It’s no secret that mobile marketing can offer small businesses a big advantage. That’s why so many of your competitors are spending more on mobile tactics. Nearly three-quarters of the businesses surveyed in the 2013 AT&T Small Business Technology Poll are increasing their mobile marketing budgets this year. That figure jumps to 100 percent among new businesses less than two years old.

As smartphone usage continues to grow, so will the number of ways to engage mobile customers and help capture sales. I’ve been a fan of mobile marketing for some time now. New tactics are emerging that I believe will help small businesses compete even more effectively with their larger counterparts.

Here are three I’m watching:

1. Mobile passes: deliver rewards.

Big brands like Starbucks and Walgreens have rolled out apps in recent years that let users receive mobile coupons and store digital versions of their rewards cards on their smartphones. I was excited to read about services that let small businesses get in the game, too.

These services (such as this one from Passdock) offer user-friendly templates to create mobile “passes” that customers can download and store in digital wallets, primarily Apple’s Passbook. For example, a hair salon might create a discount card that customers can use on their next visit, or a bookstore could create a mobile rewards card so customers can track their purchases. I think these services have enormous potential—I for one would be happy to not have to dig through my pocketbook to find the right rewards card or coupons.

2. Location-based platforms: offer meaningful experiences.

When you think of location-based services, you probably think of an app like Foursquare that helps people find deals at businesses around them. Now, apps are springing up that help customers find specific products while they walk through a store or suggest others they might be interested in. Sound creepy? Maybe. But if done properly, these apps could be a boon both to consumers and to businesses.

Here are two examples of what they can do:

    • Get products in front of customers. Shoppers can use an app to enter their shopping lists on their smartphones and find items more easily at the store. As they move through the store, retailers can deliver customized product suggestions and offers. (Here’s an example of how this works.) Retailers can also gain insights that help them position products more effectively and learn which types of offers work best. These insights can also help marketing and consulting firms design more compelling programs and campaigns.
    • Lead customers to your products. Businesses with or without a physical store can take advantage of platforms to direct consumers to places where their items are sold. These companies can create interactive ads that integrate real-time product availability data to point consumers toward local retailers      nearby. Big brands like Best Buy are using these platforms now, but I suspect we’ll see smaller players using them very soon. For example, an independent toy manufacturer could direct people to stores carrying its products.

3. Mobile payments: capture sales quickly.

While these are not exactly new, I’m seeing more types of businesses use apps that let them accept credit cards through their smartphones. These apps are obviously a boon for mobile businesses like delivery services and food trucks, but they’re also helping brick-and-mortar establishments serve customers better and bring in revenue. For example, employees at a café in my neighborhood take orders and payments using their cellphones, so they can handle lunchtime rushes faster than they could from behind a counter.

Bank on mobile for big returns

Along with exploring new mobile trends, I’m still a firm believer in the basics, like building a mobile-friendly website and developing a text messaging program. Mobile is here to stay. Those who invest time in the technology now can expect big returns in the months and years to come.

What mobile tactics are you using this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Alice Bredin is America’s foremost small business expert, with more than 15 years of experience in the small business market. She has provided highly practical, actionable advice to millions of business owners through her books, syndicated newspaper column, radio commentary, and small business forums.