uncertainty and change. They will help truly understand your new audience, tailor your tone of voice and adapt your products accordingly.
As anyone who’s owned a business in the past two years knows, flexibility and willingness to adapt to change are key to survival. Data, and research into your local audience, could also help you thrive.