It may seem that I’m stating the obvious, but it’s very difficult to over-emphasize the importance of a business’s communications with their customers. Whether your business is blogging, web design, or shoe manufacturing, there are a few hard and fast rules of marketing communications:
Find the channels of communication your customers use
Speak to them through those channels
Do it often
Many “old-world” businesses, one of which was a past employer, find themselves languishing in the world of Web 2.0, when it comes to marketing trends. Understandably so. Shampoo or Antacids are of little interest to the stereotypically young, tech savvy netizen. We imagine them spending all day surfing sites like Digg and Mashable, eating up info about even the most doomed of web startups, and see no way to monetize on a “tech trend.” But we’re missing the big picture.
As a result of this Web 2.0 revolution, customers are starting to expect increasing levels of transparency from the business they patronize, and increasing levels of communication. Sure they eat up every tweet from the Boxee Development team, but hair care tips from their favorite shampoo brand – tons of women would love that.
There are plenty of channels of communication for you to connect with your customers: Facebook Pages, Twitter, blogs, etc. Most of these are even free. This where rules 2 and 3 come in. You have to communicate with your customers. A web consulting client of mine voiced an opinion I think a lot of people have: “We figured we’d make a lot of money off selling our stuff online, so we put a website, but nothing is happening.” Goody for you . . . a website! Your potential customers are inundated with branding and marketing messages from 100’s of businesses per day. You have to bring some sort of “value added” service to them. This may mean having a blog with golfing tips and secrets, if you make golf club covers, or skin care tips, if you make lotions . . . or it may just mean keeping an open channel of communication open with your customers, having an upper-level exec responding to comments and questions, and using customer input for future product revisions.
The real marketable secret of Web 2.0 is that it makes everyone “special.” Bloggers are Pulitzer Prize winning journalists in their own minds. Fans report on the latest X-Box cheat code like reporters covering the Iraq war. If you give fans and customers a space to be heard, and a real and reliable voice to an industry that they personally care about, then they’ll respond by giving you their loyalty and trust.
Here’s a (fictional) example, using the Shampoo idea from a few paragraphs up:
Fu-Fu Hair Shampoo is a mid-to high end shampoo, sold predominantly in salons and beauty shops. They want to capitalize on their currently dormant online presence, so they open a Facebook Page for their product. They upload customer testimonials, and before and after photo shoots of satisfied customers, and models (shot as customer shots…hey..this is marketing) and encourage their users to do the same. They make a few friends, and encourage them to recommend the page to all their friends, and so on. Fans vote on the most drastic hair transformation, once a month, with the winner receiving a small gift basket of free Fu-Fu Hair Shampoo and Conditioner products. Fu-Fu places a link to their facebook page on their home page, and integrates the company blog with the Facebook API (ask your tech person about that) to cross promote both channels of communication. Web traffic starts to pick up, and the internet is slightly a buzz about the promotional giveaways.
Then . . . bad news! A customer used Fu-Fu Hair Shampoo and got a pretty nasty rash, and a flakey scalp. Upon closer inspection, she realizes that Fu-Fu Hair Shampoo uses an ingredient that is a common allergen. She sends in a complaint. Old world response would be to apologize, ask to cover an doctor bills, make sure she’s okay, refund her money, and then conduct a small study to find out what percentage of people suffer from similar allergies, and whether or not it is beneficial, cost wise, to address this ingredient.
Web 2.0 Response: A company executive posts this complaint letter on the company blog and facebook page, with the promise of an immediate end to the use of that ingredient. The company executive goes on to say that Fu-Fu Hair Shampoo is now introducing an allergen-free “green” shampoo, and asks for community input on what the ultimate in hair-care would be for them.
2-3 months later, the company posts a blog outlining the most requested features of the new shampoo, and introduces the new product: created by fans. This new product is available a nice premium to the regular product, and has a vastly increased profit margin.
Company makes money.
You can now add in tons of different scenarios to really capitalize on the PR side of this event – but needless to say, there are news outlets that would eat it up. The Web isn’t about a site, or page, or anything of that nature. It’s about communication. Using it as a way to stay in touch with your customers will only increase your loyalty and sales.