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This session led by Charles Laughlin and Steve Marshall of BIA/Kelsey offered a glimpse into the mind-sets of both SMB advertisers and consumers as they learn to coexist in the digital world. One certainty: The game has forever changed.

These survey results are the latest from Wave 13 of BIA/Kelsey’s Local Commerce Monitor. Here’s what we know:

For SMBs, new customers are essential. In fact, the SMBs in this survey stated that more than two in five of their customers are new customers and that they’d soon go out of business without that flow of new consumers. That’s a good piece of knowledge for local media reps. Much like most local media organizations, local SMBs need new business, too.

Their use of digital media has also increased to a new high and they plan on spending much more going forward on Web 2.0 applications such as video, social media and user-generated content. For the first time in the history of this survey, more SMBs claim to be using digital media than traditional media (77 percent vs. 69 percent). Traditional media does still receive the most dollars from this group.

What’s driving this change among SMBs? It’s the consumer. There’s no mystery that dollars follow eyeballs in media and it is consumers’ shift to new media that’s driving SMBs’ embrace of it.

The consumers in our survey overwhelmingly listed search engines as their first source of information on shopping decisions. Newspapers, print and Internet Yellow Pages followed somewhat behind in the preferences of consumers. For those of you in  electronic media, you should be somewhat alarmed that radio or television did not appear as a destination someone would go to get information on a local business despite the fact that most have Web properties. There has been continuing erosion in the use of print Yellow Pages in this survey for shopping decisions and that tends to skew more to the larger media markets than the small or medium markets.

Also, this proliferation of options for consumers has put customer loyalty at greater risk. Consumers are now using new resources for services they had not used before. So, with SMBs requiring plenty of new customers and consumers less loyal, the dollars are going where the consumer is going. How could they not?

While social networking sites are not that well used yet by shoppers, 68 percent of consumers now report that they belong to at least one social networking site. This is not a phenomenon strictly limited to the millennials as this growth in social networking membership cuts across all demos. It certainly would be logical to conclude that in the near future, social networking sites are sure to play a larger role in the shopping decisions of the American public. Seeing this coming, social networking sites no matter who owns them are doing all they can to encourage members to issue reviews on local businesses. About 20 percent of consumers now report that they’ve submitted either a numeric or written review of an experience with a local business.

Mobile is also an area that continues to proliferate in its importance. Somewhere around four in 10 consumers reported doing a mobile search for either a restaurant (43 percent), entertainment (37 percent) or retail (35 percent) in the past 12 months. Banks/ATMs (32 percent) and lodging (27 percent) rounded out the top five subjects of a mobile search in the past 12 months.

The growth of rich media usage on mobile handsets is exploding and the television industry should note that about one of every five consumers desired having the ability to watch television or video on his or her next mobile device. It is inevitable that SMBs will find the need to migrate here as well.

While none of these survey results might surprise you, they do highlight that the digital revolution continues to move along quite briskly. Local media firms need to understand how to position themselves to be where the consumers are as much as the local businesses that have historically supported them. Local businesses are on the move in their search for the shifting consumer.

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