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In today’s cash-strapped times, we are all looking for a bargain. But where does this leave the small business?
There are so many ways that shoppers can find the best price. There are price comparison websites, online voucher sites and even apps that allow you to scan barcodes and compare prices elsewhere.
Price-cutting is rife and big businesses are at it all the time. Some retailers are running almost continuous sales in a bid to bring in more business. Meanwhile, the supermarkets can afford to offer highly competitive prices on loss leaders just to get shoppers into their stores.
These kinds of practices don’t always work for small firms whose margins are already tight enough and who can’t afford to be constantly discounting. But the fact is that many consumers now expect some kind of special offer before they are prepared to open their wallets.
And so the arrival of social buying sites like GroupOn, BuyWithMe, TownHog and LivingSocial could well be very good news for small firms with a local customer base — as well as being good for canny shoppers.
The social buying sites all work slightly differently but essentially they allow businesses to promote a specific offer to subscribers in their local area offering tempting discounts with extra money off when groups of three or four buy together.
Sites like GroupOn send out emails to their subscribers with a daily offer. Subscribers respond, they get a voucher for the product or service and the business gets the revenue after the social buying site has taken its cut. So businesses only pay when they sell something.
Yes, businesses advertising on the sites have to offer a discount. But it’s a targeted offer to an audience of interested subscribers. It’s not constant price-cutting. It’s much more strategic and measureable than that.
But does it work? One upmarket restaurant in Bristol — Bells Diner — sold an impressive 413 meals for two via LivingSocial when it offered a 52 per cent discount on an eight-course meal in November 2010. Now that’s an attractive offer, for sure. But that’s 826 additional customers that have come through the door — and they could well be back for more.
Rachel Miller, editor, Marketing Donut.
The SME market is, of course, huge. With a turnover of over £1350 billion, it’s no wonder many companies engage in direct marketing to this lucrative sector, spending nearly £6 billion in doing so. How much of that £6 billion could be saved, or how much could businesses increase their returns, if they had known how the SME market wants to be communicated with?
Luckily, the latest research from the DMA and partners as part of the ongoing survey, The SME Voice, has provided the answers. OK, let’s cut to the chase.
First and foremost, the notion that social media is more powerful than email marketing is not cut and dried according to this report. Email was found to be the preferred method of contact among SMEs, with usage even showing an increase from 69 per cent to 80 per cent as 2010 progressed. One reason may be the rise in popularity of smartphones that allow email to be accessed on the move.
The research also found that SMEs prefer to receive marketing emails on Monday and Wednesday mornings and not more than once a week. It’s a risk though to stick too rigidly to this mantra as we know that the SME market is never stagnant and marketing communication strategies often have to be updated.
Finally, what should businesses be sending to small firms? It may be tempting to bombard them with trumpet blowing and sales propaganda (zzz) but what they actually prefer is a healthy mix of messages focusing on price and product benefits.
Overall the message here is: don’t just presume your marketing material and messages are best suited to your target market — ask them what they want and that feedback will be vital to improving your direct marketing ROI.
So for email marketing, here are the key findings:
With an increasingly competitive marketplace and an unstable economic climate, many established companies are using research to ensure they are meeting their clients’ needs — often in the form of a survey or questionnaire.
Research can now be done very cheaply thanks to free or almost free online survey tools. With marketing budget cuts, managers often take on this task without the help of market research expertise.
But is this wise? Although customer service research can be helpful when establishing the level of satisfaction within the business, it may not be robust enough for other areas — for instance when an established business decides to launch a new product or service. With any new launch, businesses need to canvas the opinions of potential customers as well as existing ones.
There are several reasons why established businesses often neglect to conduct viable market research when launching new products — cost, time restraints, lack of knowledge about the importance of objective research and the belief that existing customers are the most suitable respondents all contribute.
Good quality market research must meet the following criteria:
Market research can bring new insight into your company and foster innovation. By approaching respondents that are not your clients you can get new ideas and insight into competitors’ operations — something you may not be able to discover by speaking to your current client base.
Ensuring there is a lucrative potential market for your new products and services has never been so important.
For a while I’ve been looking at what a few UK-based marketing agencies, traditional PR consultancies, and fresh-on-the-block digital marketers are doing on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
And it concerns me.
Because I don’t see much innovation – which, by definition, means ‘something new, and contrary to established customs, manners, or rites’ in the mix.
Hardly anything new or exciting. Very little risk-taking, and nowhere near enough authentic conversation. It’s often a case of same old, same old. Such a shame, given the huge, positive, amazing potential that such platforms represent.
Corporate, safe, sterile, anodyne presences.
I can hear almost hear the comments in these Boardrooms, as social media engagement is discussed.
Comments such as, “let’s get a Facebook fan page”, or “make sure we get the newest Agency account executive to pop some content on a Twitter account” or even “cut and paste the newsletter onto a blog page, that’ll do” – without first asking that crucial question ‘why’ which should underpin all social media activity and engagement.
I’ve even seen – horror of horrors – a digital marketing agency engaging in direct marketing via Twitter. A scam-based ‘campaign’ designed solely to get hold of email addresses for future direct selling. Awful.
I blogged about it here at the time, seeing as I was one of the unfortunate individuals to be spammed.
Here are six ways to use social media with innovation in mind:
1. Take an interest in other people – and pass on their content. It will get you noticed – the Law of Attraction. It really does work: these people will notice you back, in time, and reciprocate.
2. Take risks – be authentic, speak with your actual voice on social media platforms. Get the vibe of your business or Agency out there: let people know what working with you looks like, feels like.
3. Be real – don’t tell me about how many new widgets you manufactured this month, let the person who actually makes them tell their personal story. Your business is brilliant, but you have to get this story out there – from each employee outwards.
4. Be selective – don’t set up a Facebook page if you don’t have to. Select which social media platforms are best – it may be that your business or Agency only needs a real presence on one or two – and focus your attention, effort, and energy there.
5. Be unique – don’t copy what your competitors are doing: show your audience the uniqueness in your business or Agency, give them your biggest unique asset, your people. Get everybody involved, to tell their stories in a way which makes your business or Agency so attractive, natural engagement form others will follow.
6. Stop talking and start listening – too many Agencies (PRs are the worst culprits) are so busy shouting about how brilliant they are, and how many industry (navel-gazing) awards they’ve won, they forget the audience. Less broadcasting, more listening please.
These six simple steps, executed over a few months, will transform and innovate social media engagement for you. Guaranteed.
How are you selling? Are you old school or new school? There is a lot of talk about sales targets, selling style and features versus benefits. But at the end of the day, your approach, tone and brand style should tie together with your approach to selling. Here are some questions you may want to think about as you launch into 2011.
Many business people fear that sharing their knowledge will empower their competitors and they believe they should keep their expertise close to their chest. It’s one thing sharing your knowledge and another thing applying it. Let me illustrate this. Tips on how to style my curly hair are great but I’m not about to attempt cutting my hair on my own. I’ll always need a hairdresser to do that. So don’t confuse the knowledge you can share, with the skill you have in applying it. The opportunity to apply your skills (sell them) comes up more often when you set yourself up as an expert.
Today authenticity is absolutely essential. We are bombarded with meaningless adverts, worthless pitches and annoying messages. Why not stand out and be yourself? People buy from people. Even when we buy from faceless large brands we buy from the people employed by them. How many times have you been to a big brand shop and experienced poor service and then slated them, avoided them or told someone about your bad experience? On the other hand, give me a good shop assistant who has some personality and I’m the happiest person. You can communicate authentically by developing an honest brand style and using social media to develop personable relationships.
So you are convinced you know what you are doing. But do other people believe it? This might seem blindingly obvious but many people are still not using testimonials. No one likes those people at parties that never shut up about themselves. So you can talk about your great products and services till you are blue in the face but if you’re the only one saying it then you are likely to go unnoticed. Your customers can help you sell by sharing the positive experiences they have had with your products and services.
Do people understand what you’re trying to say in your brochure or are they tripping over too many words, bad grammar and poor quality imagery? When people land on your website are they overwhelmed with mixed messages, flashing adverts or streams of useless blurb? Here’s a tip — if you give people too many choices such as multiple links on your website, they feel bombarded and run away! Your customers are busy and they need help making buying decisions. Make your communications (print and websites) logical and easy to navigate.
Who wants to be sold to all of the time? The answer is no-one. So why is this one of the biggest problems I experience today? Selling is an essential aspect of any business and I’m definitely not suggesting we scrap it. It’s about how we sell. People want personality, benefits and meaning. So avoid the kind of selling that is in your face, doesn’t shut up, tells lies and is a one-way street of blurb.
The best way to know what your customers actually want is to listen to them! Sounds simple? Then why are most businesses talking at their customers rather than listening? One of the simplest and most innovative things you can do is make your customers feel important by listening to them and trying to solve their problems.
Whether you have boxes of professionally printed leaflets stacked under your desk, or just run off a few copies on your home printer in time for a networking event or exhibition, the chances are that you’ll have at least one leaflet for your business.
The question is, how do you create a leaflet that works for you? You know, one that actually gets people to pick up the phone and book in a consultation? Or one that drives them to your website to buy? It’s certainly easier said than done.
When I started out in the print industry more than ten years ago, everyone starting a business got themselves a logo, some business cards and either a leaflet or brochure. Times have changed, and that mix tends to be a logo, a website and a business card nowadays. But despite the medium changing, attitudes to how you get your promotional piece to work for you don’t seem to have changed.
Over the years, I must have spoken to thousands of business owners with the same laissez-faire attitude to creating promotional literature. The idea seems to be: get the word out and the people will come. So it wasn’t (and still isn’t) uncommon to see a leaflet with a logo pride of place at the top, followed by reams of text (or perhaps bullet points) on why XYZ Company is great. Unsurprisingly, these types of leaflet don’t tend to win their owners much business.
Fast forward ten years and things aren’t much different on the web. There are numerous examples of great websites, but there are also an uncomfortable number of sites that follow the same format – focusing all on the company and very little about the intended reader. If you’d like your leaflets (or your website) to win you more business, here are five things you must do before you get them out there…
1. Set Goals: What do you want this piece of collateral to do for you? (Hint: for websites treat each page separately as well as looking at it as a whole piece — it’s more work, but I promise it will pay off!). I know this doesn’t sound like rocket science, but you’d be amazed at how many people don’t sit down and have a good hard think about what they’re trying to achieve. Starting here makes it much easier to get people to do what you want them to.
2. Understand what would compel your reader to do what you want them to do. Why does your (potential) customer need or want what you’re offering? What happens if they don’t do what you want them to do? What’s the downside?
3. Write action-focused words that persuade people to do what you want: don’t talk about your business — talk about what’s on offer, why people need it, what’s in it for them and what the downside is if they don’t do it.
4. Create a piece of design that doesn’t just look gorgeous — it makes all the right things stand out and grabs the attention of the reader as well as reinforcing your branding. Much, much easier said than done — I recommend you leave this bit to the pros!
5. Deliver with a flourish: if it’s a piece of printed literature, get it in all the right places and deliver it more than once — three times in three months is my standard rule of thumb, but it’ll depend on what you’re doing. If it’s a website, you also need to promote its existence — think social media and offline promotion as well as traditional search engine optimisation and ad words.
Go on, give it a try! And let me know how you get on.