Small business owners packed the room at the Alexandria SBDC last week for Maurisa Potts’ annual update of the latest trends in marketing. As always, content is king, and the focus is on how to connect with customers in a way that the “big box stores” and online sales cannot.
The first step, of course, is to really know your customer. This includes, but goes way beyond their age, gender, and whether they are a tourist or local. What are their desires, their expectations? What life-changing events are happening in their lives? You get to know this by going back to basics – talk to them! If someone knows that you have taken the time to get to know them and what they are looking for in a shopping experience then your place becomes their place. In addition, repeat customers talk with their friends, and they will bring in more customers to show off their special place. Integrated social messaging is enhancing engagement and the customer experience. There are messaging apps and tools that can help you to communicate one-on-one with customers in real time and specific to that customer. These tools, such as WeChat, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp can be both scalable and cost effective for small business owners.
Once you have established who your target customer is, it is important to develop a content strategy, and establish a budget to carry out that strategy. More and more this will be by way of visuals – video, infographics, photos, charts, etc. Make it authentic to your target audience – what do they want to see? One of the hottest new platforms for this is virtual and augmented reality. Customers would love to be able to use their computer screen to see what the fashion piece on the hanger would look like on their body, even if they are not in the store to try it on. While this is not mainstream yet, Maurisa sees it as the next big thing. She urges those who are already allocating resources to developing more live video (a big trend) to continue to experiment with different formats – including virtual reality – to see which audiences respond best to.
One platform that is increasingly popular is Instagram. In 2017 the platform had 800 million users, who found that it offers better engagement and advertising controls than other platforms. Maurisa told the story of a beer keg tap maker with a small manufacturing operation. A short time on Instagram and he was getting orders from breweries all over the country. Local real estate broker Mike Porterfield said that he has seen the value of Instagram in just a short time using it, and expressed the following:
I have been hearing people talk about its potential in the business world and since I started actively in Jan. of this year I have already received one prospect call from a space user and have been solicited by a possible service provider that I might consider using. The only cost to Instagram is your time and imagination. Until I learn otherwise I am going to keep promote my business interests and interacting with other Instagram users. If that’s where the people are that’s where we need to be.
Continuing the trend to more engagement with customers, the attendees at the workshop discussed ways to create curated special events and experiences – this is what can set small independent businesses apart from the big chains and online shopping. Partner with complimentary community businesses and nonprofits to expand the reach of all of the organizations. Think ahead and establish a calendar-year budget for these events, and keep track of the most effective methods of transferring events and experiences into customers goodwill and eventually, sales. Keep track of who showed up, and whether they became a repeat customer.
With all of these tools it is crucial to keep data on what you have tried, and what worked. Most tools have analytics built in to their software – learn how to use them! It is often important to try something a few times to see the patterns of your audience response. Measuring the impact allows you to set targeted goals and measure success. Metrics can take time, but they are important!
On a final note, Maurisa revisited a prediction that she made at the beginning of 2017 – that Twitter was losing its usefulness as an effective tool for small business marketing. While certainly popular among politicians and journalists, the platform was unable to grow users in 2017. She again predicted its inevitable demise.