Smart marketing to connect with customers
Maximize the efficiency and impact of your marketing efforts.
There are many different definitions for marketing, but in simple terms the key components of marketing are first understanding customer needs, and next finding ways to provide the products and services that satisfy those needs. However, what used to work successfully in marketing five or six years ago may no longer be effective, as the environment has changed.
"Needs and concerns have changed," says Hamilton Wallace, owner, SmallBusinessMarketingConsultant.com. "The world that your customers live in has changed. It doesn't mean you have to change who you are. It just means you need to talk to your customers about what's important to them right now."
For example, if the cornerstone of your marketing plan has always been delivering superior quality, that's still important, but nowadays it may be more effective to communicate your business's reliability and affordability, as well.
Before overhauling your messaging, Wallace says you should investigate what's working and what isn't by contacting your five newest customers and five prospects that chose a competitor. When you call or speak with these people face to face, include the following questions:
What are your aspirations?
What are your concerns?
What were your criteria before deciding who to do business with?
Why did you decide to do business with us or with a competitor?
Make the most of your marketing budget
Once you understand your customers' priorities, you should focus on prioritizing your own marketing efforts. There are a number of steps you can take to ensure your marketing dollars are being invested wisely, whatever the size of your budget. For example:
Make the Web work harder: Be sure your website is easy to find by improving your search engine optimization (SEO). Essentially this means raising your ranking on Google and other search engines. Weaving three or four keywords into each website page can help you achieve this. To find keywords, go to Google AdWords: Keyword Tool. Imagine you are a potential customer and think about how you would search the Web for your product or service. Experiment by entering words that relate to your offering. Identify word combinations that have high numbers of monthly search results, but lower levels of competition.
Check the power of print: To see if your print advertising is still bringing in customers, feature a discount for people who mention the advertisement. If your print ads aren't generating the business that justifies the expense, negotiate a smaller ad at a more cost-effective price, or investigate other media.
Use e-marketing muscle: Consider an email marketing service that allows you to customize emails and send e-blasts to specific customer segments. Before you start to flex your e-marketing muscle by sending emails, you should review all the requirements of the CAN-SPAM Act. You should be able to evaluate the success of each email deployment, such as how many people opened the email you sent out. While email marketing is fairly easy, it's crucial that each email consistently establishes and reaffirms the credibility and professionalism of your business. Therefore, it is important to limit the number of emails you send. Create a consistent schedule for sending emails so your customers aren't inundated, but gently reminded. Make sure the copy is grammatically correct, accurate and concise, but still contains the flavor or tone of your business. Build up your database of customer emails by incorporating email collection into everyday business operations. For example, each time a customer makes a purchase, an employee should ask for their email address as a way to share regular updates and promotions. Finally, remember to ensure that your email program only includes willing recipients by allowing prospects and customers to opt in, and include a clearly-marked unsubscribe link in your emails that allows people to immediately opt out.
Start socializing: Social media can offer a great platform for small business owners to connect with their customers. The instant access helps field an online conversation with current and potential customers. It can reinforce the positive and help you quickly and more proactively respond to any potential problems, including negative feedback. While Facebook and Twitter don't provide the same opportunities for calls to action that e-mail marketing does, social media is a great avenue to demonstrate the values of your company.
In this day and age, business owners need to be more targeted in their marketing efforts. By developing a consistent, well-thought-out marketing strategy, businesses can inspire customer loyalty that goes far beyond just a one-time sale.