With all the available outlets for online marketing, many small business owners are confused and overwhelmed.
There are blogs to post, social media profiles to update, and newsletters to send out. Coupons, directories, search engines, and ads all demand attention.
The online marketing strategies you’re supposed to be engaged in never end.
To make matters worse, small business owners have a hard time latching on to a clear and meaningful message. Some websites are full of industry jargon that customers can’t relate to. Some businesses’ tweets are self-indulgent braggery (we’re number one!) or desperate pleas (please buy from us!). Small businesses are seduced by wily SEO firms that promise “Number One Ranking for Over 500 Keywords!,” a promise that might be fulfilled but is unlikely to bring new customers to the business.
The entire purpose of online marketing is to reach out to your prospective customers and attract them to your business. So why aren’t more small business owners thinking like customers?
Whether you’re running your own online marketing campaigns or hiring consultants and marketing firms to handle them for you, it’s essential to look at your business from the customer’s perspective so you can make smart decisions about how to spend your time and money.
Step Into Your Customers’ Shoes
What do your prospective customers want? What problems are they facing, and how do your products and services solve those problems? What makes your business the best one to patronize? Most importantly, how are your target customers using the web?
These are simple questions that any small business owner should be able to answer without second thought. In fact, if you’re already in business or if you’ve started laying the groundwork for your small business, then these are a few of the first questions you should have addressed in your business plan.
But all business owners lapse into industry thinking. We get caught up in our own fields of expertise. We forget that the consumer sees from a different point of view and speaks a completely different language. Take the website designer who gushes about his clean code or the restaurant that taunts its new, industrial oven. Customers don’t care about that stuff. They want to know the designer can build a sharp looking website and the restaurant serves up tasty meals. They don’t care what code or ovens these businesses use.
The best online marketing campaigns speak to customers from the customers’ own perspective. Once you step into your customers’ shoes, you’ll be able to craft a clear and meaningful message that speaks to them, and you’ll be able to create quality content for your online marketing campaigns.
Using Your Expertise and Experience
One of the most overlooked facets of online marketing is expertise. A realtor knows the ins and outs of the real estate market, knows about home loans, escrows, and can tell you every step involved in the process of buying or selling a house. But first-time home buyers (or sellers) have no idea what they’re getting into. So a realtor’s online marketing content can bring value to prospective customers by offering tips that clearly explain the processes in layman’s terms.
You’re a pro at what you do, but your customers are novices. Don’t ever forget that. In addition to the products and services you sell, you can give away your knowledge (advice) to make the customer’s experience more pleasurable. Let’s say you’re an electrician. You can go to people’s houses, fix their wiring, and leave it at that, or you can leave a lasting impression and give your customers a branded flyer that offers some tips on how they can maintain their electrical devices. Then post those tips to your website, and you’ve just added some useful content for your website visitors.
And the grateful public will respond. Whatever your profession, you have acquired expertise and experience. It’s likely that your knowledge about your industry has become so second nature that you take it for granted. But if you can step back and look at things from a novice’s prospective, you’ll find that in addition to your products and services, you possess knowledge that has value.
The Inside Scoop
On Facebook, a local restaurant can regularly post updates about their menu and specials. Anyone who “likes” the restaurant will get the inside scoop on special meals and sweet deals. A popular performer (comedian, musician, etc.) can set up a newsletter letting fans know about secret or low-profile scheduled appearances.
These types of communications achieve two things. First, they make customers feel like they are in the know, or in on a good secret. Second, they encourage buzz. When customers have “secret” information that their friends and family don’t have, they’re more likely to share that information. Broadcast a commercial on television and they’ll assume everybody knows about your big, Labor Day sale. But utter a secret deal to your subscribers or followers and they’ll go out of their way to spread your message for you.
For a small business, the best customer is a loyal customer. These are not only the customers that come back again and again, they’re also the customers that run around telling all their friends how great you are. They send you a lot of referrals. The most loyal customers are the ones that follow your business or post positive ratings and reviews. Reward these customers and they’ll not only continue to patronize your business, they’ll bring their friends and families with them.
Case Studies and Storytelling
Too many businesses talk about their products and services from a technical perspective. Instead, you need to think of your products and services as solutions. And you need to think of your customers as people with problems — problems that need solutions. Then all you have to do is explain to your customers how you will solve their problems. One of the most effective ways to do this is through case studies and storytelling.
Our friend the electrician has a website that lists all his skills and services. He does residential and commercial, he can replace and upgrade electrical components, he offers energy-saving solutions, retrofitting, troubleshooting, and installation. Most of his services are useful, but the way he’s explained them on his website means nothing to the average consumer.
The electrician should certainly list these services somewhere on his site, but his home page needs to help visitors understand what he’s offering by telling a story: Power outlets not working? Did you know faulty wiring and broken outlets can be a safety hazard? I’m here to help keep your family safe and make sure your electrical wiring works properly.
Once you’ve been in business for a few years, you’ll have some stories to tell. You’ll have stories about customers who benefited from doing business with you and stories about customers who suffered because they didn’t. In the meantime, be creative. Use storytelling to show people how your business offerings will improve their lives.
Online Marketing for Customers
Building an effective online marketing campaign can have an exponential impact on the growth of your business. Think like a customer to create engaging and meaningful content. Then use social networking, blogging, and other online marketing efforts to bring visitors to your site and convert them to customers.
Melissa Donovan is a website consultant and copywriter. She is also the founder and editor of Writing Forward and the author of over seven books.