Customers are the beating heart of your business. Without them, you’d be six feet under. So as a small business owner, you must master the rules of engagement in order to keep your business from going belly up.
One of the first rules is that your customer must never feel they’re being sold to. Engaging your customer has to be a genuine, authentic experience – not a sales pitch just like any they’ve heard from your rivals. Not only does engagement create customer loyalty, but with a more impassioned consumer base, your profit margin will increase through word of mouth marketing.
So how do you – a brand – build a meaningful rapport with your customers?
How to Give Your Brand a Face
Do you feel emotionally attached to nameless people or corporate giants? Probably not. And neither will your customers.
A wooden nonentity is not a good face for your company. Inject some humanity into your business.
You’re a small business, so you likely have the advantage of personally knowing some of your customers. But you should be able to build an emotional connection not only with the customers you know, but with your entire customer base. You can do this by giving your company a face; by being human.
Get the much needed market analysis. John Rampton – entrepreneur, online marketing guru, and contributor to Forbes – notes, “There’s been research from the likes of Forrester and The Corporate Executive Board and Google that have explored the importance of building strong emotional connections with your customers…When brands accomplish this, they are able to increase consumer loyalty and charge premium prices.”
You must provoke an emotional connection in your customers. And you don’t have to take a shot in the dark to do that, nor do you have to set up focus groups to get the information you need from your target customer. You can solicit the help of market analysists to gain a better understanding of your customer.
Introduce yourself. We humans always introduce ourselves to other humans. But you no longer have to be a door-to-door salesman to personally introduce yourself to each and every customer; you can do this as a brand through online platforms. Write a personalized message to your consumers through emails, Twitter messages, or simple welcomes into any online community to which your consumer subscribes.
Lock down a brand ambassador. Microsoft had Bill Gates. Apple had Steve Jobs. Trump Towers has, well…Trump. Your brand ambassador can play a powerful role in how your customers see you. By engaging with a live person – and mascot, so to speak – they will more closely identify with the brand.
Give your blog a face. Another way to give your brand a face is to give your company blog one. Instead of letting your blog’s byline default, include the author and their biography. Your company blog is a direct line of communication to your customer, so it should feel personal. A photo with a short author bio will help make it so.
How to Provide an Immersive User Experience
Brands with loyal customer bases know how to engage. And they understand that customers want to not only to interact with their favorite brands, but to interact with other loyal customers as well. They want an immersive experience. They want to feel a part of something. Technology provides a number of avenues to give customers a more immersive and engaging experience than ever before.
Form a Forum. Whether you prefer Facebook or LinkedIn Groups, online forums are where your consumer community can come together and share their love for your brand. Not only do these venues offer your loyal customers a place to chat with each other, but they offer you a place to answer questions directly, update your customers, provoke industry discussions, and provide any other information with which your customers may connect.
Kelly Azevedo of She’s Got Systems recommends a Q&A for your customers: “Turn to your clients and customers for their burning questions and make a point to answer them through a video or written post. Keep a running list of content ideas and who had the question so you can reach out when the post goes live.”
Give away free stuff. It’s never counterproductive to gift some of your customers with freebies now and again. Sure, it’s money lost on whatever your contest prize may be; but the customer reaction and engagement will pay back tenfold. One idea is to hold a contest for the best and most interesting customer photos with your logo incorporated. Not only will you be engaging your customers, but the results will double as free advertising for your brand.
How to Personalize and Target Your Content
Your content should feel like personal communication to your customer – not like they’re one of a million contacts in your social group (though, hopefully, they will be). You can personalize and target your content so that your customer thinks they’re your favorite.
Build up a team. Your customers should not be passive; they should be active team members of your brand. If you like something that one of your customers has done – whether she’s run a marathon or he’s held a charity event – promote this team member on your social media platforms. Loyalty to your customers will make them loyal to you. Additionally, you can provide loyal customers discounts for special occasions to make them feel like they’re not just another face in the crowd.
Give a tour. No, you don’t have to hire tour operators to show your customers how the sausage is made. You can simply give them a product or service tour via YouTube or some other media outlet. One great example of a product tour is Arby’s longest commercial gag, which involved a 13-hour ad demonstrating the slow smoking process of Arby’s brisket sandwich.
Link these videos through all of your social media accounts and – click, click, click – your customers will immediately feel more engaged with your product, service, and brand.
How to Make Sure Your Information Is Fresh and Accurate
With digitalization, keeping with the times has never been easier…then again, the times are changing much more quickly. You must retain your edge by making your brand an active online experience.
“The internet isn’t a passive experience,” says Michael Peggs, the founder of Marccx Media, a content marketing agency. “That’s one of its biggest selling points. You’re not just watching information fly past you online; you’re actively choosing what you want to see. Passive content doesn’t work because the bar of stimulus has been set WAY too high online.”
So to remain ahead of the latest trends, it’s time to get creative, interactive, and tech user-friendly.
Investigate what’s trending. Social media isn’t just a tool for spreading the word about your brand. You can also use it to help investigate what’s trending and what your customers need. Whether it’s identifying preferred color schemes for future products or personalizing promotional products to specific customers, interacting with your customers through these outlets will give you a sharper idea of where to go with your product.
Let your customers create. You might even take the above a step further by engaging your customers in the creative process of product design. You can do this by using online polls or surveys to compile your customers’ popular opinions on new features or design elements for a pending product. This will allow you to discover your customers’ desires and needs and build a product custom-made just for them.
How to Stay Consistent with Your Message
It’s much easier to keep an existing customer happy and continue selling to them than it is to convert a new customer – about 14 times easier, according to Marketing Metrics: The Definitive Guide to Marketing Performance. But somehow, many companies forget to engage their existing customers after that initial transaction. These companies are losing out in a big way.
Instead of ignoring your new converts, you should be fostering the relationship and making it a loyal one. You can do this by being exclusive and being social online.
Be exclusive. Whether through exclusive content or offers, providing your loyal customers perks is one way to stay consistent with your message – which should primarily be that you’re there to serve them. And almost everyone wants to be part of the “in-crowd,” so exclusivity is one way to show them you care. Providing coupons for subscribing or reminders through your blog or emails about exclusive promotions, like one-day discount events, will help keep your brand image consistent throughout their customer experience.
Be social. You’ve introduced yourself, but now it’s time to take the relationship to the next level. Be a social online presence and interact frequently with your customers. Communicate your promotions, but also listen to what your customers have to say about your product or service online. Being an active monitor of your social media profiles will allow you to address any negative reviews in a positive way. You should never ignore your customers’ issues. Apologize, ask for input, and find a solution – doing this with tact may just convert a naysayer into a loyal fan.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is, building intimate bonds will lead to long-term customer relationships that will better serve your profit margins. Engaging customers will also give you an edge against your competitors by feeding you the customer trends that can make or break future products. By giving the market what it wants while also forming your consumer community, you’ll build a strong foundation upon which your small business can grow year-in, and year-out.