Ryan Wilson is the founder of FiveFifty a digital marketing trade desk focusing on programmatic media buying. FiveFifty brings its clients a decade of media buying experience and a commitment to marketing performance across nearly every website on the Internet.

Many business owners claim that they don't actively market their businesses because their growth is almost entirely based on reputation and word of mouth. In their minds, marketing is reserved for consumer-focused companies and brand awareness. If they do any marketing at all, it's in trade shows and sponsorships.

What they may not understand is that the process of buying has changed. What has gotten their business to where it is now won't necessarily get it to where they want it to be in the future. A fundamental change is underway in how people research and buy products and services, and social media, mobile devices, interconnectivity and access to vast amounts of information through online research are fueling it.

The classic buying process has always gone like this: the customer is first exposed to a brand, then sees the product or service in a purchase environment, and then has a post-purchase experience as he or she uses the product or service. Think about the last time you went to make a purchase. Did it go down like that? I bet not. More likely, you experienced the brand in some way and then pulled out one of your many devices to do some research about it. You might have looked at review sites and ratings sites or solicited input from friends online. Once you were satisfied with your research, you might have even gone to a store to experience it first-hand or spoken to a salesperson before buying.

Consider how much information you had at that point.

According to the Google/Shopper Sciences Macro Research Study in 2011, before a purchase decision was made:

  • 50 percent of consumers used a search engine to find out information
  • 49 percent of consumers talked with friends/family about the product
  • 38 percent of consumers comparison-shopped online
  • 36 percent of consumers sought information from a product brand/manufacturer website
  • 31 percent of consumers read product reviews or endorsements online
  • 22 percent of consumers sought information from a retailer/store website
  • 22 percent of consumers read comments following an article/opinion piece online
  • 18 percent of consumers became a friend, a follower, or "liked" a brand.

Where does all of this information come from? Think about last time you bought that product or service. Ever submit a review of a restaurant on Yelp? Ever post to Facebook about a great experience or like a company fan page? Ever post a question to a forum? Respond to an article from a favorite writer? What was once a marketing message is now a conversation in which brands choose whether or not to engage. Shoppers today find and share their own information about products, in their own way, on their own time. Word of mouth is stronger than ever. The difference is that for the first time, this word of mouth is digitally archived for future buyer's reference.

It is likely to become even more important. Since 2011, time spend on digital devices has more than doubled led largely by mobile. In fact, according to BI Intelligence's "The Future of Digital: 2014″ report, 60 percent of online devices are now smartphones or tablets, we spend an hour per day on our smartphones, a quarter of Internet traffic is mobile and 72 percent of mobile phone users now have a smartphone.

In this new environment, brands need to do four things to succeed:

1. Create and monitor content.

Engage with the conversation going on about your brand and industry. You will develop an advantage over those who choose not to participate. Business owners can get in the game by establishing domain authority in their subject matter through valuable content and creating an online marketing strategy that leverages that content for lead generation while building an awareness of what, where, when and how a prospect engages with them.

2. Have a mobile strategy.

This isn't to say that you necessarily need a mobile app for your business, but if someone finds your content online, make it easy for them to consume it. Make sure that your marketing plan considers the volume of potential customers who are using mobile to access the Internet.

3. Think locally.

Mobile opens up many opportunities for location based targeting. What is a person worth who is 50 miles from your store versus one that is 50 feet from your store. Dial into the location that is ideal for your customers and ensure that you are leveraging what location says about the customer's probability to buy.

4. Be social.

Take every opportunity to be the conversation facilitator. If you have a Twitter account, Yelp or Facebook page, etc., where people are interacting about your brand, then you have the chance to participate in the conversation in a direct way. Make it easy for people to find you and pay attention to what they are saying. Engaging with them in meaningful ways through social will have the same impacts as if you did so while you were face to face.