For many small businesses, there’s a post-holiday-season lull when shoppers tighten their belts and the flow of in-store and online traffic slows to a halt. These dark days of winter don’t have to be that dark. In fact, using this time wisely may yield far greater returns despite the sales slowdowns. Here are seven ways to make the most of the post-holiday shopping rush and still drive customers to your business. 1. Host a free workshop to share your knowledge or teach a new skill. Whether the workshop is in person or conducted online, it will provide you with insight into your customers’ interests and keep you top of mind for them. You can get additional marketing mileage from this effort by capturing the key points and the attendee questions and repurposing them on your website, blog, YouTube channel, Facebook page, Twitter, newsletter, and more. Additionally, this forum presents another opportunity to share your expertise with a larger audience and demonstrate the value of your business to the community beyond your products. 2. Thank your VIP customers. If you have a steady stream of customers that you’ve been getting to know over the years, acknowledge how important their patronage is to you by sending a personalized thank you note. You may also consider a small token of appreciation, such as deeper discounts, private showings, and the like. 3. Evaluate the big season sellers and identify complementary products and/or services. For example, if gourmet knives were a big seller, consider a promotion on kitchen tools and gadgets. In your promotion, your content should tie these elements together such as insider chef’s tips and the best tools to use for the job at hand. 4. Reconnect with local business partners. Use the down time to meet with local, complementary businesses and brainstorm cross-promotional ideas. To read my other tips, check out my latest column for American Express' OPEN Forum, "Turn the Post-Holiday Blues into the Black."
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There’s no doubt you’ve heard about the upcoming Small Business Saturday driven by American Express. Celebrating its second year, Small Business Saturday is now an annual tradition encouraging consumers to shop at local small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
While many small businesses will offer extended store hours and special discounts with the hope of generating as much revenue as possible this coming November 26, it’s important to remember that Small Business Saturday shouldn’t be just a one-day event. It’s an opportunity to establish what will become long-term customer relationships with an audience that’s captive, local, and can be your strongest allies when it comes to word-of-mouth marketing.
You can start generating interest in the event now by telling your customers to “Like” the Small Business Saturday Page on Facebook to receive special offers. You can also use this as an opportunity to steer customers to your Facebook business page where you initiate discussions and provide them with additional insider discounts.
If you’re feeling like bigger businesses run by conglomerates still have an upper hand in terms of marketing and recruiting customers, think again. Here are three more ways to use Small Business Saturday to outshine the big box competition and set the foundation for driving repeat customers throughout the year.
1. Demonstrate your expertise: Since nobody knows your business better than you, freely share your knowledge with customers. Instead of just offering discounts or sales promotions, think about helping your audience learn something. This can take the form of product demonstrations, private showings, or classes. You can make these part of the Small Business Saturday shopping experience and take advantage of the increased foot traffic to invite customers back when your store is less crowded.
Remember, you don’t have to give away your trade secrets for this to be successful. Think about helpful tips and tricks that you can teach your customers to keep them coming back to you – not just for more tips but for the products or services that you sell.
2. Create an experience: Whether a customer is spending $1 or $1,000 at your business, I can’t stress enough how important it is to consider how they view the experience. It’s not enough to offer great deals; if you can’t keep up with the volume or your customers have an unpleasant encounter with one of your employees, they won’t be shy to talk about those experiences. Ask yourself:
a) Are customers greeted by friendly, knowledgeable staff? And do those staff members know the difference between being helpful and being invasive?
b) Do the cash registers form barriers between the shoppers and the products or are they set off to the side, allowing customers to freely browse the aisles?
c) If your business requires that customers stay on the premises for an extended period of time, do you provide pleasant distractions while they wait?
If you feel you’re too close to your business to fairly assess how a first-time customer would view the experience, ask for feedback. This also gives you an opportunity to engage your customers on a more personal level.
To read the rest of my thoughts about Small Business Saturday, check out my latest column on American Express' OPEN Forum.
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One of the best outcomes from the social media explosion is that the customer service bar has been raised. Now that more people are freely sharing their customer experiences — both good and bad — with the world, quality customer service has become imperative. Yet with everybody stepping up efforts, the customer service function has to evolve for a small business to further differentiate itself. This is why the next logical step in the customer service evolution is customer engagement. You’ve likely heard lots of talk lately about engaging customers as if it’s a new fad. Yet as a small business owner, you learned long ago that personalized service and in-depth expertise are the two main factors that inspire customers to return time and time again. What’s different now is the business owner’s ability to foster these connections in between customer visits through social media. We’ll get to that shortly. For now, let’s clarify the difference between customer service and customer engagement. Going beyond exceptional service, customer engagement is about delivering more personalized experiences based on authentic relationships with customers. For example, in the traditional customer service model, a hardware store owner would provide recommendations on power drills for a do-it-yourselfer (DIY). The recommendations would be based on the business owner’s knowledge and would map to the customer’s expertise, needs, and budget. If the storeowner steered the homeowner in the right direction, the DIY would likely return. Bringing this same experience up to the level of customer engagement, the business owner would come to learn more about the customer beyond the transaction. This might include information about the specific renovation projects underway, future projects, and perhaps a bit about the DIY’s home life. Based on these nuggets of information, the storeowner can make recommendations on additional tools, offer information on how to save time or money on certain projects, and provide other advice based on industry knowledge and first-hand experience with home renovations. The more the storeowner knows about the customer, the more personalized the customer experience will be. This, in turn, leads to repeat sales. To read more of my thoughts on this topic, please visit American Express' OPEN Forum.
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Having a social media campaign go viral is nirvana to any marketer. Yet all the creative juice power in the world can’t guarantee a blog post, video, or email will catch on like wildfire. The reality is you can’t manufacture it or force it. One of the biggest misconceptions, or perhaps viral myths, is the belief that you can create a viral campaign. The confusion lies in the fact that “going viral” is a result of your marketing campaign, as opposed to being the campaign itself. When you ask successful marketers what makes a campaign go viral, they’ll tell you that there isn’t any one particular element that determines whether the idea will take hold. Yet you’ll just know it when you see it. In lieu of an actual proven formula for viral campaigns, here are three elements to consider for your next campaign with the goal of attracting more than your average share of readers or viewers. 1. Authenticity The content needs to come from real people aiming to communicate with other real people. Avoid corporate speak and dress codes that may appear too buttoned up to more effectively reach the average consumer. 2. Emotion You can genuinely stir emotions in your audience by relating to real life experiences. You don’t have to lose sight of your small business mission yet you can illustrate how you, your organization, or your customers impact a person’s life. 3. Action We all have more than enough options available to stimulate our brains these days. If you’re considering a visual campaign, be sure to keep it short and action-oriented. You don’t have to create a dizzying experience for your audience, but any type of physical and/or fun activity will retain viewers and get people sharing socially. Now for the flip side. To learn the three things you should steer clear of if you truly want to capture a wider audience, read my latest contribution to American Express' OPEN Forum, "Viral Marketing: Strategy or Serendipity?"
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While imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery, nothing beats the satisfaction that comes from having your content shared, forwarded or re-Tweeted. So why is it some anecdotes, blog posts or articles circulate through media circles like wildfire while equally interesting content largely goes unnoticed? The reality is there’s no magic bullet that’s a surefire way to get people talking about your company. However there are ways to naturally inspire readers to pass along your content through social media channels. Assuming you’ve got great content to begin with, here are five ways to refine and package it for optimal attention. 1. Metaphors and similes: As a grammar refresher, metaphors are implied comparisons between two unlike things that actually have something in common. For example, the phrases, “time is money” and “heart of stone,” are commonly used metaphors. Similes compare two unlike things and use the words “like” or “as” to draw a comparison, such as “life is like a box of chocolates.” Be creative and clever in introducing a new simile or metaphor to increase the chances of your readers retaining your message. Just be sure to test it out on a few folks before committing to it. Remember, if you’re trying too hard to coin a new phrase or the metaphor seems like too great of a stretch, that’s a good sign you may need to go back to the drawing board. 2. Images and slideshows: Along with creating images in the reader’s head, you can also draw in readers and reinforce the message with captivating images. Slideshows are another great way to get out your message in a “shareable” format. Why not try to tell your story in 10 click-through images or less? After all, a picture is still worth a thousand words. 3. Pithy headlines: One trick to writing punchy and memorable headlines is to write them last, after the story is complete. You may also want to strive to keep your headlines under 140 characters. This way, your Twitter followers can more easily retweet your message without having to edit their name or your work of genius. For the fourth and fifth ways, read my latest column for American Express' OPEN Forum, "Pass It On: 5 Ways To Create Compelling Content."
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Whether or not you’ve already set the foundation for your holiday marketing campaigns, you’re likely thinking about how you’ll make the most of the (traditionally) lucrative shopping season. The six weeks from late November through the end of December can account for anywhere between 20 to 40 percent of your annual revenue, according to the National Retail Federation. And let’s not forget the 2010 holiday season, where online sales reached $32.6 billion — marking an all-time record, according to data from comScore. While it’s fun to start crafting your holiday taglines and thinking about the campaigns that will drive traffic to your business, don’t lose sight of the importance of connecting with your customers throughout the year. When you’ve established a good rapport with your customers on an on-going basis, your marketing messages will break through the holiday noise they’re hearing from your competition. It will also help you make the most of your campaigns regardless of the season. With this in mind, here are three actions you can put in place today to establish a foundation that will make the most of the 2011 holiday shopping season and build stronger customer relationships throughout the year. 1. Engage You should consider every customer interaction an opportunity to build a lifetime customer relationship. So when a customer visits your business, whether it’s online or in person, do all you can to engage them and personalize the experience. Make them feel like a VIP, regardless of how much they spend, and not just another cash register transaction. Also, determine if your products and services really are an appropriate match for their needs. If not, be forthcoming in redirecting them to a more suitable vendor. This action will payoff in terms of strengthening your reputation. These long-standing relationships save your marketing dollars because, as you know, it’s easier and less expensive to reach existing customers than acquire new ones. But even more important in today’s world of social media—where getting recommendations from your friends, their friends, and a bunch of people you may not even know is as easy as posting a question on Facebook or checking out a reviews site—is the benefit of word-of-mouth marketing. 2. Entice Regardless of whether a customer made a purchase today, entice them to return to your business. Essentially, make it worthwhile, and easy, for a customer to become part of your inner circle. You do this by giving them something they want and can’t easily find elsewhere such as freely sharing your expertise and providing information that’s relevant to them. Along with relevant content, offer them a coupon, an invitation to a special event, or special offers and discounts that are only given to those who register to receive e-mails and newsletters from you. When you lead your conversations with the customer benefits, you will inevitably entice customers to stay connected to you, strengthening your brand and your bottom line. Want to learn what the third action is? Click here to read the full article on American Express' OPEN Forum.
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