Is Your Marketing Plan Stuck in the 20th Century?
Successful small-business owners understand the basics of marketing: Know your customers well and deliver messages in ways that will reach them best. Common components of a well-devised marketing plan often include customer surveys, advertising, promotions, and direct mail, as well as a carefully designed website, which in today's mobile world is the go-to source for basic company information. But is all that enough?
To quote a famous 20th-century musical sage, "The times, they are a-changin'." Business owners who want to keep up with a changing customer base (and the dynamic technology available to them) will need to be familiar with the latest in 21st-century marketing tactics. Following is a brief primer that can help you get started.
The new and improved word of mouth
There is perhaps no more cost-effective form of marketing than an unsolicited endorsement from a satisfied customer. And in the 21st century, the opportunity for "word-of-mouth" publicity has taken on a whole new dimension--a global dimension, even for the smallest of businesses. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Yelp--the list of social media sites increases seemingly by the day. Through these sites, customers can share their experiences far and wide. Remember the popular 1980s television commercial, in which a famous actress raved about a brand of shampoo, saying, "I told two friends about it, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on..."? Social media is a bit like that, only nearly instantaneous and often with unexpected consequences.
When a positive message about your organization "goes viral"--i.e., the two friends become many friends--you have essentially hit the marketing jackpot. However, if a negative message goes viral, you may need to mobilize for damage control. For this reason, it's important to understand how social media works.
Opportunities in social media
Social media provides an ideal opportunity to build trust among current and prospective customers. The objective is to engage your "followers"--those who choose to follow your posts--in a way that inspires them to "like" and "share" positive messages about your organization, and eventually click through to your website to initiate a sale or generate a lead.
High-quality engagement is derived from "content" rather than traditional advertising. Effective content is a story, image, or brief message that captures attention by educating, informing, entertaining, or provoking emotion. For example, you could spotlight your company's commitment to a popular cause, or demonstrate how your product has helped improve a customer's life in some remarkable way (with the customer's permission, of course). If your business provides counsel or services to other businesses, you might draft a blog post or white paper demonstrating your expertise. The idea is to deliver content that will generate conversations reflecting positively on your organization.
Many, if not most, social media posts end with a word, phrase, or string of words and phrases preceded by the hash symbol (#). This symbol ensures that all words that follow become searchable terms in many social media outlets. Hashtags can help your company become part of conversations surrounding a particular topic. For example, if you sell products that help consumers reduce costs, you could end your post with #moneysavingtips.
- Many social media outlets limit your message to a small set of characters. While it can be challenging to create meaningful content in a limited amount of space, regular posts of this sort can help you stay top-of-mind with your followers. You can also use these messages to drive traffic to more detailed messaging.
- Stories told through visuals tend to be more effective than text. According to Inc. magazine, videos on Facebook's leading brand pages were shared 12 times more often than texts and links, and photos received twice as many likes as text updates.*
- Encourage your followers to post their own photos, videos, and stories highlighting how they've used your products and services, and to hashtag the benefit of your product or service as well as your company name.
- Capitalize on opportunities that arise organically. For instance, many companies have used #TBT (Throwback Thursday) to publicize their company's history.
A final word of caution: Even the most well-intended stories can backfire if there's any room for misinterpretation. Humor, in particular, can be tricky. Before hitting "post," consider carefully how your message might read to a wide variety of people.
*Source: "Lights, Camera, Action!" Inc. magazine, November 2013