Improving Customer Loyalty

Here are nine ideas to increase loyalty to your business.  Not all ideas are applicable to every business.

Service Related

  1. Make follow-up calls after service, sales or installation to ensure satisfaction.
  2. Provide home-delivery service to increase convenience.  This is a great time to offer a free demonstration on how to use and/or maintain your product.
  3. Examine your instruction manual  to ensure it’s effective and clear.  Use diagrams and list the steps for programming various features.
  4. Add frequently-asked-questions section to your website.

Price Related

  1. Offer money-back or price guarantees such as matching your competitors’ prices.
  2. Offer renewal or repurchase discounts or maintenance coupons.

Other Ideas

  1. Highlight alternative uses for your product, i.e., think of baking soda and vinegar.
  2. Install kids’ play area if serving families with small children or at least have toys and books available.
  3. Make contribution to charity for every product sold.

Please return to this site in a few days as this article will be expanded!

Increasing the Visibility of Your Business

Whether brand new or fairly young, generating awareness of your business is one of the initial necessary marketing steps to success.    This article discusses ten ideas for making your business (of any age) more visible in the marketplace, and of course with your targeted prospects.

But before I list these ideas, a business should always begin a marketing campaign by clearly identifying who you are targeting.  At the first step, it’s easy to state whether you’re focusing on existing customers or new customers.  Then, tackle the specific geographic, demographic and psychological characteristics of your target. 
Marketing experts tell us to develop customer profiles which are the detailed descriptions of your desired customers, i.e., target market.  Here are two examples.

  1. Company S, an upscale sporting goods company, targets American male executives between the ages of 30 and 45, with an average household income greater than $100,000.  These men enjoy outdoor sports and purchase sporting goods at least twice per year for recreation and travel.
  2. Company P, a printing company, is targeting firms within a radius of 20 miles, with annual revenues of $10 to $25 million and a need for four-color printing runs of approximately 5,000 pieces.

Assuming you have undertaken the necessary research to develop your customer profiles, here are ideas involving your target market.  Examine the characteristics of your target market to ensure you’re really communicating with those who benefit from your product/service.  By this, I mean that you know who your target market is based on who uses or needs your product/service and how to reach them. 

  1. Can they be reached by newspaper, magazine or the Internet?  Have you obtained their address at time of purchase or inquiry?
  2. Do you have a small base that can be effectively reached by personalized direct mail pieces?
  3. Do you have permission to email them? 
  4. Is it feasible to use local newspapers to geographically target where your customers and prospects live or work? 

Second, if you have a storefront, compare the demographics of your geographic location with your target market.  If you’ve been in the same location for quite some time, have the demographics of the area changed?

  1. Are greater shares of your customers driving greater distances to your store?
  2. Has your community become more of a mature market with empty nesters and fewer families with young children, or is it experiencing change in its ethnic make-up?

The remaining eight suggestions are promotional ideas for improving the visibility of your small business.  One low-cost idea is to publicize (through the media and to your customers and prospects directly, if appropriate) the charitable donations and favorites causes of your business.  Women in particular often take note of the charitable contributions made by the companies they support.

A second low-cost idea is to offer your storefront or office as a deposit center for a charitable drive, such as clothing, food, toys or books, or hosting a blood drive.  Third, write and distribute a story about how your product or service benefited a particular user. Human interest stories are for the most part very positively received.

Never forget that one of the most powerful marketing words is FREE.  By offering a free sample of your product or a free or low-cost demonstration of your service, you’re likely to attract new prospects. A few ideas to spark your imagination are bottomless cups of coffee or free batteries with purchased products requiring them.

By holding a contest or sweepstakes, you can draw people to your storefront or generate a lot of interest based on the type of contest or sweepstakes. 

  • A contest involves some type of ability or skill, such as writing the best story or developing the best recipe.
  • Sweepstakes are promotions in which prizes are awarded on the basis of chance, not skill, and entrants cannot be required to make a purchase in order to enter.

I would be remiss if I didn’t stress the need to carefully plan and research contests and sweepstakes.  Marketing experts advise consulting with an attorney or local authorities to ensure compliance with federal, state and local laws.  In Texas, refer to the Texas Sweepstakes Act that is part of the Business and Commerce Code.  A few specific ideas are asking customers to fill out an entry blank every time they visit your business for the chance to win a valuable prize, and working with a local elementary school in which the classes compete with one another in a window-decorating contest.

Finally, for the last three ideas, let’s focus on your actual promotional messages.  First, always assess or evaluate your messages prior to putting them to use.  Have non-vested parties provide feedback on your business cards, flyers, coupons, brochures, website, etc. 

Second, do you ever find that your eyes are drawn to large print?  When it comes to building awareness, your initial effort may be telling of your existence.  Using large print in ads and coupons is one way to increase the likelihood that your advertisement will get noticed at a faster pace (i.e., less required repetitions).  This can be beneficial if your name easily tells what your business offers and you have a highly visible location.

Third, consider developing co-op advertising with other tenants in your shopping center or office building along with suppliers and other non-competitors whom you’ve met through networking.  Here are a few examples.  Consider manufacturers, such as jewelers or clothing, who develop co-op deals with local retailers.  The manufacturers don’t have the boutiques and stores to sell their products to the public, and the local merchants welcome the partnership opportunity for reducing advertising costs.  On a local level, think how a dry cleaners, video store, card shop and hair salon of the same shopping center could combine forces as they’re all targeting residents within the same geographic area.

If you would like to discuss these ideas or others in greater detail, contact Kate Barlow at 817-488-2761 or kgbmarketing@hotmail.com.  Now is also a good time for small businesses to examine the effectiveness of current marketing efforts and new ideas worth considering.

Customer Loyalty or Reward Programs

There are two general reasons for creating a customer reward or loyalty program:

  • Devise incentive  for existing customers to buy additional products/services
  • Strengthen customer relationships with the goal of diminishing the likelihood of customers switching to your competitors.

Here are suggestions for a successful reward program.

  1. Prepare to implement the program by clearly explaining it to customers and fully training employees.
  2. Utilize your customer database by deciding how you will make the offer at the time of their next purchase.
  3. Develop progressive reward system by making rewards easy to obtain and offer the best incentives for  larger ($) purchases, such as your high-end products/services.
  4. Offer meaningful rewards that also benefit your business by striving to increase the sales of your most profitable products and services.
  5. Use your database to customize future offers based on customers’ purchase behavior and gain insight for finding new customers who match the profile of your best customers (target marketing).
     

Marketing in a Sluggish Economy

Here are three tips to remember when marketing in a struggling economy.

First, focus on strengthening relationships with your best customers.  Who are the twenty percent generating eighty percent of your revenue?  Use your tracking system to identify them if you don’t already know.  If you don’t have an effective tracking system and customer database, now’s a great time to start developing them!

When was the last time you had a personal conversation with these key customers?  What are their concerns?  Do you need to modify payment terms?  Do you need to reward them with special services that may only cost a small amount but generate additional loyalty?  Do they provide referrals?

Second, examine your current marketing activities.  Focus on those producing the greatest return on your investment of time and money.  If you can’t quantify your return, now’s the time to develop a practical method.

Third, now is not the time to cut corners on customer service.  If you lose profitable customers due to a decline in service, you may not regain them after the economy improves.

Contrasting Cross-selling and Up-selling

Cross-selling involves asking a customer to purchase a related or complementary item with an item they have just ordered.  The following examples should help.

  • Would you like French fries with your burger?
  • Do you need a warranty?
  • Do you need a printer along with your new PC?
  • This belt or these shoes would look great with those slacks!

Up-selling occurs when one suggests a better or more expensive product.  Examples include offering

  • a larger size of French fries or shake
  • a faster computer
  • a golf membership with greater privileges.

These two sales terms are often interchanged with one another, and many on-line articles seem to suggest these strategies are exclusive to Internet sales.  But they’re not as they’ve been around for quite some time!

Coupons are great for small businesses!

Coupons are a great small business promotional tool for many reasons.  First, coupons are ideally suited for both existing and prospective customers.  Some potential objectives may be to increase awareness of your business, generate traffic to your store or website, increase sales, especially during a slow season, or stimulate trial of a new product / service.  Second, unless you’re printing thousands, coupons are fairly inexpensive to print as they can be created in-house with desktop publishing software.   

Third, as the printer, you not only control the value of the coupon but also its lifespan.  You get to choose whether the coupon is offering a free product, a percentage discount, a volume discount, or the bearer will be given a gift with his/her purchase.  Fourth, while you can freely give them away or pay to have them distributed, there are endless ways to dispense.  Coupons can be directly mailed in various forms such as postcards or coupon books / decks, or within invoices.  Other options include distributing them within newspapers and magazines or from your website.  Or one may leave them on windshields, front doors, or counters. Lastly, you may attach them to a product of a current sale, i.e. Pizza Hut boxes, or include them within gift bags. 

The fifth reason is that coupons give your business an opportunity to establish alliances with other establishments within your shopping center or with a related product or service provider.  If you’re in the carpet cleaning business, perhaps a window cleaning operation could give away your coupons.  Or, if you’re in the dry cleaning industry, perhaps a shoe repair or small boutique might want to align with you.  And finally, your coupon can be made to look like a miniature version of your print advertisement.  By increasing exposure, prospects and customers are more likely to remember your business as you build familiarity. Plus, according to Jay Conrad Levinson, coupons can make an advertisement up to 26 percent more effective. 

In 2006, $331 billion worth of coupons were distributed and $2.6 billion were redeemed. 

  • Overall, in-store coupons garnered the highest redemption rate at 34 percent. 
  • Eighty-nine percent of 2006 coupons were distributed through newspapers in some form of an insert, and almost 93 percent of all 2006 coupons were sent directly to the home.
  • Two recent trends are shorter expiration dates and lower face value. 
  • Source: Donna L. Montaldo on About.com and CMS.com

I want to close this brief article by sharing three useful tips. 

  1. First make sure your coupon clearly states all your important contact information such as address, phone number, website, etc.  What good is the coupon if they don’t know where you’re located, can’t call you to find out your hours, or gather information about your specific product lines, service policies or warranty programs?
  2. Second, make sure your coupon is coded so you’ll know how and when it was distributed.  This information will be helping in determining the effectiveness of your attempt through tracking.  One coding method is to use a letter for the type of distribution, such as N for newspaper, R for other retailer, and M for mail.  By using numbers, you can track in what month they were distributed.
  3. Third, find out if your competitors are using coupons.  You’ll want to know how they distribute their coupons, what discount they’re offering, and how often are they distributed. 

If you would like to learn more about other low cost marketing efforts, please call Kate at 817-488-2761.  Our first hour long consultation is always free. 

Answering the Age-old Customer Question, “What’s In It for Me?”

Marketing experts continually remind us that our customers are always asking this question.  In The Little Blue Book of Advertising by Steve Lance and Jeff Woll, the authors reiterate the essential need for businesses of any size to identify and understand the differences in the features, advantages and benefits of their product or service. 

Thus from this comparative analysis, you’ll want to develop marketing messages that incorporate those items that personally mean the most to your customers and prospects.  Remember that your customers are bombarded with hundreds, if not thousands of marketing messages each day.  By applying this strategy, your message is more likely to reach them and/or tug at them in an emotional manner. 

So to get started, let’s examine features, advantages and benefits.  A feature is a statement of fact about some aspect, element, or prominent part or characteristic of a product or service.  Features can often be the technical jargon your industry uses on a daily basis, but the end user may not understand or relate to such terms as GHz or network interface card. 

An advantage helps the customer or user in a specific manner, i.e., something the feature provides or delivers to the user.  An advantage can also describe how the product or service is better than an alternative feature, and/or a feature offered by the competition.   

A benefit is what the consumer or user gains from the feature and/or your product.  For many products, start by thinking of the problem or problems your product or service solves.  The benefit is what you want to offer and sell to your customers and prospects.  As stated above, customers are primarily concerned about themselves and want to know how a product benefits them.  In an on-line article by Laura Clampitt Douglas, the author recommends thinking of benefits as the end “result” for the customer.  So if you prefer, interchange the terms benefits and results. 

Research indicates the following are some of the primary benefits sought by a purchaser.

  1. Improve quality of life / save time / life made easier / high reliability
  2. Save money
  3. Save lives / safety concerns
  4. Improve health and well being
  5. Improve one’s status – wealth / appearance

After you develop your message, always remember to test it.  Ask non-vested people or some of your customers for their feedback.  And don’t be surprised if women have a longer list of benefits since they tend to seek a solution to a greater number of needs and wants.   

I thought it would be helpful to provide some examples to start your creative process.  Codes are “F” for feature, “A” for advantage and “B” for benefit/result. 

F: four wheel anti-lock brakes

  • A: help the car stop faster
  • A: safer than the competition’s car
  • B: save the consumer’s life 

F: non-stop airline service

  • A: gets the passenger to his/her destination faster (compared to a one or two stop itinerary)
  • B: save the consumer’s time 

F: wireless mouse

  • A: less wiring and fewer cords on top of desk so it’s clearer
  • B: customer can be more organized and effective 

F: clothes soap with more cleaning power

  • A: clothes get cleaner
  • A: improve your appearance
  • B: customer may feel and look better 

F: over-the-counter cold medication

  • A: purchase without a prescription
  • A: stop a runny nose
  • A: relieve congestion
  • B: improve customer’s health and/or she/he feels better faster 

F: accepting credit cards

  • A: no need to have cash at time of purchase
  • B: customer convenience 

F: feature, advantage, benefit analysis

  • A: makes one sit down and truly think of the benefits from the customer’s perspective
  • A: develop more effective marketing messages
  • B: improve the return on your advertising    

If you would like more information about this strategy, contact Kate at 817-488-2761 or kate1.kgbmarketing@verizon.net 

Important Facts on the Women’s Market

Women in the U.S. influence or are responsible for making the purchasing decisions on eighty percent of all consumer goods in the average household. 

Martha Barletta, author of Marketing to Women, does an excellent job in describing the differences between male and female consumers. The following summary highlights three main points made in her book, and will likely make many women smile! 

 If women frequently shop in your store, use your services, or buy your products on-line, why should you consider taking a different approach when marketing to women? 

 1. Women have a different purchasing process than men

· They consider more factors and generally do more research

2. Women have different attitudes,  priorities and (often) responsibilities than men

· They are more likely to bounce ideas off others, generally favor “we” over an “I” attitude, and want everyone to get ahead

3. Women have different responses to marketing messages than men

· They prefer realistic people in ads, respond to emotion and human situations, rely on word of mouth so if a product works for someone else, it’s likely to work for her situation 

Focus Group Considerations for Small Businesses

Focus groups, or focus group interviews, are generally considered a quick and fairly inexpensive method for gathering in-depth, descriptive information from customers, prospects and employees. 

On the flip side, this popular type of qualitative research can be very subjective as findings are not representative of the full market segment and conclusions vary based on the perspective of what department (sales, operations, customer service, accounting, etc.) is viewing the discussion.  

Focus groups are best at providing help with identifying major issues, problems, and a range of desirable services and features.    One can gain in-depth personal information on customer attitudes, perceptions, behavior, lifestyles, needs and desires in a creative format.  In particular, focus groups can help with examining a new product concept or how to possibly advertise it, explore the criteria consumers may use to make purchasing decisions, or generate terminology for developing a questionnaire. 

The format can be flexible enough to allow delving into a particular response on the spot.  Participants can use their own words to answer questions versus a pre-determined list on a written survey.  A real world example occurs when attorneys use focus groups to gain insight into how people speak, think and feel about specific topics. 

Experts recommend a group size of six to twelve participants.  If you have a very opinionated group such as executives or a shy group of teenagers, consider reducing the group size to four to six.  One highly vocal participant can dominate the discussion and influence responses from others no matter the size; thus certain group and meeting management skills are essential! 

This type of research compliments quantitative research, such as written surveys that are number/statistic driven.

 Some standard “nuts and bolts” about consumer based focus groups include:

  • Plan on recruiting (external sources can help) and compensating participants who are targeted for certain characteristics (gender, age, occupations, hobbies/interests, etc.)
  • allow a minimum of one hour for each session with two hours usually the maximum
  • prepare to hold a minimum of three focus groups per target market segment, such as three involving men, three involving women, and three for each age segment
  • tape each session to allow multiple viewing of the exchanges and  responses (advise participants upfront that people are observing the session and it is being recorded)
  • develop an outline of open-ended questions, usually moving from general to specific
  • hold off site, such as in a hotel suite or office building conference room
  • hire a trained moderator / facilitator to obtain the best results
  • use name tags.

If you’re wondering about the role of the moderator/facilitator, his/her job is to explain the process and general guidelines, encourage discussion, restrain dominating personalities, remain emotionally detached from the subject or topic, ensure key questions are addressed, and maximize the use of probing questions.  

Other practical hints include making sure participants are provided assurances to give their honest opinions and are comfortable and relaxed.  Thus try to make sure the room isn’t cramped, too hot or too cold, and neither too dark nor too bright.   

If you’re a small business on a limited budget and want to conduct casual focus groups involving your key customers, you may be able to offer little or no cash compensation, but provide an appropriate thank you gift along with a meal and refreshments.  Experts advise to plan on paying a greater amount for the participation of highly trained professionals, such as attorneys and doctors.   

Here are a few ideas to spark your creativity.

  • A toy developer could observe and tape kids at a local day care center interacting with a new toy concept.  In this case, permission from the parents would be an absolute necessity.
  • A fitness center could seek information on new programs or customer satisfaction noting priorities between women and men.
  • A grocery store could seek information on a new marketing campaign targeting families of different income levels.
  • A bank could seek customer service information from new customers versus long term customers.
  • A youth organization could try to find out what new programs would appeal to youth at a certain age and distinguishing between inner city and suburban youth.
  • A technology store could research how their products are being used by age and gender.
  • A title company could research an idea for a new service based on residential versus commercial realtors.
  • A school district could question how technology impacts teachers and students in the classroom.
  • A business or organization could use the format informally to meet with employees about various topics, such as benefits, organizational issues.

Experts on the women’s market state that various forms of focus groups can be very useful when collecting information from women since they like to share stories in great detail and often relate products and services to people and lifestyle. 

Focus groups differ from town meetings, brainstorming sessions and study circles as the former have a clear plan and utilize a controlled process with greater structure, along with the fact that participants are selected based on characteristics they share.  Impractical uses of focus groups are trying to build consensus or educating a market segment. 

If you would like to visit about the various methods for obtaining customer information, please contact us at 817-488-2761 or email kate1@kgbmarketing@verizon.net.  We’ll be delighted to meet with you! 

Nine Common Small Business Marketing Mistakes

You’ll find a variety of common marketing mistakes’ lists on the Internet.  But I thought it might be helpful to present these issues in reference to the stages of the sales cycle that I’m defining as: 

  1. Prospecting, trying to build a list of contacts or “filling the pipeline.”  This phase includes networking and non-personal promotional activities such as advertising.
  2. Following up with prospects / contacts.
  3. Turning prospects / contacts into presentations.
  4. Converting presentations into sales.

Additionally, I’ve also provided a few questions and suggestions to help address these common mistakes.   

First, not taking or making the time to clearly define and promote your benefits.  As an example, you may be talking about the features and advantages of your product, instead of focusing on what the purchaser needs and how your product or service will benefit them.   

Potential benefits may be saving time, saving money, increasing revenue, simplifying a process, or saving a life. This of course can also apply to staff at a retail store.  Are they trained to state benefits prior to features and advantages?  Do your advertisements promote benefits? 

Second, not focusing on the correct target market.  Have you taken the necessary steps to identify your target market to know who really needs your product at this point in time or in the near future?  Do you know where they live?  Do you know what they read, listen to or watch?   

What information do you have about existing customers that can be researched for answers?  If you’re starting a business, what industry information can you obtain about your competitors and their customers’ needs? 

Third, not being able to succinctly state what he or she does.  When you’re meeting new people, this core message is called an “elevator speech” or USP, unique selling proposition.   No matter what you call it, you want to tell people how you solve problems, such as helping small businesses fix their computer problems, or helping people maintain a healthy lifestyle.  This statement encourages them to ask for more information, instead of just stating “Oh that’s interesting” when you tell them you’re a computer repair specialist or a fitness instructor.   

Fourth, if you have a website, not providing enough information to generate leads.  Does it clearly state benefits and provide testimonials and examples?  Have a few non-vested people look at your website to obtain objective input about the design, content, colors, ease of using, etc.  Websites can be interactive to sell, handle customer service and/or accounting issues, or they can be just an informational site. 

Fifth, not using an effective contact database system.  Have you established a system to routinely update your database with new contact information?  Are you keeping track of enough information to ask additional qualifying questions?  

One expert recommends the use of index cards for maintaining contact information only if you have less than three hundred contacts.   Perhaps you might benefit from asking patrons to fill out a card when visiting your store or leave their business card. 

Sixth, not adequately listening. Remember, based on customer service research conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Institute, the number one thing people want from someone they do business with is to be listened to!   

Do you focus on what the prospects are telling you in terms of their needs?  Your business may not be able to help them solve a big problem, but you might know someone who can.  Personally, I think of this follow-up stage as the time to develop meaningful relationships.  

This also applies to retail staff.  Do they have adequate information about the various products sold in the store, where they are located, or how to obtain service and installation? 

Seventh, not following up with enough contacts.  What type of item or contact would be useful to your business and fit your style.  Should you write a monthly or quarterly newsletter?  Should you send out postcards with helpful information?  Are phone calls the best option for your industry? 

Eighth, not identifying meaningful solutions.  Have you clearly understood the need or the urgency of the prospect’s situation?  Are you adequately answering their questions, or are you providing a cookie cutter response?  Are you talking too much during the presentation?  Are you showing enough examples of your work, providing enough references or sharing enough testimonials?   

Ninth, not adequately preparing for presentations.  What type of feedback have you received about your written and verbal skills?  Are you comfortable with public speaking if that is an essential part of your presentation?  Should you consider taking some type of class or joining a group that provides public speaking opportunities?  Can you honestly say you know your material well enough that you’re flexible to address all of or the majority of issues that might surface during a presentation? 

This list does not address the importance of focusing on repeat customers and the six marketing fundamentals for all businesses posted under the Strategy category on April 16, 2007. 

If you would like to discuss solutions to these and other marketing problems that you may be encountering, please contact us at 817-488-2761 or kate1@kgbmarketing@verizon.net