Where would life be without the Internet? How well would we make it to work, or to the trash can outside each day if we didn’t put our feet into shoes? How many lives have been saved, crisis averted, schedules met, assurances made, friends connected, products and services found, etc., because of the proverbial “hip cricket” on our person? Desk or desktop, sedan or SUV, train or bus, boat or rail—all are tools we choose to make life more workable, more livable, more productive, more enjoyable, and more promise-filled. The one thing common to all is you, the user of tools, perhaps itself, the greatest tool of all.

According to a recent report by Ernst & Young, the top (3) opportunities today and beyond are: innovation in products, services, and operations; emerging markets; and investment in processes, tools, and training. The obverse side of this coin is called “threats.” In unpacking the first the progenitor of all comes clearer into focus. It is the individual.

Clearly, innovation, new markets that issue from it or the disruptive process that replaces the old, and investment, depend near exclusively on the individual. Though our natural tendency is to join efforts in support of common goals, in the end, each must do what only he alone can accomplish. Innovation is often an unruly process, largely driven by a concentration in a productive mental zone, but as often by desire to make what we already use and know work better than before. This is why most innovation is driven by customers if not defined by them.

Emerging markets generally thought of as nations outside the top importers of goods and services from developed nations, are more narrowly defined closer to home. Local markets are largely underserved by broad appeals to demographic and geographic customer profiles. The extraordinary data available through social media and web exchanges have added psychographic data that makes audience targeting more science and available to most any who deign to learn its simple ways. imagine how many more good friends you’d have if you walked out your front door and went five houses to the left and right introducing yourself with conversation of common interest to all, such as neighbors as friends.

More to the point, marketing will move nearer to an understanding of the needs and wants of individuals, in the moment and under circumstances; what some call 1:1 Marketing. The strategy emphasizes personalized interactions with customers that is based on firm understanding of the needs, wants, and typical behavior of a target audience. The result is greater loyalty and a better ROI. This is made easier by the significant volume of information gathered on individual behavior in all circumstances. These data are now readily available to local retailers, and both streamline and speed the customer exchange.

Each store must work to distinguish its offerings more than by the convenience of location. Dense markets can grow quickly by this alone, but will reach saturation points as competition divides market share. A clear view and even clearer and continuous communications of your “unique value propositions” will guild your offerings well into the future. But this requires good organization, tools, and training.

Since costs drop quicker by increased productivity, well-managed organizations with effective tools and well-trained staff will win share better than will superior product.

Without sufficient investment in the means to growth our greatest problems will overcome us and our greatest opportunities will pass us by. The simple truth is that an investment in your business pays a greater ROI than any other investment you can make—stock, real estate, get rich quick schemes, Internet advertising, and social media. I mention these last two because so many have fallen victim to the view that Internet and social media pervasiveness equate easily to growth. They do not! Use print as a foundation and integrate other media channels in promoting your products. Print dominates in its effectiveness to deliver your incentives and multiplies the effect of all other media channels when combined.

On the other side, pricing, profit, and risk management are the top (3) threats facing business today and into the future. The individual, his natural tendencies and behavioral tracking mightily affect each. First, concentrate of how to bring target buyers into view. Then work your magic to make it clear that the things they value most are within your walls—brick and mortar or virtual. Too many local retailers miss this point. It matters little how much it costs to bring “buyers” into view. Nothing productive happens until you do. Every business must present “unique” offerings; whether product uniqueness, good price, friendly service, compelling warranties, or convenience. Find yours and work them to distinguish your enterprise from the rest. Long after the sweet taste of low price fades, the joy in quality remains.

The investment in oneself, one’s personal business, and the opportunity for productive growth have always delivered a greater ROI than any investment known, over time. Toward a prosperous new year!

By Frank J. Rich