A primary objective for every small business is growth – stemming either from new customers or from repeat business. Most experts agree that retaining and building loyalty among existing customers is more economical and more beneficial in the long term than recruiting new ones.
The two most critical things your small business can offer are a high-quality product and excellent customer service. When you deliver on these, you give customers a positive experience and increase the likelihood that they’ll return. When you exceed expectations, you give them a reason to share their experience with others. And a customer’s recommendation is one of the most powerful endorsements your business can receive. In fact, from prior research we know that for 92% of all consumers, a word of mouth recommendation is the “leading reason they buy a product or service” (Nielsen 2012).
The proliferation of social media is changing the dialogue between brands and consumers. Rather than talking to your customers, you have the opportunity to talk with them. This means you can and should join the conversation about your business – although it doesn’t mean you can control it. As Intuit’s Scott Cook pointed out, “a brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is; it’s what the consumers tell each other it is.”
Social media platforms and review sites give consumers a great deal of influence. These reviews and comments far surpass any marketing communications you may do for your business, as they comprise the majority of what’s being said about your brand. The key to success in this new marketing paradigm is to make your business recommendable. Particularly for smaller businesses with limited marketing budgets, recommendations are critical to creating awareness and establishing credibility.
Following are four ways to make your small business recommendable:
- Develop a clear and purposeful story that frames how other people talk about and recommend your brand. Even in the most crowded and commoditized marketplace, every brand has its own distinctive story that differentiates it from the others. This may be based on something as simple as its origin, a key benefit, an ingredient, or any other aspect that makes it unique. The more you effectively and consistently communicate this story – through your marketing efforts, the online and/or in-store experience, and any other touch points with customers – it becomes synonymous with your brand
- Find and connect with your biggest fans. As a small business owner, it’s likely that you manage your brand’s social channels, which gives you a great deal of insight into who your most vocal customers are. No matter how many fans and followers you have, research indicates that only 1 to 3 percent of them are truly engaged and are likely your brand fans. This is the group you should most closely monitor, to make sure they continue to have positive things to say about you – and that they are communicating accurate information about your company and products in their recommendations. Depending on your industry, there are likely to be opportunities to reward key customers for their loyalty with special offers, invitations to events, early access to new products, etc.
- Be human, transparent, and address mistakes quickly. Although the majority of customer experiences are hopefully positive, there will be occasions when things go awry. It may be no fault of yours or your employees, but from the customer perspective, the accountability lies with you. In my experience, an unhappy customer is equally as (or perhaps even more) likely to talk about their experience as a satisfied one. However, negative comments or reviews are not always detrimental to your business. If you are accountable, respectful and transparent in your response, you stand a very good chance of reversing the sentiment and earning the respect of the larger audience that witnesses the exchange. If done correctly, you may end up turning your detractors into customers – and even brand advocates in the longer term.
- Continue to listen, learn and evolve. Finding and joining conversations about your brand is a valuable way to stay tuned in to what people are saying about your business. The more opportunities you provide for feedback – online and offline – the more information you will gather. Customer recommendations, questions and comments can help you evaluate what you’re doing well, and where you require process improvements. Equally as important, ideas and suggestions for new products and services may inspire new offerings from your company.
These are just some of the ways you can leverage social media to transform your business and create a recommendable brand.
Paul M. Rand is the President and CEO of Zócalo Group and author of Highly Recommended: Harnessing the Power of Social Media and Word of Mouth to Build Your Brand and Your Business (McGraw Hill, September 2013)
“Like Button Shows Approval Or Being A Fan” courtesy of Stuart Miles / www.freedigitalphotos.net