Tag Archive for 'marketing'

The power of building customer communities

Incredibly, in 2017, here’s a question many small business owners ask: “We have a website, do we need a social media strategy, too?”

The answer is the same as for why you have an email address even though you have a phone.  It’s not either/or, but rather both/and. Because as outstanding and handy as your website may be, there’s one increasingly important capability you need that most websites aren’t good at: community building.

Once customers find you, returning to that beautiful website of yours will be of decreasing interest to them. It’s not that your new stuff - products, how-to information, order status, special offerings, etc. - is no longer of interest to customers. It’s just that they don’t want to have to come back to your website to get it. More and more, customers are saying to businesses, “I like what you offer, but I won’t be returning to your website much, because I’m very busy. Why don’t you follow me home with the new stuff?”

This is what customers and prospects mean when they join your community by giving you permission to connect with them and send them offers and helpful information by email, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. They just want the new stuff, including updates to your website. Even when they return to buy something on your e-commerce platform, they expect to enter your website through the offer page you sent them, not from your homepage.

Building online customer communities - and getting permission to follow customers home - is how a small business transcends being competitive and achieves the pinnacle position: relevance. As you may know, I define a business social media strategy as building customer communities. But by my definition, social media is much older and more comprehensive than the online platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Your customer community strategy includes everything you do to build, connect with and serve those communities, including: email marketing, customer loyalty programs, the new social media activity, and, of course, the original social media: face-to-face.

In the old days - way back in 2003 - your customer list was just names on an accounts receivable report or sales forecast. Today, those customers are part of your business’s community, which also includes prospects who’re just becoming interested in you. But unlike the passive customer list of old - and visitors to your website - this community is functioning and dynamic, with fast-evolving expectations you have to meet or they’ll defect to another community.

Another important component of building customer communities is allowing prospects and customers to see your corporate values. Increasingly, prospects will turn into customers, and customers will become loyal, because they’re attracted to what your company stands for, which is evident in the values you demonstrate, including online. For example:

1. Are your brand elements - brand promise and image - all about you and your stuff, or do they sound like something that would benefit your customer community?

2. When delivering information, is it all about you, or does it contribute to the community?

3. What’s the tone of your marketing message? “Tone” is how brand messages are incorporated as you serve the community, from crassly commercial to almost subliminal. You should strike a tone balance between serving the community and making a sale.

Notice all of these demonstrate values that favor relationships more and transactions less.

In a world where everything you sell is a commodity, value - product, price, service - is the threshold of a customer community, but values are the foundation. Value is easy to find these days. But when community members are attracted to your values, they keep coming back and bring their friends.

Write this on a rock … Build and serve customer communities with a website and social media strategy that demonstrates your values.

Four marketplace truths about your customers

Spend time in the marketplace and you’ll have many close encounters of the third kind with the most interesting species in all of nature: the human being. And as we have learned, the nature of humans isn’t much different from other animals: All need to breathe, eat, drink, procreate and survive.

But there is something that clearly sets humans apart from other fauna: sentience. And one of the manifestations of being self-aware is that beyond what humans need, they also want.

Every human who owns an automobile will need to buy new tires. But what they want is to keep the family safe while not spending a Saturday buying tires. So if you’re in the tire business, should you advertise tires, which are commodities that the Big Boxes can sell cheaper than your cost? Or should you develop and market a customer loyalty program that combines peace of mind for your family with pick-up and delivery? How about this tag line:

Let us worry about when you need new tires and get your Saturday back.

Basically the hairless weenies of the family animalia, human beings need shelter, but we want a home. So if you’re a realtor, should you focus on the obligatory list of residential features, or how the physical setting and interior space fit what you’ve learned is your customer’s sense of a home? Try this on:

Mrs. Johnson, countertops can be replaced. What I want to know is how much will you love seeing the sun rising over that ridge as you enjoy your first cup of coffee every morning?

Humans, like thousands of other warm-blooded species, need to eat every day, whether they get to or not. But unlike other animals, only humans want to dine. If you own a fine dining restaurant, do you emphasize the food, or the potential for a lasting memory? Check it out:

Long after you’ve forgotten how wonderful our food is, you’ll still remember that table for two in the corner or the booth next to the fireplace.

Small business success requires understanding these marketplace truths:

1. What customers need are commodities driven by price.

2. The price war is over, and small business lost.

3. What customers want is anywhere from a little bit more to everything.

4. Customers will pay more for what they want – charge them for delivering it.

As a small business success strategy, delivering what customers want or selling commodities they need, is as Mark Twain said, “like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Write this on a rock … Find out what humans want, deliver it, and charge for it.

Small business success requires two kinds of passion

Over the years, when I’ve counseled budding entrepreneurs, it always amazed me how many haven’t conducted anything close to a prudent amount of research in the run up to starting their businesses. Indeed, they often act as if they must get their business started right now or they’ll just pop.

Photo credit to Anthony Easton on Flickr.com

Photo credit: Anthony Easton, Flickr.com

That kind of impatience and lack of discipline is dangerous and I had to do my best to talk them down off the ledge. The trick was to walk the fine line between slowing them down to a prudent speed without dousing the fire of their entrepreneurial passion with a bucket of tough love.

Yes, passion is important. When would-be small business owners get that far away look in their eyes at this impetuous stage of a startup, they have plenty of what I call market passion: passion for what the business does. They can’t wait to sell suits, manufacture motors, bake bagels, or (your dream here). But without full devotion to something else, what I call operating passion, aka, business fundamentals, market passion is no more valuable than a dream. Or as my Texas friends say, “All hat and no cattle.”

This will be on the test: Success as a small business owner requires market and operating passion.

Market passion – devotion to what your business does – is like a mother’s love for her newborn baby, it’s the easy kind. Unfortunately, in business it can be too easy.

The object of operating passion is less adorable but not less important. It’s dedication to consistently executing management fundamentals while accepting a return-on-investment timeline that pushes the boundaries of deferred gratification. It’s similar to how parents love their teenagers even when they don’t like them very much. See, I told you it was less adorable.

A starry-eyed startup must make the distinction between market and operating passion. Passion for what you sell won’t be enough when sales fall below projections, when payables exceed receivables, when it’s time to make another payroll (“Is it Friday again? Already?!”), when you lose one of your best customers, or when an employee has to be let go. Sometimes they all happen at once.

It isn’t possible to list all challenges the marketplace will throw at your business. But regardless of what and when, sustainable success requires you to manage both market and operating passion so proficiently that you become a high-performing, professional small business CEO, instead of someone who dreamed of being one.

Write this on a rock … Small business success requires two kinds of passion: market and operating.

Jim Blasingame is author of the award-winning book, The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.


What is a blog and why should small business care?

At this point in The Age of the Customer, many people would think that defining a blog is an elementary task tantamount to explaining the wheel. But here in the real world, where Main Street small businesses live, some folks actually still have un-Tweeted thoughts. Consequently, since a blog for most small businesses is at once a powerful yet under-used customer connection tool, perhaps a little background and illumination would be beneficial.

Describing his online journaling, early Internet adopter Jorn Barger first coined the term “weblog” in 1997. As the practice became more widespread, the inevitable contraction, “blog,” made speaking about it handier and spawned at least two more new terms, “to blog” and “blogging.”

As blogging grew, innovators hastened to create new tools to make it easier to record and distribute ideas in the emerging—wait for it—blogosphere. Today blog readers can receive new posts over multiple platforms, plus begin commenting threads with the blogger and other recipients who have a point of view or question about the topic of the blog post.

Back to that “powerful but under-used” thing: Small business owners must appreciate the power of these three facts:

  1. Small business owners are experts on what they sell, how it’s used, the industry, etc.
  2. Customers want access to what experts know.
  3. Increasingly, customers expect a closer connection to experts.

Alas, even though blogs deliver all of this, we still hear two whiney blogging excuses:

Excuse 1: “I’m not a good writer.”

Truth: Research shows customers prefer the thoughts and benefit from the experience and wisdom of the non-professional writer they know—that’s you—than those of a smart alec wordsmith like me.

Excuse 2: “Don’t have time.”

Truth: Once your blog platform is set up (you won’t believe how easy it is), new posts and responding to customer comments takes minutes a week. Remember, a blog post doesn’t have to be an article.

Practically speaking, a blog can be better than a website because your posts can be added more easily, making your expertise more compelling. And here’s the blogging goose’s golden egg: Blogging about what you know delivers your authentic expertise, which helps you build online communities where you connect with current and future customers in a way that’s increasingly more relevant to them than your website.

Don’t worry; you still need your beautiful website.

Start your blog this week and let the relevance begin.

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Check out these recent interviews below from The Small Business Advocate Show®. We share how to market your blog for your customers and what you should include in your blogs.

Use these 4 content marketing tools to connect with customers - Featuring Ilise Benun

What should your small business’s blog look like? - Featuring Lois Geller

Check out more of Jim’s great content HERE!

Take this week’s poll HERE!

Watch Jim’s videos HERE!

Your future and customer paradigms

In his book, Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future, futurist Joel Barker explains that paradigms are filters through which humans view the world and around which we pursue our lives.

Things that align with our paradigms sail right through; otherwise they meet resistance. A favorite color, for example, is a paradigm.

We also establish marketplace paradigms. Perhaps the most interesting paradigm dynamic is between a customer and a business, because a customer’s product paradigm logically becomes a business’s production paradigm.

Product paradigms always work for customers because they can pick and choose at will. But for a business, a production paradigm comes with significant risks, because they can be left with an investment – physically, financially and emotionally – in a newly unviable production paradigm.

When there is a paradigm disruption – like customers changing preferences – that’s called a shift. Barker says when a paradigm shifts, everything goes back to zero; what once worked so well becomes unavailable or obsolete.

When a shift occurs – the ability to buy stocks online, for example – customers easily transition to the new thing that likely caused the shift. But for a business with multi-faceted investments in the old paradigm – only stockbrokers can place stock orders – such a shift can be expensive and dangerously disruptive.

In the past I’ve introduced you to several examples of how the marketplace is transitioning from The Age of the Seller to The Age of the Customer™. This transformation is creating a number of shifts which are at once exciting for some and disruptive for others.

In the new Age, there are three primary shifts a business must now monitor constantly; each associated with a key element of customer relationships.

The Buying Decision
Customers have always controlled the buying decision element, but they now need less decision-making help from a business. The paradigm shift question: “How do we prevent our marketing and sales strategy from becoming obsolete?”

The Information
Previously controlled by businesses, access to information is now almost completely controlled by the customer. The paradigm shift question: “How do we maintain a relevant value proposition?”

The Product
Once controlled by the business, customers increasingly influence product development. The paradigm shift question: “How do we love what we do without loving how we do it?”

Discover the future by monitoring customer paradigms.

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To listen to or read more about how your business can flourish in The Age of the Customer™, click here.

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Take this week’s poll HERE!

Watch Jim’s videos HERE!

The Age of the Customer: the new normal

The shift in who has control – seller or customer – is causing the 10,000 year-old Age of the Seller to succumb to the Age of the Customer™. Understanding this is key to the survival and success of your small business.

For millennia, there have been four basic elements of the relationship between a customer and a business: The product, the buying decision, control of information and word-of-mouth. For the first time in history, two of these elements are shifting in favor of the customer.

1. In the new Age, control of the product or service still remains with the Seller, but has diminished as a control factor for at least two reasons: a) virtually everything you sell has become a commodity; b) customers have multiple shopping and purchasing options including traditional and online markets.

2. As it has always been, the Customer continues to retain control of the buying decision. Shifts in the next two elements represent the primary difference between the Age of the Seller and the Age of the Customer.

3. Not since Guttenberg’s printing press first made books available to the increasingly literate masses has there been such a shift in access to information. Indeed, innovations in the past 30 years made the entire universe of human knowledge generally available with a very low barrier-to-entry – including information formerly controlled by Sellers.

4. Once upon a time, knowledge about Customer experience was a function of the word-of-mouth maxim: “If a customer likes you they will tell one person, if they don’t like you they will tell ten people.” In the new Age, the influence of Customer experience has morphed and expanded from classic word-of-mouth to the disrupting phenomenon called “user generated content,” or UGC. This is the electronic posting of customer experiences, questions, praise or condemnation of a Seller’s products and services. If that old word-of-mouth maxim were being coined today it would sound more like this: “Whether customers like you or not, they have the potential to tell millions.”

Here are two Age of the Customer realities to which your business must be able to adjust: 1) customers have virtually all the information they need to make a purchase decision without ever contacting you; and 2) there is no place for bad performance to hide.

Write this on a rock… Your future survival and success depends on whether you embrace or disregard the Age of the Customer.

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For more information on The Age of the Customer, click here.

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Check out more great SBA content HERE!

Take this week’s poll HERE!




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