Part 2: Using new and valuable tools to connect with customers.
Internet Marketing By Leslie Carothers
We have a new President and the bright promise of hope for new perspectives and answers on how to more effectively and efficiently run our country in the 21st century.
How did President Obama win? One important element was his campaign’s brilliant grass roots digital marketing strategy. Each step of the way, he was able to measure and react to changes in voter sentiment caused by breaking news, speaking points released by the opposing campaign, and much more. Obama realized early on that by relying heavily on a digital vs. traditional media strategy, he could enter into a conversation with the American public to find out their concerns and address them. He used the speed of the internet to communicate his ideas, and at the same time collect campaign contributions. He did it. And, so can you.
In 2008, I wrote five feature articles for FURNITURE WORLD magazine (all posted to the article archives on the furninfo.com website). Each one covered a different aspect of what you, as a retailer need to know to be effective in the online environment. Topics included how to convert e-based conversations into sales, online reputation management, social networking, and measuring results through the implementation of website analytics.
The adoption of new media digital marketing strategies can and will save our industry - which means saving many thousands of jobs. That’s a bold statement, but it is true, because online is where your customers are.
- Over 570 million people use some sort of social networking site in our world today.
- Facebook is growing at the rate of 600,000 new users A DAY.
- LinkedIn is being used by over 21 million professionals.
- Twitter is being used by over 4 million people for micro-blogging, including Ford Motor, Virgin Airlines, Anderson Cooper, Zappos and other notable brands.
All you have to do is look around and notice how many people you know are actively engaged with some sort of social media or social networking site. It doesn’t matter whether you are actively engaged in this phenomenon, because your customers are!
Once you connect the dots, you will realize that your brand needs to listen to and engage with customers on this level by developing a digital marketing strategy.
A digital marketing strategy is a cross-platform strategy that utilizes social media tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, video and webinars along with social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Hulu to connect with, listen to, and engage directly with consumers. There are three main benefits you can obtain if you implement a digital marketing strategy correctly.
BENEFIT #1: Listen and Engage
Number one is the opportunity to listen to what your customers and potential customers have to say to you, or already are saying about you on other sites. For too long, retailers and manufacturers have not directly engaged the end consumer.
Social media marketing gives you the opportunity to listen to and engage the end user before your company makes hundreds of thousands of dollars in expensive mistakes. These mistakes could be in your selling system, your inventory, your customer service policies, delivery, warranties, or any other business area. If you are honest, transparent, responsive and engaged on the important social media platforms, your customers and potential customers will tell you what they want and think.
Can this be difficult to swallow? Yes. But every company needs to know what its customers really want and think of them. What company can afford to put merchandise on the floor without really knowing for sure, that it is the merchandise their customers want to buy? Think of this: how much money have you spent over the past two years in advertising markdowns and/or getting rid of unsold inventory?
You can drastically reduce that expenditure by engaging your audience directly with social media, letting them co-create your store.
Do you give up an element of control? Yes. But, the hard truth is that control is already in the hands of your customers. Most of you know what it is like to be a customer in the digital age. You do pre-purchase online research, and If you don’t like something about a store you shop in, you can easily go to an online review site like yelp.com or epinions.com and let the world know. Once that content is posted, it is impossible to take down. It’s there, forever indexed in Google and Yahoo search engines and available for all your other potential customers to see whenever
they conduct their pre-purchase research.
So, for this reason alone, it is critically important to begin an active program of listening to and engaging your audience through a social media strategy so you can at least participate and influence the conversation about your store, your brand, your people or your products.
SECOND BENEFIT: It’s Inexpensive
The second main benefit is that a digital marketing strategy is extremely inexpensive compared to a traditional advertising strategy. How much are you spending on traditional advertising right now? 7% of sales?
Your traditional advertising is pushing a message out, hoping potential customers will respond and buy.
A social media marketing strategy allows your customers and potential customers to opt in to the conversations they want to have about your store, brand and services. In other words, you set up the opportunities for them through a variety of means on social platforms to interact with you. You invite them (through your email lists) to participate and they have the choice to opt in. It is much more powerful to have customers who have chosen to engage with you than to push an advertising message out to them.
Social media is not advertising. Instead, it helps you listen, engage and respond. It lets you enter into a conversation with your customers and admit your mistakes. It enables you to build trust and authenticity. Will it potentially cause you to have to change your business model? Yes. Will it, on occasion, be painful to hear the truth? Yes. Will it be worth it? Yes. Why? Because if your customers begin to really believe that you are listening, engaging, responding and acting, these customers will become a sales force for your store and your brand that no amount of money would ever be able to buy. This, dear readers, is what every brand hopes for - customers who are so energized and excited that they cannot wait to tell their circle of friends about the great experience they had with you! Creating your own loyal cadre of brand evangelists for your store is a worthy goal for any retailer.
And, once the strategy is set in place, it is free (with the exception of monitoring the conversations). This is why so many major brands are adopting and re-allocating their traditional ad budgets to social media.
THIRD BENEFIT: It's Measurable
Now, how can you know that it works well? Because it is directly measurable through the use of analytics on your website. You can see, with analytics, which sites are referring traffic to you. If, for instance, you post a link to a page on your website in a LinkedIn group, you can see how many people clicked through to your website from that link.
Here is the final key: Social media influence people, but it is not a hard sell. Your customers will believe what their trusted circles of friends tell them more than a broadcast advertising message. Once they are influenced by social media, it will drive traffic to your website and your store. That is an important reason why you need to have a very well designed website (if you are an e-commerce player like feelmorehuman.com or www.target.com), or very well-trained sales consultants to close those sales.
If you choose to participate in social media marketing then you must make sure your sales team is part of, understands, and is trained to work with customers who have come to trust you through your social media marketing efforts. If you build up trust in the virtual world and your customers’ real world experience is full of angst, inattention and apathy, you will lose them forever and they will, depending on how bad the disconnect is, voice their displeasure on the very sites you have set up to engage them! Yikes. But even when problems like this occur, if you are engaged, you can immediately go online and admit your goof. Customers will generally forgive brands that are honest, admit mistakes, and try hard to make amends. With social media, you can document your efforts and that is worth its weight in marketing gold.
So, what steps do you need to take to set up your program?
1. Set up an initial strategy that outlines the general program, sets goals and assigns responsibility for achieving results.
2. Develop production materials needed to support your strategy. This can include website development, videos, banners, newsletters, content writing, administrative setup, etc.
3. Set a budget for events to be marketed through social media-if any.
4. Implement your program with the tools and strategy you’ve devised. It takes some time to execute an effective cross platform strategy.
5. Enable ongoing monitoring of social media sites. This task is the responsibility of a “community manager”, a. person or team that is directly engaged on your behalf in the conversations consumers are having with your brand (store). This is the only ongoing larger cost associated with implementing a social media strategy and can be outsourced.
6.Educate your executive team in preparation for launch.
7.Train your sales team in how to convert e-mail or phone based inquiries into in-store appointments or immediate sales.
Now, let’s go back to the initial discussion about the costs of traditional advertising. These costs go on year after year, right? Yes. Are they directly measurable? Unless it’s direct mail? No. Do the costs keep increasing? Yes.
Most importantly, are you seeing significant sales as a result of your traditional advertising expenditures? No, for most retailers lately.
With social media, you only have to re-allocate existing dollars budgeted for advertising. That’s all.
The only major ongoing cost associated with implementing a social media program is the cost of talking to your customers. Once the initial fixed costs are covered, your bottom line operating costs will decrease dramatically. This, is why so many brands are re-allocating to social media marketing, and why you might want to consider it, too.
Leslie Carothers is CEO of The Kaleidoscope Partnership- a social media agency for the home furnishings and related companies. Along with her COO and business partner, Sev Ritchie, they strategize, implement, execute and train companies how to use social media marketing to increase top line revenue and decrease bottom line expenses for increased profits. They are also international speakers on social media and other internet related tools home furnishings companies can use to grow their own businesses and brands in today’s connected economy. For more information visit http://tkpartnership.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.