Rethinking the Way You Market Your Business
To say that consumer behavior has changed drastically in the last five years would be an understatement. There has been a clear shift in power. It now resides in the consumers’ hands, as opposed to several years ago when companies had that power. Several elements have created this shift.
- Global Financial Crisis in 2007. Economists considered this to be the worst financial catastrophe since the Great Depression, resulting in the fall of many businesses and the decline in consumer financial commodity. This inevitably created an economic recession that we are still trying to recover from today, as well as a consumer distrust with corporations/companies. And the result: wallets tightened and consumers got smart about how and where they spent their money. They did their due diligence and researched companies prior to committing to any business engagements or contracts, and they put a greater emphasis on value at the most affordable cost.
- Technology continues to evolve. With the advent of smart phones and tablets, consumers are able to stay connected on the go, now more than ever. So what does this really mean? Plain and simple, they spend more time connected to the digital world by gathering their research and data on companies, sending emails, staying up-to-the-minute with news, and connecting with friends. Consumers are plugged in, and will continue to be as technology advances. Technology has, in a sense, made the world smaller and has allowed everything to be at the consumer’s fingertips.
So this really isn’t “news” to anyone–unless you have been living under a rock–but what does this really mean for small businesses and their marketing plans? Quite simply put– the most precious asset is your customer, so your strategies need to shift to focus on the consumer as the core of your integrated communications plan. But, how and why?
- Consumers should be viewed as people and not dollar signs. In order to have a competitive edge and to satisfy increasing levels of customer desires, companies should view their customers as individuals, and not as a mass group with the same tastes, values and buying behaviors. There is a consumer demand for flexibility, customization and options; so naturally, companies need to delve further into their consumer demographics so that they may learn what consumers really want and need. The more you know about your consumers as individuals, the better you can target them and provide greater customization options so they feel connected with you–as a brand and a company. Customers are not a one-size-fits-all asset, so your marketing should reflect different service and product options.
- Engagement & interactivity. Consumers don’t want to feel that companies are “shouting” at them or “pushing” their advertising on them. Instead, consumers want to partake in the conversation and interact with the company and brand. They want to be part of the communication process, and they want a voice. Hence, the popularity of social media and websites. Companies need to create platforms where there is a two-way dialogue and conversation. Engage your customers in your business through every step of the consumer buying process: (1) Problem Recognition, (2) Information Search, (3) Evaluation of Alternatives, (4) Purchase Decision, (5) Purchase, (6) Post-Purchase Evaluation.
- Listen. As your marketing shifts to be customer-centric, it is imperative to really listen to your customer and to create a business model that is committed to quality and to customer relationship. Listen to their honest comments, feedback and suggestions. You will be able to uncover your company’s weaknesses as well as your strengths, so that you can better serve your customer demand.
- Shift company’s culture to be customer-centric. All members of the company need to live, eat and breathe a company culture that is customer-focused. Everyone needs to rally behind this philosophy in order for the company to be successful. One bad apple can wreak havoc on the company’s image and bottom line. All employees and staff, from the top-level to the bottom-level, need to fully embrace the customer relationship philosophy.
- Marketing tools need to reflect consumer demand. Local newspapers and magazines are being replaced by technology and becoming antiquated tools. As a small business, you need to connect with your users, where they spend their time. Don’t be afraid of technology; leverage the power. Mobile devices, such as smartphones, laptops and tablets, allow companies to connect with the customer at less than one-hundredth of the cost of traditional print ads and direct mail, and the web allows companies to provide a 24/7 support system for customer service. Check out this article for a greater understanding of where consumers spend their time and attention verse where companies are spending their advertising budgets. It shows a great untapped market opportunity.
- Value and professionalism. Your marketing should highlight and communicate your value, professionalism and credibility in order to disspell consumer discomfort or lack of trust within your industry. Highlight attributes and benefits. How can product “x” solve the consumer’s dilemma or challenge? How has product “x” benefited existing customers? Show case studies to highlight the positives.
So, as consumer behavior changes, so should your mindset and approach to the company marketing plan. Otherwise, your business may not continue to survive in this economic downturn. If your marketing plan still reflects antiquated media tools, your business will surely become extinct. Rise to the occasion and meet the customer demands of tomorrow, not yesterday.