Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Barbara Findlay Schenck @bizstrong about the new rules for marketing to screen-connected customers. Barbara helps entrepreneurs plan, brand, market, and sell their businesses. She’s the author of Selling Your Business for Dummies and Small Business Marketing for Dummies, co-author of Branding for Dummies and Business Plans Kit for and marketing columnist for MSN’s businessonmain.com. For more information http://www.bizstrong.com
SmallBizLady: How did the economy change how small businesses market themselves?
Barbara Findlay Schenck: The recession made customers risk-averse and value-oriented at the same time the Internet made price and product research easier than ever. Customers are empowered with more choices, information and opportunity to amplify their opinions more than ever before. To compete, successful small business marketers have shifted efforts away from advertising and toward development and maintenance of trustworthy brand identities and reputations, broad online presence, communications that invite consumer interaction, and the sky-high levels of customer care necessary to win customers and inspire the positive online and offline word-of-mouth now essential for success.
SmallBizLady: Has the definition of marketing changed?
Barbara Findlay Schenck: No. Marketing is still the process through which you win and keep customers. Now as always, marketing involves all the steps involved to tailor products, packaging, distribution, messaging, communications, sales and service to address the desires and win the decisions and loyalty of those in your target audience. What has changed, dramatically, is how customers shop and buy and how marketing communication takes place.
SmallBizLady: How have customers changed?
Barbara Findlay Schenck: Customers now migrate between physical and digital worlds as they research and shop. To adapt, small businesses need to be present, interactive, and reputable in both worlds, projecting a single brand image – one name, look, message and promise of value – online and off-line in order to achieve awareness, develop trust, and prompt selection among the ever-increasing competitive options. Plus, they need to deliver a consistently positive customer experience at every touch point, both to win and keep customers and to inspire loyalty and positive word-of-mouth in a world where customer comments, rants and raves can spread virally.
SmallBizLady: With access to a global marketplace, have customers gotten more price-sensitive?
Barbara Findlay Schenck: When assessing value, customers consider a product’s quality, features, convenience, reliability, product support, guarantees, expertise and reputation. If they think the value is average, they’ll expect a low-to-average price. If they think the value is superior, they’ll likely assess the product to be worth a premium price.
Want to know what else tips the value equation? The power of a personal relationship. Beyond all the rational reasons people buy, they make purchase decisions based on the simple reason that they like and trust the people they’re dealing with, and this gives small businesses with known names and great reputations a powerful edge.
SmallBizLady: Can you explain the “pull marketing rules”?
Barbara Findlay Schenck: Traditional mass media ads, direct mailers and sales calls interrupt consumers and urge them to take a desired action. The marketer talks and the consumer reacts. That’s called push marketing and it has two strikes against it: It’s expensive and consumers like it less every day.
Pull marketing replaces interruption with interaction. It replaces expensive media with online communications that share useful, entertaining or educational information that involves and pulls consumers toward the business for more information, usually via a link to a website home or landing page. The inbound-marketing pioneer Hubspot summarizes the difference this way: Push marketers buy, beg or bug their way in, while pull marketers earn their way in with valuable content that customers find, share, and act upon – at a fraction of the price.
SmallBizLady: What do you say to small businesses that still don’t have a website?
Barbara Findlay Schenck: I share the facts: Two thirds of Americans use the Internet. Web activity affects the majority of all retail sales. Most product research begins online. And nearly all opinions about the reputation of a person, business or brand are influenced by what people learn online. Yet nearly half of small businesses don’t have websites.
Unless your customers never go online and aren’t influenced by those who do, establish an online home base. A Facebook business page is an option, but a website with an address that includes your business name and to which you can direct all online interest is the gold standard.
SmallBizLady: What steps should small businesses take when ready to build an online presence?
Barbara Findlay Schenck: First, establish a site that’s findable by a search for your business name. Second, make your site findable by building it around keywords customers are likely to be searching for and establishing a network of incoming links from high-quality sites – including social media networks – that will help improve its search engine ranking. Third, get active online. Generate and share content. Connect with customers and thought leaders in your business arena. Post. Share. Comment. Thank. Repeat.
The Part III of Small Business Marketing Kit For Dummies gives step-by-step advice too.
SmallBizLady: With all the online and offline communication options, how can small businesses prioritize efforts?
Barbara Findlay Schenck: First, cover the marketing basics: Build a brand, open a website and a mobile version of your website, become an active networker – online and off-line – and be prepared to fulfill interest with an amazing customer experience. Then set the marketing goal you want to accomplish – whether that means more awareness, credibility, trust, customers, sales, publicity or some other goal – and define the audience you need to reach to achieve success. After that, prioritizing efforts becomes a matter of matching communication channels with the usage patterns of your target audience. If you’re not sure, talk to those you want to reach. If you want to reach customers and your customers use foursquare, get active on foursquare. If they Tweet, get a Twitter account. If they read newspapers, place newspaper ads – unless you can reach them more directly and cost effectively by text, e-mail or other one-to-one outreach.
SmallBizLady: How has social media altered small business marketing plans?
Barbara Findlay Schenck: Social media has empowered customers and given them an amplified voice. Marketers have to be listening – and responding. Social media has generated an expectation of interaction with brands. It’s created an environment where marketers succeed not by talking to customers but by talking with them. It’s also given marketers a free communication channel. For small businesses, that means marketing equality with huge corporations. Small businesses that serve customers who use the Internet – or who are influenced by those who do – can seize the benefits by getting online and active on social media.
SmallBizLady: How can small businesses stay on top of online and social media opportunities and changes?
Barbara Findlay Schenck: The dizzying rise of Pinterest is proof of how quickly social networks take hold. Among the many great resources for news and tips, I recommend the Twitter feeds of @HubSpot, @Mashable, @smexaminer, @smallbiztrends, @cnet, @techcrunch, @zdnet and @socialmedia2day.
SmallBizLady: What’s one mistake you see small business marketers make most often?
Barbara Findlay Schenck: They try to be all things to all people. Ask small business owners who they serve and what they do best and the answers come slowly, if at all. At a time when customers don’t want to be sold but want to learn why they should buy, small businesses need to be ready with rapid responses to the what-do-you-do and what-benefits-do-you-promise questions. On Twitter you get about 20 words. In person you have less than 30 seconds. And in both places you need to convey the same answer, which is then reinforced with every subsequent encounter with your business. Dare to target an audience and stake a value proposition that’s meaningful and capable of drawing interest and prompting action.
SmallBizLady: What is the first marketing expense you think a small business should invest in?
Barbara Findlay Schenck: One thing? I’d have to say start by investing in the development of a great and uniquely better product and customer experience. At a time when people listen to comments and reviews more than to marketing messages, invest in building an offering that people love and want to buy, rave about and buy again. Great products make great marketing easier.
Are you ready to learn how to be a Social Media Ninja?
@SmallBizLady’s new ebook is LIVE!
Order now: https://succeedasyourownboss.com/products
For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.