Instagram unveils its ‘Close Friend’ feature: How this could benefit the social media marketing strategies of 2019

By: Ellan Dineen

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On November 30, Instagram launched its “Close Friends” feature, which allows users to share their stories with a select group of people, instead of having to share them with the entirety of their followers. “With Close Friends,” Instagram says, “you have the flexibility to share more personal moments with a smaller group that you choose.” Instagram’s director of product, Robby Stein, says the new option will give you and your close friends “your own place,” where you can “really be yourself and connect and be connected to your best friends” without having to worry about “curating for the largest possible distribution.”

For the average user, this new option sounds like a fantastic way to keep your best friends in the loop—but how can it be used to benefit your business? At first glance, the answer may seem difficult to imagine. However, there are plenty of ways to leverage the Close Friends feature to your brand’s advantage. Close Friends will allow you to segment your followers so that you can create the most effective strategy for each audience. The following article provides some specific examples of how marketers can incorporate Close Friends into their strategies for the year ahead.

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1. Use Close Friends to reach your general customers

Want to reach the people that matter most to your business? Creating a positive customer experience is one of the best things you can do to increase profits. In fact, “65% of buyers find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than great advertising.” Furthermore, it’s predicted that customer experience will overtake both product and price as the key brand differentiator by 2020. Creating a personalized experience is one important way to improve customer experience. Use the Close Friends feature to keep in touch with your customers and engage them on a more personalized level. Keep them updated on promotions, build excitement over launches or events, share things like company news, behind the scene footage, logistical information, new appointments, and anything else that might be of interest to them. 

2. Use Close Friends to reach a VIP group or paid subscribers

Does your brand have a VIP group for valued customers? Perhaps you offer a paid subscription service? Use Close Friends to communicate with these customers, keeping them updated on special offers, or providing them with exclusive news and content. This is also a great outlet to start a referral program and encourage your VIP members to recommend your products to their friends, giving them incentive to do so.  A 2015 study by Nielsen found that recommendations from friends is the most credible form of advertising.

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3. Use Close Friends to reach your retailers or other B2B’s

With Close Friends, your business can easily communicate with retailers or other B2B clients. Keep these groups informed, and reach them instantly and in real-time regarding positive and potentially problematic events. For example, use the feature to advertise new products they might be interested in, wholesale deals, and company announcements, and to relay information about any production delays, shipping issues, or other events that may affect them. 

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4. Use Close Friends to reach your employees

Forget those boring office email chains! Take your business into the digital age by using the Close Friends feature to communicate with your employees in a much more engaging and interesting way. Studies have shown that companies with engaged employees make 2.5 times more revenue than their competitors with disengaged workers. Additionally, 87% of employees are less likely to leave their companies if they’re highly engaged. Let those that work for you know about company news, policy updates, and other relevant information. You can also use this feature to provide training, send reminders to your employees, or help boost their morale with positive feedback and encouragement. 

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5. Use Close Friends to reach event attendees

If you’re hosting an event, chances are that at some stage, you’ll have to communicate with your attendees. Use Close Friends to give them practical information on the venue, location, and itinerary. This will also be a helpful tool for getting guests excited about your event and generating a “buzz” in the lead up to it. Perhaps you can offer some insight into the exciting things they can expect during the event, and leave them eagerly anticipating the day. 

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6. Use Close Friends to reach local businesses

This is a great way to connect with local businesses around you. Being in close proximity means you’re likely to share some of the same concerns as these other businesses. Use Close Friends to communicate those concerns, ask for assistance, relay information, or voice your opinions on happenings in the area. Maybe there’s been a string of break-ins that you want to ensure nearby businesses are aware of, or maybe you’re hosting an event together and you want to keep them updated on the progress. Perhaps you’re undergoing renovations and want to thank those around you for their patience during the noisy time, or maybe you’re new to the neighborhood and would just like to introduce your business and say hello. 

7. Use Close Friends to reach your influencers

It’s the age of social media, and if your brand is one that works with influencers to promote your products, Close Friends is a great way to communicate with them. You’ll be using a platform your influencers are comfortable with and already use on a daily (if not hourly) basis. Let them know what products you want them to push, the promo codes they can offer your followers, the types of messages you want to send, the bonuses you may be offering to help motivate them, or your list of do’s and don’ts. If you want influencers to market your brand effectively, they first need to understand your brand and the people behind it. Close Friends will help your influencers get to know you, and the heart of your business. 

The newly-launched Close Friends feature is already a win for marketers, but it will be interesting to see how it develops over the months to come. How else will marketers use this to their advantage? Which brands will utilize Close Friends most efficiently? What other features may Instagram add or improve? In this highly digital, fast-paced world of business, it’s great to have another tool to add to your marketing arsenal.

To start 2019 off with the best possible marketing strategy for your business, get in touch with the Clever Mouse Marketing team today!

 

About the Author

profile picture ellan (1)Ellan Dineen is the Marketing Associate at Design Wizard. When she’s not hard at work in the Marketing Department, Ellan can be found en route to foreign lands with a book in her hand and a podcast in her ear. With a Master’s in English and Diploma in Social Media Marketing, she knows the importance of staying up-to-date with the industry’s latest trends and insights and is keen to pass these tips on to her readers.

 

What Makes Your Business Unique?

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What is your company’s unique selling proposition (USP)? What makes you different from the competition? You need to offer something to customers that no one else can. Are you the fastest? Most customization? Most cost effective?

You can’t be all things to all people, but you can be one very important thing to your customers. Chances are that when you think of your favorite brands, you can summarize them in one word. For me, it’s simple. Disney = exceptional customer service, Starbucks = custom made, Nike = cutting-edge. They’ve all effectively marketed their USP and consistently delivered.

Clever Mouse strives to provide customers with the best value; the most beautiful website at the most affordable price. We won’t be a fit for everyone. Some companies have a big budget and need something on a scale much larger than we can provide. There are plenty of web design companies that cater to those customers. We want to help the start-ups, the single person LLC’s, and the mom and pop shops that are transitioning into the age of technology. Not everyone can afford a “super fancy” site and not everyone has the knowledge, skill, or time to try and create their own. That’s where Clever Mouse steps in. If you are a small business that wants an effective, affordable website that looks good, we can help.

So again, what is your company’s unique selling proposition and is it being marketed effectively? If you need help developing a USP or marketing plan, contact me. Perhaps you already have a plan in place, but aren’t seeing the results you expected. Contact me. Maybe you just have a few basic marketing questions. Contact me. I’m happy to help.

Top 5 Web Design Tips

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Web design, like most digital marketing, is really more of an art than an exact science. You can look at the metrics and analyze the data, but it requires some trial and error, minor adjustments, and a few practice drafts. However, there are techniques you can utilize that have proven effective to create your website plan and outline. Here are some tried and true tips to help you begin the process.

1. Make it user-friendly – In a world that is driven by technology, it’s only natural to assume that the majority of the population is tech-savvy. This is surprisingly untrue. Some consumers are not familiar with typical website layouts (menu bar is typically in the top right corner, contact information is typically in the footer) and tend to panic when they don’t immediately find the information they need. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, consumers will leave your website within 10 to 20 seconds if they don’t find what they are looking for or if you don’t capture their attention. Create a clear and concise navigation process that leads viewers effortlessly through your site. Keep navigation buttons clearly identifiable and obvious, while using appropriate links that allow them to quickly “read more” when they find information that interests them.

2. Write with your target market in mind – When writing any type of communication, you must consider your audience. It may be tempting to showcase your knowledge by using lots of technical jargon, but unless you are targeting other industry professionals, your readers will be lost. Use language that is clear, concise, and provides your audience with pertinent information.

3. Have a clear message – What do you want viewers to remember about your business? What is your unique selling point? As I mentioned, you only have 10-20 seconds to capture them, so what will you highlight? Are you the largest, fastest, or most cost-effective in your industry? Focus on what it is that you do best and keep the message consistent.

4. Implement Calls To Action – Now that your visitors know who you are and what you offer, what is it that you want them to do? Call to action buttons will provide them with information about next steps. Some example call-to-actions are: click for more information, download our resources, sign up for our webinar, watch the video, see pricing, call us and email us.

5. Focus on Mobile Optimization – All too often I encounter websites that look amazing on my laptop, but look terrible on my phone. So many businesses forget how important mobile optimization has become. With 95% of smart phone users searching for products and services on their phones, having a site that is fully-responsive is an absolute must. The mobile experience should greatly influence your overall design.

If you need help building a website, contact me! I am happy to provide you with advice or answer any questions. If you are not the DIY-type, I would love to assist you with your site. I offer a complimentary consultation and website preview, so you can try it before you buy it!

 

Industry Spotlight: Food & Beverage

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Recently, I’ve seen a surprising number of restaurants close in my area.  I know the statistics – roughly 60% of restaurants fail within the first year and 90% fail within the first five years. It’s a tough industry with an enormous amount of competition. However, in this string of recent closures, it’s most surprising that these establishments seem to have nothing in common. Some were chains, others were new concepts. Some started within the last two years and others had been in business for 15+. Some served pizza, others burgers and wings, and others frozen yogurt. Even one of my favorite restaurants fell victim.

I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. The place was always empty – any time of day, any day of the week. For me, this was a plus. We always sat at our favorite table, right next to the few arcade games that would keep my three-year-old entertained while I drank my 32-oz. mug of beer for $3.50. The food was delicious! It was fresh and there was a wide variety from which to choose. Even my 11-year-old loved it and she is somewhat particular. She only provides her stamp of approval to a select, lucky few. With all that being said, I always wondered why it was never busy. I didn’t understand. Good food? Check. Wide variety? Check. Good service? Check. Good atmosphere? Check. It was a sports bar, so they had lots of TV’s and entertaining decor. Also, did I mention 32-oz. beers for $3.50!?

So, what went wrong? I still don’t have that answer, but it led me to assume that in an industry with lots of competition, maybe having good food at good prices just isn’t enough. I’ve scoured the web researching and gathering information from a variety of sources and other than having terrible food or terrible customer service, I think I’ve narrowed it down to a top five list of reasons restaurants fail.

  1. Owner Inexperience – According to Celebrity chef, Robert Irvine, “Potential restaurateurs do not realize or appreciate the specific set of demands that come along with owning and running a restaurant. Once realized, it is often way too late.” Running a restaurant requires managing a diverse group of people with varying skill sets, talents, and personalities. There are so many moving parts. For this reason, an inexperienced owner might start to become too focused on the small picture, which can ruin a restaurant’s chances of staying open. Experienced owners know how to delegate daily tasks and can focus on managing operations and processes for long-term success.
  2. Inadequate Accounting Systems – New restaurant owners often fail to educate themselves on the basics of restaurant accounting and have no idea how to properly manage finances. They don’t know the specifics regarding food costs, labor costs, and don’t closely review their P&Ls (income statements). If you don’t know how much money you are spending, you can’t properly price your menu, staff the correct number of employees, or create a marketing budget within your means.
  3. Location – Having a “bad location” can mean one or more of the following, little to no through traffic, limited visibility or accessibility, limited parking, or neighborhood residents/visitors that are not interested in your offerings or concept.
  4. Overspending Prior To Opening – When opening a new restaurant, the urge to splurge for the best of everything, can outweigh common sense. Most restaurants don’t start making money right away and they rely on cash reserves to cover bills and employee salaries for the first few months. If you’ve already overspent on equipment, upgraded finishes, or decorating, these costs might create debt that is extremely difficult or impossible to eliminate.
  5. Inconsistency – Providing delicious food and impeccable customer service once or twice is not enough. You must create an exceptional, customer experience, every-single-time. Every time a customer walks through the door of your restaurant, they are planning to spend their hard-earned money and are choosing your establishment over the competition. In return, they are expecting a memorable experience. If you are unable to consistently, meet or exceed their expectations, they will find another restaurant that is prepared to do so.

There it is. The top five reasons restaurants fail, according to my research. But I want to hear from you. Are there others you feel should have made the list? What have you seen or experienced?

International Marketing: Avoid Blunders By Understanding Differences Around The Globe

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When I was in college, one of my absolute favorite classes was International Marketing. It’s a big world out there and when marketing a product globally, companies must consider differences in culture, social structure, language and education. These differences have important implications for marketing strategy.

Unfortunately, marketing mistakes happen more often than you might think. Most brands can overcome their mistakes with a bit of damage control and good PR, however it can take time to rebuild your image. Let’s look at some international marketing blunders by companies that had to learn the hard way.

Pepsi

When Pepsi entered the Chinese Market, they launched their campaign with the slogan, “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life”. Unfortunately, they had a BIG language issue. They didn’t realize this translated to “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave”. The bright side is that it certainly got people’s attention!

That wasn’t Pepsi’s only blunder. They lost a lot of market share to Coke in Southeast Asia when they changed their vending machine colors from dark blue to light blue. If they would have done their research, they would have discovered light blue was associated with death and mourning in that region.

Gerber

When Gerber started selling their baby food in Africa, they continued to market with the same packaging used in the U.S. You know, the one with the cute baby on the front? What they didn’t know is that it’s frequent practice for companies in Africa to put pictures on the label of what is actually inside the packages, due to a large population of illiterate consumers.  Yikes! Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “So cute, I could eat you up”.

Proctor & Gamble

The company used a popular European commercial in Japan and it was not well-received. The commercial featured a woman bathing, when her husband enters the bathroom and touches/hugs her. Japanese consumers thought the commercial was an invasion of privacy and quite inappropriate.

Coors

When Coors entered the market in Spain, they saw no issue with using their slogan, “Turn it Loose”. Consumers however, were not thrilled that in Spanish the advertisement read, “Suffer from Diarrhea”. Perhaps they could have re-marketed as a competitor to Ex-lax?

Kentucky Fried Chicken

When their famous tagline “Finger-lickin Good” was translated into Chinese, it read, “Eat Your Fingers Off”. Needless to say, this wasn’t a hit. Further, KFC used chickens that were raised in China for their local stores. Since it’s customary to raise chickens on a diet of fish in China, the taste was much different than the chicken served in the U.S. KFC actually exited the market and did not return for about a decade.

Pampers

When Pampers entered the market in Japan, they didn’t bother to research Japanese folklore. When trying to discover why sales were so low, they found that Japanese parents were very confused by the stork on their packaging. It turns out their version of the story includes babies being delivered by giant, floating peaches. Sounds comfortable and delicious!

Pepsodent

When Pepsodent tried to sell their toothpaste, that promised white teeth, in Southeast Asia, they were surprised to learn that consumers weren’t remotely interested. It was quite the opposite, in fact. People in this part of the world actually chew betel nuts to attempt to blacken their teeth. This habit is viewed as a high-status symbol.

American Motors

When the company launched a new car named “The Matador”, they were confident it would be a success. Research showed the word means virility and excitement to English-speaking consumers. However, they ran into a bit of trouble when they introduced the car to Puerto Rico. They quickly learned that “Matador” was translated to “killer” in Spanish. Apparently, no one wanted to drive a car named “The Killer”. Who knew?

Sadly, these are just a handful of blunders from some of our favorite brands. It illustrates the importance of research, research, research! Consider all aspects of marketing your product or service, such as packaging, colors, logo, translation, and benefits to local consumers. It will be time-consuming on the front end, but will save countless dollars, unspeakable humiliation, and possible damage to brand reputation.

Any other famous, marketing mistakes come to mind? Please share below!

5 Reasons Your Small Business Needs A Website

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Like many small business owners, you may think you don’t need or can’t afford a website. The truth is that you can’t afford to not have a website. These are five reasons that having a website in today’s market is essential.

DISCOVER – Local Customers Start their Search Online

Today’s local consumer is more savvy than ever before. When searching for local products and services, the majority of consumers will turn to the internet first. If your small business does not have a website, you are practically invisible to potential customers.

TRUST – A Website Builds Credibility

What impression do you make online? When customers search online and don’t find your business, it’s almost as if your company does not exist. They may pass you by to choose a competitor. Consumers now expect every credible business to have a website.

EFFICIENCY – A Website Saves You Time and Money

Think of your website as the perfect employee – it’s always on time, works 24/7, does exactly what you ask, and always promotes your brand in a positive manner. Your website saves you countless hours on the phone by providing answers to your customers’ common questions like hours of operation, directions, menus, and information about your products and services.

CONNECTION – A Website Keeps You in Touch with Customers

Whether your business has a website or not, customers are still talking about you online. Using online reviews, blogs and social networks, customers are sharing their opinion – good and bad – with the public. While a website will not prevent a negative review, it does offer customers the ability to contact you online directly and discreetly to share their concerns.

REVENUE – A Website Can Increase Sales 

A website is more than just selling things online. A website can be your most powerful lead generator. With a beautiful presentation of your products/services, and encouragement for people to contact you on every page of your site, you can significantly increase calls and emails. Drive new business and grow sales from an online presence designed to do exactly that.

If you still don’t have a business website and want an effective and affordable option, I would love to speak with you.

With our straightforward design and simple navigation, visitors can easily find the information they are looking for anytime and anywhere, even on the go. Some of our site features include:

BEAUTIFUL DESIGN – Customized specifically for your small business.

ADD & EDIT CONTENT – Manage your site with ease and add coupons, photos, video and more, with our simple site editor.

BE AVAILABLE 24/7– Display your phone number, email, location, hours and contact form on every page, so your customers can easily reach you anytime.

INTEGRATE SOCIAL MEDIA – Turn visitors into fans and fans into customers by integrating social media like Facebook and Twitter.

SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZED – Attract more local customers on search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

MOBILE READY – A real mobile site that automatically syncs with your desktop site to reach customers on the go.

Contact me for a complimentary consultation today! 

Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, The Right Brand Color Makes A Success Out Of You

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Are you a new business developing a logo? An established company looking to enter a new market or industry? The color of your logo, product packaging, or billboard, might not be the item at the top of your priority list, but it just might be more important than you think.

Color is something so subtle, that many consumers might not even realize the shade of blue in your logo has influenced their decision to purchase/not purchase your product or choose/not choose your company’s services. However, according to ColorPsychology.Org, “Research shows that the proper use of color increases brand recognition by 80%. It also raises the visual appearance by 93%. A further 85% of consumers buy because of color”.

So, what thoughts and emotions are evoked by each color?

Red – Physical

Red evokes strong emotions and symbolizes passion, warmth, energy, strength, and love. Red has been known to increase appetite in some and increase heart rates of impulsive shoppers. Red creates urgency often utilized during clearance sales. It’s related to survival, alertness, safety and physical self. It’s used by Target, Heinz, YouTube, Netflix, and Coca-Cola. 62-90% of shoppers make snap judgments based on the influence of this color. Negative connotations include, defiance, aggression, and strain.

Yellow – Emotional 

Yellow stimulates mental process, encourages communication, and represents cheerfulness, optimism, confidence, and creativity. Research shows that it’s the first color to which infants have a reaction, which is why it’s the color used on most baby products and toys. It’s employed by Nikon, IKEA, CAT, and McDonald’s. However, too much of this color can result in a negative experience for consumers. Negative associations with this color include irrationality, fear, emotional fragility, depression, and anxiety.

Blue – Intellectual 

Blue is mostly associated with water, it’s the preferred color for men, and represents intelligence, trust, serenity, logic, coolness, reflection, and calmness. It increases productivity, and is often used in office spaces. It creates a sense of security and trust in a brand. People are 15% more likely to remember your shop, if it’s painted blue. Blue’s sense of confidence is what makes it the favorite color of financial institutions.  JP Morgan, Facebook, American Express, LinkedIn, and Dell use this color in their brands. Blue is also known to inspire loyalty. However, negative associations include aloofness, lack of emotion, and unfriendliness.

Orange – Physical 

Orange reflects enthusiasm and excitement, it shows warmth, security, sensuality, passion, abundance, and fun.  Brands with orange are viewed as cheerful and confident (think Clever Mouse Marketing). It’s used to create a call to action (i.e. subscribe, buy or sell). The color is associated with affordability and good value (Hey, Clever Mouse Marketing again!). That’s why it is used in brands like Payless, Home Depot, Amazon, and Nickelodeon.  Negative associations include frustration, frivolity, and immaturity.

Green – Balance

Green signifies health, serenity, tranquility, harmony, refreshment, peace, reassurance, and equilibrium. It denotes nature and alleviates depression. The human eye is able to distinguish between more shades of green vs. any other color. It represents new growth. It is associated with the wealthy and has long been a symbol of fertility. Spotify, Holiday Inn, Land Rover, John Deere and Whole Foods use this color. Negative associations include, boredom, stagnation, and blandness.

Purple – Spiritual

Purple is the color of royalty, success, wealth, quality, truth and wisdom. It is used to soothe and calm. It’s often used in cosmetics and anti-aging products. Purple represents an imaginative, wise, and creative brand. Yahoo, Craigslist, and Hallmark use this color. Too much purple can cause negative associations, such as introversion, decadence, suppression, and inferiority.

Black – Intellectual 

Black is the color of sophistication, glamour, mystery, power and control. It’s used to sell sleek items and dominates the high-end cosmetic packaging industries, especially upscale lipstick and blushes. Black draws attention in a subtle way. It is prominent, internationally recognized in a similar way, and is used by Gucci, Coach, Adidas, and Nike. However, too much black can create feelings of oppression, coldness, menace, and heaviness.

White –  Spiritual

White denotes cleanliness, purity, sophistication, efficiency, and safety and can be used to project neutrality. White is used to add breathing space and open up a small or crowded area. Some large global brands like Google, use white to create contrast on their websites. White is the color of clarity, freshness and is used to spark creativity. That’s why it’s the most common color in office blocks. Contrarily,  if used in inappropriate amounts, can create feelings of sterility, coldness, barriers, unfriendliness, and elitism.

What do your brand colors say about your company? How do they make people feel?

Sources: ColorPsychology.Org

https://www.colorpsychology.org/color-psychology-marketing/

 

Online Marketing: What is it & Why do you need it?

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According to the 2016 Small Business Marketing Trends Report, about 1 in 5 small businesses had no plans to invest in digital marketing of any kind in 2016. These numbers are quite surprising when recent statistics show that small businesses need an online presence if they expect to be successful. But what exactly is online marketing?  What does it entail and why should it be utilized by small businesses?

Online marketing, simply put, is utilizing the internet to market your company’s products and services. It is also quite fittingly referred to as internet marketing or web marketing. The core of any successful, online marketing strategy is a company’s website. If you don’t have a website, this should be your first priority. You can’t build an effective, online strategy without a fully-responsive, search engine optimized website. Your website should be designed to generate leads, build credibility, and sell products and services.

Other elements of online marketing include search engine optimization, e-mail marketing, social media marketing, blogging, paid search, and affiliate marketing. When creating an effective, online marketing strategy, choose a combination of these tools to utilize and create a clear plan. According to Lorrie Thomas, “Online marketing works to brand, build, and boost business. It can help support awareness, get a message out, serve and connect with current and prospective customers, and generate sales. No one builds a house without a blueprint. The same is true of web marketing” (Online Marketing, 2011).

Why should small businesses utilize online marketing? How does it impact the bottom line? There are three main components to effective, online marketing: awareness, communication, and engagement. All three of these components work together to generate sales and increase the bottom line, which is the ultimate goal.

Building awareness is the first step because if no one has ever heard of your company, how can they buy your products or utilize your services? After potential customers know that you exist, you can start building long-lasting relationships. According to Lorrie Thomas, “Awareness can come from many sources including advertising, search engine optimization, referrals, and word-of-mouth marketing” (Online Marketing, 2011).

Communication is step two. Online communication should answer the questions consumers have during the initial buying process. Typically, it can be summed up into one main idea, WIFM. This stands for “what’s in it for me?” and buyers ask this question when deciding what they should purchase and why. Communication can also provide education to current and potential customers about your industry or to further explain the full value of what you provide.

Engagement is step three. Once consumers know who you are and what you offer, they want to develop a relationship. They want you to care about their thoughts and feelings about new products and services. They want you to respond to any issues or complaints made online by past customers. Engagement is about creating a dialog and showing that each customer is important to your company.

Regardless of the strategy you adopt, think about online marketing as investing your time and money. If done correctly, awareness, communication, and engagement will generate sales, referrals, and create brand loyalty. Online marketing has the potential to reach an extraordinarily large amount of people, but still provide the opportunity to interact with current and potential customers individually.

If you need assistance with web design or developing an online marketing strategy, you can reach me at Alexis@Clevermousemarketing.com or through the contact form below.

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

I’m sure you know the old saying, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. It’s meant to describe the advantage of knowing the next move of your enemies in your personal relationships, but it can also give you an advantage in the professional world. Every business, large or small, should be carefully studying their competitors. Be a regular visitor on their websites and social media platforms, visit their establishments, carefully study their marketing campaigns (both traditional and online) and keep a close eye on new product releases to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses relative to those of your own business.

What items should you be reviewing when completing an evaluation?

Operations

  • How do they receive distributions and deliver products?
  • What is their hiring strategy to attract top talent?
  • How do they research and innovate?
  • How do they utilize IT to increase efficiencies?
  • What is their financial health?

Customers

  • Who are their customers?
  • How do they increase customer loyalty and satisfaction?
  • Do their customers seem happy with the service and products they receive?
  • Have they had an influx of new customers recently?
  • How do their customers feel about their brand?

Marketing

  • How effective is their current advertising campaign?
  • What is their pricing strategy?
  • How do they utilize online marketing, including social media?
  • Do they have consistent messaging?
  • What is their unique selling point?

Once you have evaluated these aspects of your competitors’ businesses, create a SWOT analysis of your own business that clearly defines strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for each category. According to Info Entrepreneurs, “If you’re sure your competitors are doing something better than you, you need to respond and make some changes. It could be anything from improving customer service, assessing your prices and updating your products, to changing the way you market yourself, redesigning your literature and website and changing your suppliers. Try to innovate not imitate. Now you’ve got the idea, can you do it even better, add more value” (December, 2009).

Similarly, if you identify gaps in the competitions’ operations, customer service, or marketing, you can create a strategy to uniquely position yourself to provide what they lack. These unique offerings will set you apart and provide the competitive advantage necessary to secure a bigger slice of the market share. Keeping your competitors close and continually evaluating their businesses will provide you with the information necessary to be proactive vs. reactive. It’s always easier to stay ahead than to have to get ahead once you have fallen behind.

 

 

 

 

 

Small Business Priority Number One: Exceptional Customer Service

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There are a variety of factors evaluated during the consumer decision-making process. According to Deborah Sweeney with MyCorporation, “There are lots of reasons a customer could choose your business, but we found it often boiled down to three main options: customer service, competitive pricing, or the product/service itself. Of the entrepreneurs we asked, 50% think their customers choose their business due to their customer service. Product comes in second at 43%, and price was dead last at 6%.” (MyCorporation, September 2015).  I agree with the results of the survey, as customer service is extremely important for small business. I believe that if you provide exceptional customer service, you have a competitive advantage, even if your competition has a slightly superior product or service. When consumers visit small businesses vs. large corporations, they are looking for a more personalized and memorable customer experience.

To deliver exceptional customer service, consistency is key! Once you have completely amazed your customer, deliver this exact experience every, single time. According to Ross Beard with Client Heartbeat, “A customer might be blown head over heels by one of your team members – exceeding their expectations. The next minute, they might be given adequate service. Although the customer was happy with the adequate service, since the experience wasn’t the same as the first one, they could be left feeling unsatisfied” (Client Heartbeat, March 2014). Customer service is a process that should involve clear procedures, employee training, and management. Effective processes provide the consistency that is required. “Investment in staff is vital, but to be able to offer the best in customer service, you must also invest in the best equipment and systems. If you don’t, then you’re asking your staff to keep customers satisfied with one hand tied behind their backs” (Gritt, November 2012).

How do you greet a customer that walks in the door? Do you offer them a beverage? Do you offer anything special for first-time guests? Each employee should be thoroughly trained on the process. How about personalization? How much do you know about your customers? Do you know their family information? Personal preferences? These are all important details that can be effectively managed by clear processes/procedures and a CRM system. Take the time to learn about your customers and when possible, build personal profiles. Train your employees to use this information to make each customer visit special. Whether it’s greeting the customer by name, remembering their favorite beverage, or suggesting new inventory items based on their individual preferences, these small gestures will quickly add up and build customer loyalty.  “Finding the right systems for your business is vital. If you don’t have the skills internally, consider outsourcing or recruiting an expert. You’ll need to spend time working out exactly what you need for technology to support every aspect of your business and then develop a system that’s customized to your needs” (Gritt, November 2012).

It is important to remember that outstanding customer service is an effective marketing tool. Your customers will share their experience with friends and family (for better or worse) and if left feeling appreciated, they will encourage their networks to visit your establishment. According to Nielsen, “84% of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends about products and services – making these recommendations the highest ranked source for trustworthiness” (Nielsen, September 2013). The hardest part of growing a business is getting customers in the door. With remarkable customer service, your current customers will use their influence to do the hard work for you. This leaves you with time to focus on fine-tuning your procedures, so that you can really “wow” new customers when given the opportunity. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.