“Lady Gaga is a marketing genius.” I’ve heard this phrase uttered more times than I care to count. And while I’d love to debate the merits of who (or what) is really behind what Gaga does and whether it’s genius or insanity, I can’t deny she keeps her fans engaged about her next move.
Ask three different business professionals for a simple definition of marketing, and you will probably get three different answers. Some say it’s simply advertising. Others call it meeting the needs of your target customers. Marketing blogger Heidi Cohen put together a list of 72 marketing definitions here. My personal favorite from her list is #14:
“Marketing is creating irresistible experiences that connect with people personally and create the desire to share with others.” –Saul Colt of Fresh Books
Call me a jaded consumer, but it takes something out of the ordinary to catch my eye and make me want to share an experience with others. Since launching my own business, I have definitely taken note of some recent experiences that made an impact on me as a consumer and definitely made me think about how we can make and maintain great relationships with our clients.
Here are four ways businesses with which I frequently interact have gotten it right:
1. Be a brand champion. I have always been a fan of this concept ever since I first heard about it in business school. A brand champion is someone who backs the brand 110% and always defends the reputation of the brand at all times. If, as a small business owner, you are not passionate about your product or service, then you are not your own brand champion and will enjoy mediocre success at best. I am continually impressed by one particular local restaurant chain, which has many brand champions in its waitstaff. Every face smiles at me when I walk through the store, the staff talks about their other locations to guests and the management team is involved in promoting the brand via social media. When you have numerous individuals who believe in the brand and are willing to try to convince others it’s worth a try, the resulting satisfaction with the company’s product or service is infectious and customer loyalty is guaranteed.
2. Do something different. I have been a customer of the clothing company Express for many years. Each year, like many companies, they send me a coupon just before my birthday for a nominal amount. Sometimes the coupon brings me into the store, other times it sits in my purse until I toss it out months later. This year, however, I opened my birthday card from Express to find a whopping $40 coupon inside! I couldn’t get to the store fast enough. I thought it was genius. No other company has ever rewarded my loyalty in such an attention-getting manner. And, as I’m sure they planned, I spent well more than the gifted amount of $40 on my visit. If you can’t offer major discounts at every turn, then think of a way to make a significant impact and reward your customers in a way they will not be able to forget. A round of drinks on the house, a free little something when they least expect it or an exception to the rule whenever possible will go a long way with most people.
3. Deliver what you advertise. This one seems like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised by how many firms are doing it wrong. On a recent weeknight after work, I decided to order takeout from a family-owned hole-in-the-wall near my house. I Yelped the place and found rave reviews plus a link to conveniently place my order online. I was sold. They offered one of my favorite dishes, shrimp fettuccine alfredo, which I excitedly ordered, for $15 plus tax. I didn’t care about the price; I was hungry and eager to try something new. When I got home with my order, I pried back the foil container, thrust my plastic fork into the steaming pasta and…was extremely disappointed to find it was bland and chewy. Determined to set the record straight, I logged in to Yelp and left my opinion of the meal, describing my displeasure. I ate some popcorn for dinner and didn’t give the place another thought. UNTIL…a couple of months later, the owners of the restaurant commented on my review. Thanking me for my honest feedback, I was thoroughly impressed to see that the little mom-and-pop place had upgraded to jumbo shrimp in their fettuccine pasta due to my review. They changed the recipe! And in making every attempt to deliver on their promise of a fresh, delicious meal, they will see me in their restaurant again. These business owners not only listened to their customer, they followed up and let everyone know they were back on track with the problem solved.
4. Admit when you’re wrong. In my day job, I repeatedly tell my staff not to be afraid of a guest complaint. My hope is to help them realize each time a guest is dissatisfied, we as a company have an opportunity to win them over by going above and beyond to solve their issue. Of course, the last thing I want is for my employees to drop the ball, but, if they do (because we are only human), then perhaps our handling of the situation can create a customer for life. I had an extremely negative experience last year with a large furniture chain here in San Diego, specifically with the scam insurance they convinced me to buy. I Yelped about it, expressing my satisfaction with the products I purchased but clearly spelling out how selling a con insurance policy was negatively affecting their reputation. I was contacted by a customer service representative, who at this point could have turned me into a loyal return customer. Instead, she made me feel as though I were stupid and had violated the terms of the insurance. She repeatedly defended the policy despite my making it blatantly clear (with examples) that I did not believe it to be legitimate insurance. We emailed back and forth a few times before settling on a resolution–a prorated refund of the insurance fee I had paid. I still might have returned to her store if she had simply apologized and processed the refund. I am sorry to say she never contacted me again and the refund was never credited to my account. While I can understand her desire to back her company, I do not believe it is ever okay to make the customer feel as though he or she has done something wrong, and at some point you just have to admit your company failed and find a resolution that works for both parties.
While I know some of these examples don’t have the most obvious ties to marketing, if you consider them in the context of what you can do to better promote your small business, I believe they can help. Marketing has many definitions, and I think one of the most important aspects of this concept is making that personal connection with your customers in an endless sea of choices.
Tweeting. Twitterverse. Tweeps. If the mere mention of these terms makes you nervous, you’re not alone. Despite boasting more than 500 million registered Twitter users worldwide, only about one-third of all Americans use the service. And according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, even CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are reluctant to jump on the Twitter bandwagon. So if the rich and successful business man doesn’t use Twitter to promote his company, why should you?
The answer is simple. And in this case, it comes in the form of a question from someone far more qualified than I am to speak on the subject. In the above-referenced WSJ article, management professor and former CEO Bill George asks,
“Can you think of a more cost-effective way of getting to your customers and employees?”
Considering all the social media channels at our disposal and the relative cost of each, I think George’s question should have more businesses asking, “Where do we sign up?”
Twitter is only one platform for growing your business network, but I recommend it to all of my clients because it is free, offers an enormous audience, and, in most cases, puts your business ahead of the curve in terms of social media presence. Businesses in my consulting demographic truly need to use as many social media sites as possible because they are targeting American tourists with smart phones who are connected to social media 24/7.
And now, my personal rant (a.k.a. The Bad Side).
I recently experienced a moment of panic when my shiny new Twitter account was suspended just a few days after I opened it. I could not believe my ability to connect with the world could be taken away without notice and seemingly without reason. After several minutes of frantic Googling to find a solution, I contacted Twitter via their appeals process. Surprisingly, someone replied to me very quickly with a verdict. My crime? An “aggressive following pattern.” Sheesh. More on that a little later. The moderator who replied to me promised after I pledged to stop violating their policies my account would be restored within the hour. It was about 24 hours before I could use my account again, but upon logging in I was relieved to find everything just as I had left it.
Which brings me to the negative. Twitter is a third-party service that can decide on a whim to shut down or suspend your account. My violation of their terms consisted of sitting down on my couch one Sunday morning and following a number of businesses in the region I will be visiting shortly. I thought I was doing myself a favor and building a legitimate Twitter feed. They called it “annoying other users.” Then, as I mentioned, they called me aggressive–a term I take offense to when used to describe me anywhere outside of my coed softball league.
This story has two morals: If we want to win at marketing with Twitter, then we have to play by their rules. Even if sometimes those rules are vague and subjective.
The other moral of the story? Sometimes Twitter sucks. And that’s just part of life in the 21st century.