Proctor & Gamble spent $4.6 billion reaching out to potential customers in 2014. AT&T spent $3.3 billion. General Motors spent $3.1 billion.
Fortunately, you don’t have to spend billions — or even thousands — to find your customer base. All it takes is a strong understanding of content marketing, creativity, persistence and time. The following ideas will help you build a meaningful relationship with customers — a relationship that can boost sales, improve word-of-mouth and bring much-needed attention to your company.
Embrace All Dimensions of Social
Social media has incontrovertibly changed the way companies interact with customers. Previously, there were layers of communication between sellers and buyers; today, people can simply reach out through Twitter or Facebook to ask questions, share praise or make complaints.
To be part of the conversation, your company should consider a presence on the Big Five social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest. If you have a professional services organization, you might also find LinkedIn helpful. You might discover that you don’t need to be on every platform; perhaps your target market doesn’t overlap neatly with one or more of the platforms. (If you’re selling industrial machinery, for example, you may not need to be on Pinterest, and if you’re selling dog bandanas, you may not need to be on LinkedIn.)
Target Your Audience
Many people think that the advantage of social media is that you can treat the entire world as your audience. This simply isn’t true. There is so much noise on the Internet that you won’t stand out unless you’re using a laser-like focus to reach potential customers. Do your homework and discover where your customers are spending their time — which Tweeters do they follow? What are their favorite things on Facebook? What are their favorite pins on Pinterest? Once you know this, concentrate your efforts in these areas.
Get in Front of the Story and Respond Quickly
On social media, there’s always a risk that someone else can take control of your narrative. If you’re a fast food chain and you make an unpopular decision to change your barbecue sauce recipe, customers can criticize you severely. If you’re an airline and a video emerges of a passenger being dragged off a plane, you’ve most likely lost control of the narrative on social media.
A good defense is the best offense. It’s important to react to negative posts on social media as quickly as possible. This demonstrates that you’re listening to concerns, learning lessons and taking action to make sure the incidents never happen again. This is also true on media platforms like Yelp and Glassdoor.
The cost to monitor your social media accounts closely? Nothing but time.
Tell Your Story
Today, customers are looking for more than a purchase. They want to know more about the company they’re buying goods and services from. A blog is a perfect opportunity to showcase your company’s personality and actions.
The cost to create a blog is minimal, and you can ask company employees to write the posts instead of paid freelancers. The most engaging blogs have a point of view, tell a compelling story, and respect the readers’ time. One of the most popular blogging platforms, WordPress, offers a blog with a custom URL for less than $3 a month.
Be Visible, Always
Author John Morgan, in his book “Brand Against the Machine,” says your company’s visibility is critical for success. Simply having a great product or service is no longer enough. “The more visible you are, the more you win,” he writes. “The most visible brands are those who opportunities come their way while invisible brands do not.”
To be visible, look for situations where you can inform people about what your organization is and what it does. One free way to do this is to follow organizations you admire on social media, and those that you think your potential customers will follow. Write responses. Add information. Refer people to your website or blog for additional information. Be helpful, not pushy, and you’ll help more people learn about your organization.
Build a Community
Wouldn’t it be great if people were promoting your company for free? That’s entirely possible when you look at your customers as part of a community. When customers trust your company and respect your brand, they will tell friends about your products and services. They’ll talk about you on social media, building a sense of goodwill that millions of dollars in advertising couldn’t possibly accomplish!
Florida Tech Instructor and Executive Director of Melbourne Main Street Jarin Eisenberg recommends using content marketing to get personal with consumers. “I tend to use my personal Facebook page to promote our downtown district and to guide people in the discourse I am trying to cultivate. Posting pictures of me eating downtown, shopping downtown, and using hashtags like #mydowntown promotes a sense of ownership and hopefully starts the conversation of, ‘Oh, I haven’t thought about downtown like that before.’
We have also implemented projects that help promote content-focused marketing such as the Melbourne Mural Project. Art is essential for downtowns and provides a means for people to interact with the district and then post their own content. The number of pictures I find on Facebook of people taking their engagement photos in front of murals, of babies staring up in wonder, and of friends using the murals as a backdrop to their captured moment, gives me user-generated content I can use to promote the ideas and objectives behind revitalizing Downtown Melbourne.”
Social media, blogs and discussion boards are a good starting point for building a community. Create forums where customers can share tips and show off, especially if the product or service you provide is creative in nature. Make sure that you engage your customers in continuing dialogue — the sale is just the beginning of the relationship, not the end.
Consider Online Advertising
A small amount of money spent on online advertising can pay sizable dividends by providing exposure, bringing people to your website, and increasing sales. Google provides a comprehensive yet easily accessible video series about its AdWords program here. Facebook provides information about a variety of marketing services. With all online advertising initiatives, start small to ensure you’re reaching your desired target market. If your parameters are too wide, you might be wasting dollars on people who have no desire to buy your products or services.