When the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2000, the worlds of business, technology and marketing looked very different than they do today.
Mass media still held a chokehold on the lines of communication between companies and customers. Information gathering and sharing were the domain of mainstream news organizations. The majority of websites were nothing more than brochures on glass, following the familiar conventions of traditional print-based collateral. Blogs were relegated to niche interests and personal musings. Social networking was in its infancy – MySpace, Facebook and Twitter would not even be conceived for a few years to come – and no one gave serious consideration to the relevance of these sites to corporate America.
Fast-forward 10 years: The information revolution has permanently altered the rules for getting and keeping customers. In a world of unlimited channels of communication, loyalty is no longer a commodity that can be bought rather than earned. In the new millennium, trust has become the currency of a marketplace driven by the consumer.
Now, as we round the corner into a new decade, it’s critical to take a close look at your business and make sure that it’s keeping pace with the times. Just as you make personal resolutions in the spirit of reforming old habits, becoming more productive and even trimming your waistline, you must commit to implementing the following principles in your business practices in order to fuel growth, remain competitive and improve your bottom line.
Over the past decade, there has been a complete reversal in the balance of power within the business world. Whereas mass media and large corporations once enjoyed unchallenged dominance based on their respective influence and affluence, the digital age and the subsequent proliferation of communication channels have tilted the scales in favor of those that have most readily adapted to the new ways of earning and keeping customers, regardless of size or spending power.
The practices of traditional marketing are ineffectual with today’s consumer, who is disengaged from commercial culture as we once knew it, disenchanted with shallow messages and misleading claims and disillusioned by promises unfulfilled. Instead, they are ever in search of the authentic. They are driven to seek out companies they can believe in and to identify themselves with brands that inspire them.
Those that practice trustcasting engage in two-way communication with their customers on a human level.This is where trustcasting – the ongoing process of building and maintaining trust between a business and its customers – becomes the first rule of survival in the new competitive landscape. Recognizing word-of-mouth as the primary medium by which today’s customers are won, those that practice trustcasting engage in two-way communication with their customers on a human level, demonstrating genuine respect and value for their time and attention. While this approach undoubtedly requires a more significant investment in time and resources than traditional marketing, the return — cultivating dedicated fans that serve as evangelists for a brand – is also much more profound and lasting.
It’s a well-established fact that it’s more cost-effective to keep existing customers than to win new ones. On the surface, that seems like a simple task. If your customers are happy, they will remain happy as long as you stay the course and remain true to what works, right?
Unfortunately, this only holds true in the short-term. The long-range perspective reveals that your customers never stand still; their lifestyles and their needs are ever-changing. In order to earn their continued loyalty, you must ensure that you are constantly evolving to stay in step with them.
In fact, innovation is an important aspect of trustcasting. By demonstrating to your customers that you are not only aware of, empathetic with and responsive to their needs, you are establishing a firm foundation for an ongoing relationship based in trust and mutual respect. An added bonus is that you will not only be more likely to keep your most loyal customers but also to attract others like them who share common desires and concerns.
If the pursuit of perpetual innovation seems like daunting proposition, realize that not every new idea will require a significant investment of resources. It is not the scale of change that determines its success but rather its impact. Creating a new product that does not address a real need is likely to produce a disappointing ROI. By contrast, a small shift that makes it more convenient for a time-starved customer to access what you have to offer can result in tremendous gain.
You might consider adapting your hours of operation to better fit the lifestyle of your consumers. Perhaps you could add a line of organic or all-natural products in response to increasing customer awareness of and concern for the health of their families and their environment. Sometimes even streamlining – rather than expanding – your product offerings can be the right solution. By shedding less popular lines, you not only make it easier for your customers to find and purchase the core items that they rely on you for but also increase your profit margin.
What matters most is that you are constantly refining what you have to offer in order to enhance your relevance and ensure that you continue to provide a product or service that your customer will want and need well into the future.
Knowing your customers is the only way to ensure that your company continues to evolve in the right direction and that you are investing in well-founded innovations that provide meaningful solutions to their needs, wants and frustrations.
However, it is not enough to identify them in terms of numbers, statistics and demographics. Your customer does not define themselves in terms of age category, education, marital status and income bracket, and neither should you.
Stop looking at things from your perspective as a business owner or marketer and put yourself in your customers’ shoes.Instead, stop looking at things from your perspective as a business owner or marketer and put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What do they like? Where do they live? What inspires them? What activities, places, interests, values and aspirations are closest to their hearts?
You may not think the answers to these questions have a direct impact on your line of business. Let’s say you own a bakery: How is it relevant to you that your customer is a yoga enthusiast, a world traveler, a pop culture junkie and a domestic goddess? The answer is that by understanding these nuances and complexities, you can cultivate a genuine connection with your customer and tap into their lifestyle, their motivations, their desires and their needs – all of which can shape the culture that exists around your brand.
Once you have gotten to know your customer, commit yourself to specializing in that customer. Rather than pouring your time, money and energy into crafting a perfectly polished message, invest in the ways that your customer experiences your product or service.
You must deliver on the promises you make by providing the kind of experience they want.It is not enough to tell your customers what your brand stands for. You must deliver on the promises you make by providing the kind of experience they want, not just on the surface but in every aspect of the ways that you come into contact with them.
In designing this experience, make sure it exists in harmony with their lifestyle. Return to what you have learned about how your customer identifies themselves, and think of creative ways to appeal to the things that motivate and inspire them.
Engage every sense. Appeal to their values and their sensibilities. Find a connection to the comfortable and familiar. Demonstrate an appreciation for who they are rather than what they have or what they do. Strive to create a culture they not only want to be a part of but are driven to convince others to join as well.
Over time, the term “customer service” has been overused and abused to the point of losing almost all meaning. However, the growth of social media and the rise of word-of-mouth as the primary means of consumer decision-making require that companies reinvest in the idea of true customer service.
However, customer service in this sense goes far beyond how a transaction is processed or how problems are addressed. The entire customer experience must be built around service. Your business exists because there is a legitimate need for what you have to offer. However, the same can be said of your competition. The distinguishing factor is the level of quality that exists in your interactions with your customers, and it’s up to you to wow them with newer, better ways of addressing their needs and enhancing the ways in which they experience your brand.
Amazon and Zappos did not become e-commerce giants by accident, and they certainly face no lack of competition in their respective categories. However, they achieved unprecedented levels of success by committing their resources to improving the ways in which they serve their customers, such as by developing more intuitive user interfaces, building stronger distribution networks or offering more competitive shipping rates. These are genuine and distinct advantages that are the reasons both companies have established a reputation for providing a shopping experience that is synonymous with ease of use, low prices and quality service.
Today’s consumers do not think and act solely as self-interested individuals but as citizens of the world. Likewise, they want to know that those they do business with are committed not only to making their own lives easier but also to making a contribution to the greater good.
Being a good corporate citizen demonstrates to the public that there are principles behind your brand.
Corporate social responsibility takes many forms. You can donate money, goods or services to charitable organizations, either directly or by instituting programs that funnel a portion of your profits to benefit a specified cause. Alternatively, you can cultivate a corporate culture that promotes philanthropy by providing incentives for employees to make donations to or volunteer. Finally, social responsibility can be integrated into your daily operations by implementing product or service strategies that address issues such as environmental conservation or fair trade.
Regardless of the approach you choose, being a good corporate citizen demonstrates to the public that there are principles behind your brand. In doing so, you forge bonds of trust with your customers, who perceive your actions as evidence that you share their values and that your dealings with them are rooted in more than simply what’s best for your bottom line.
Investing in business growth is a balance of risk and return, a complex equation involving the calculation of the investment required to gain a customer.
In this age of information and communication, competition for customers, their time, their attention and their dollars is more intense than ever before. You cannot afford to make decisions simply based upon a cursory gut feeling about how your business is performing in relation to your competitors.
Companies large and small must have a complete understanding of the life span of the customer relationship. Companies large and small must have a complete understanding of the life span of the customer relationship. The business that wishes thrive must know not only who their customers are but what they like and dislike, how much they spend, how many times they return, what brings them back, who they tell about their experience, what they use to communicate and, if they leave, where they went and why.
The discipline of maintaining good business metrics is more than getting a firm grasp on what brings customers through the door initially. If you’re going to compete in the next decade, you must see the bigger picture of how everything works and performs in the numbers, including marketing, and establish systems that capture and catalog this information in a manner that does not burden or bog down your day-to-day business operations.
Take a critical look at the numbers, shed what doesn’t work and increase your investment in what does work. Only then will you be able to sharpen your marketing approach and maximize the resources you invest in growing your market share.
In today’s world, Web culture is an inextricable part of our culture as whole. Whereas once we all watched the same three networks on television and shared in common the same viewing experience, now the Internet – with its content universe of social networking sites, viral videos, blogs and more – provides the cultural touchstones that that shape our thinking and our dialog.
To remain relevant, you need to be an active participant in Web culture. Surfing the Internet may not seem like an important business function, but in reality, it is imperative that you follow and understand the types of content that people are looking for, what they’re responding to, what’s been overdone and what’s simply useless. With the rate at which online trends spring up, evolve and die, you must be vigilant in order to stay current.
Moreover, you must understand how the culture of the Web affects the ways in which your customers gather information and make decisions. Have you read your Yelp reviews? Do you know that your customers are conducting price comparisons in your store on their smartphones? Do you realize that your customers are far more likely to ask their Facebook friends for a recommendation than to go searching in the Yellow Pages? To compete, you must know where your customers live online, be present where they are and listen and respond to their concerns.
If you’re out of touch with Web culture, the best place to start is by contacting a trustcasting agency. They can help bring you up to speed with the latest trends and work with you to navigate the vast array of online channels to identify the best ones for reaching your customers.
Your customers instinctively turn to the Internet for answers. Many will have their first encounter with your business online, and you have a fleeting chance to grab them and make a lasting impression. In order to make that most of that opportunity, you must stop using your website as a brochure and start focusing on providing your customer with meaningful ways to engage with your brand.
Make the experience feel as personal as if you were having a face-to-face interaction.To do this, you must think beyond aesthetics and put yourself in the role of the customer. What motivates them, and how does that intersect with what you have to offer? How can you tap into these motivations to draw them to you and build community around your brand?
The quality of the experience that your site provides to the customer is the difference between having an Internet presence and using the Web as a revenue stream. The only way your site will perform is by presenting relevant content in innovative ways that capture your customers’ attention. Make the experience feel as personal as if you were having a face-to-face interaction. Offer valuable content that will not only compel the user to delve deep into the site but also entice them to return again and again.
In the world of interactive marketing, there are two effective ways to build community around your brand: by creating high quality content around your direct offering and by providing auxiliary services through your site.
Content focused on your direct product or service offering has its place from a marketing standpoint. However, when it comes to the task of community building, providing your informed opinion or advice on a topic in your broader area of expertise is the genesis for compelling content that not only draws new customers to your site but gives them incentive to keep coming back on a regular basis.
Honest, value-driven communication fosters trust among your customers.When you have something meaningful to say about issues of concern to your customers, you will establish yourself as the go-to resource in your field. This type of honest, value-driven communication fosters trust among your customers, keeps them engaged and inspires them to become advocates of your brand.
If, for example, you own a wine shop, your site could feature a wine of the week, a blog on food and wine pairings and a calendar of special wine tasting events. While none of these items provide a direct revenue stream, the investment of time and resources to maintain them will be rewarded as you cultivate a core group of customers that follow you and tell others about you.
The second approach is to provide as many additional services as you can through your site. You must make your business as easy as possible for your customer to understand and access. For example, a mortgage broker might offer an online amortization calculator, or a plumber might provide automated repair cost estimates. Again, while these features do not generate revenue in and of themselves, they create a better, more customer-friendly user experience that will draw customers back to your site time after time.
If you have not yet put these principles into execution, now is the time. These maxims are not merely predictions of what is to come in the years ahead; they are the rules of doing business in today’s marketplace. Simply put, companies that implement these practices will survive, and those that ignore them won’t. Furthermore, if your competition gets out of the gate ahead of you, it will be much more difficult and costly to catch up later than if you take the lead first.
If this seems like a formidable proposition, don’t worry. Seek the help of a qualified trustcasting agency. They understand Web culture and how to create a platform for long-term success based on your market and with your customer in mind. They can help you refine your business metrics to ensure that you’re not spending your resources without realizing return but that you are making a well-founded investment in the growth of your business.The Author
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