It used to be simple for small to medium sized businesses (SMBs). All they needed was a prominent location, a little bit of effective local advertising, or a growing, positive reputation — and their local community would not only purchase from them, but also quickly become loyal. But these advantages are being eroded by the techniques that social and mobile technologies make available to larger businesses. These larger businesses, bolstered by their greater resources and better brand recognition, are using these to personalize their interactions with consumers, making their homogenous message seem less so.
SMBs have been slow to adopt these same technologies and techniques — despite their cost-effectiveness. It’s almost as if SMBs think that it isn’t worth the effort on the local level. They see their customers with greater frequency, often live within these communities themselves and inherently feel in touch with them. When a consumer has a need, these companies are often top of mind — at least they used to be.
Larger companies are changing this equation by becoming increasingly more effective at gathering consumer-oriented data, analyzing it, and creating personalized messages that make consumers believe they understand them better than their local businesses. Whether they do or don’t is irrelevant, it gives the impression that they understand the consumer with greater frequency. And frequency is just as important as personalization when trying to use social and mobile to increase revenue and profit. Frequency makes these companies top of mind when a consumer has a need, displacing the advantage SMBs have always relied upon.
SMBs can gain back the advantages they’ve always had — and more — by thinking and operating differently. Here are five steps that can serve as the starting point for competing more effectively in the new social economy:
- Your products or services aren’t your business. Every company loves the products or services they sell — especially small businesses. But any successful business owner knows even the best offerings aren’t any good if the customer never sees them. Marketing products via social and mobile is just one more way to get your products, or your brand, in front of customers. But you can’t market to a customer digitally unless you can reach out to them individually. Think of all the ways you are currently interacting with consumers and how, during each one of these interactions you can build your digital community.
- Build a digital community. The arrival of social media had every company creating a presence on every social platform they could, then posting content as often as they could. The downside of this approach was that the consumer had to come to the platform to see the company’s message — the company can’t control the interaction. This doesn’t mean these platforms shouldn’t be used, but rather they should be used to direct consumers back to the company’s primary website whenever possible. This creates a better workflow because once the consumer is on the company’s website, the company can control the user’s experience to their best advantage.
- Know what benefits your business. Getting a consumer to visit you isn’t the real goal of digital marketing. The real goal is being able to reach out and touch them whenever you want after they do visit you. In order to do that, you must capture and collect information about them — you can then use this information to both understand and interact with consumers in the way that best benefits your company.
- What don’t they buy? It’s easy to sell a customer something they need or want. Successful businesses have figured out how to sell consumers other products once they’ve made these initial sales — bolt-on products or services, decreasing the gap between repeat purchases or interesting them into an adjacent product line. When a company controls consumer data, they control the ability to send targeted content (via SMS, email or social post) that moves their existing customers towards that next purchase — incrementally increasing revenue for little cost.
- Make their life better. There’s a lot of talk about content marketing. But the most effective content has nothing to do with marketing at all. The best content is free content the consumer believes is sincerely intended to make their life better, easier or even just more fun. This means in addition to the marketing and sales-oriented posts your organization makes, you should also provide your community with information about how to use your products and services in ways they never would have thought. Help them get more out of life for the money they spent with you and they will love you for it — and continue to open your emails.
The truth is that SMBs do know their customers better than large companies. But new social and mobile marketing techniques have made it possible for larger companies to be perceived as if they do. When SMBs adopt these same approaches, their superior understand of local markets allows them to once again return to that place of a trusted partner in the lives of their customers that they had once held exclusive rights over.
David F. Giannetto is the author of “Big Social Mobile, How Digital Initiatives Can Reshape the Enterprise and Drive Business Results” (Palgrave Macmillan), senior vice president of Salient Management Company, and he helps organizations coordinate complex initiatives, technology and information to create tangible results. More information at: www.BigSocialMobile.com.