A good marketing strategy can create new growth channels, maximise the value of your customer base and above all, publicise your business without sapping your income. But, with the ASA reporting that small businesses wasted a whopping £2.5 billion on ineffective marketing last year, it’s clear that companies need to avoid splurging their precious (and limited) cash on questionable tactics that don’t deliver any real return on investment.
The great thing is that as an SME, chances are you’re quick on your feet in a way that the lumbering giants of the high street are not. Here are a few strategies to consider that will boost the bottom line by turning your most valuable asset, your customers, into an army of advocates.
1. Encourage customers to recommend you
Customers are no longer just dots on a graph or lines in an epic spreadsheet. So winning customers’ hearts and minds is more important than ever. Your message needs to be clearer and needs to inspire not only purchase, but also referral. In other words, your product and message needs to be strong enough to inspire your customer to recommend you to a friend.
This could mean offering discounts for those that recommend you, making your content exceptionally sharable or offering privileges for your most loyal fans. Simple right? In a sense we’re going back to a simpler time, where success relied on quality, personal recommendation and good old fashioned word of mouth.
Using this technique, Tesco realised that a customer who might once have represented an £80 drop in their £72 billion-a-year ocean, consigned to the ‘dead pool’ of customers sent the odd direct mail shot, is now considered a prime target for the brand. The reason? Tesco discovered that tapping into him and his network turned that £80 into hundreds, even thousands of pounds. While this is a large-scale example, it can be applied to businesses of any size.
2. Make customers part of your development team
Social media has opened up a myriad of channels where customers can praise or complain about your company. The most important thing for small businesses is to learn to see social as a land of opportunity rather than a threat – or worse, ignoring it altogether. For example, rather than wait until after customers have purchased your product, why not get fans involved at the beginning of the product development process? Ask your fans what they want, make it, and chances are they will go on to buy it. It seems obvious but this level of engagement is surprisingly uncommon.
We’re always on the lookout for small businesses that are doing this, and one example that recently caught our eye was Brewdog and their #mashtag campaign. This unique brewer created a whole line of beer designed by the very people that they should be listening to – their consumers. This is what we love, companies that are bold and take things further than expected. Relying on your fans to create a product, choose ingredients and create packaging is a risk, which is exactly why it paid off!
And what’s great is that anyone can implement this tactic. Social media has created an era of the little guys; any business can use the same social online tools as the biggest conglomerate.
3. Discount cleverly
Discounting can be a great way of bringing in new customers and it’s a good way to market your company, allowing you to offer great value to your customer base. But indiscriminate discounting can be hugely damaging. Large discount sales may be great for the high street department store who can afford the odd flash sale and 50 per cent price cuts, but when margins are tighter, this simply isn’t feasible. More often than not, it’s a blanket approach that it damages your bottom line and fails to take into account the unique nature of both your product and your customer. You want loyal customers that will come back and value your organisation, not deal hunters.
This doesn’t mean that discounting is completely dead in the water. Make people earn your discounts, either via the traditional lottery system (your products are free for the 500th customer), or via a gamification system where customers win discounts for referring a certain number of friends to your products. Everyone loves a competition and a sense of chance, and it’s more cost-effective to execute.
What’s key is ensuring that you’re protecting the value of your brand and making money, NOT simply pushing price slashes or big red sale signs.
Customers like to feel like they matter, and they really do. Putting them at the heart of your business strategy, without cannibalising the value of your product is key to creating a truly effective marketing strategy. We’ve gone beyond the era of marketing being the broadcasting of your company messages. We’re through the looking glass. Marketing now needs to be focused on creating an army of engaged customers who will recommend you to their nearest and dearest.