In the Internet age, businesses no longer need to focus on "pushing" marketing information to potential customers. But they had better know how to make sure that customers can "pull" information about their company from the Web.
Consumers are being bombarded with so much advertising today, from TV commercials to e-mails to logos on coffee cups and pizza boxes. People are kind of overwhelmed. So when they want information, they go out and get it themselves -- "pulling" it.
"I don't think push marketing is going away," says Gary Chen, an analyst for the Yankee Group, of Boston, who specializes in the small and mid-sized business market, "but you're going to see a lot more pull."
Rather than accepting what's being pitched to them, consumers are going out and finding information themselves. They'll go out and look for comparative information on other products and services. A recent report, the second installment of the Intuit Future of Small Business Report, sponsored by Intuit and authored by the Institute for the Future, argues that technology will transform the small business sector. Key for customer acquisition will be the online presence. Here's what you need to know to make your company's presence online work for you:
Join the conversation
Accountants have done this for years, says Brad Smith, senior vice president and general manger of Intuit's Small Business Division, taking their expertise on the road, offering advice with the goal of people being so impressed that they hire them. Take a page from their book and go to the (virtual) communities where these conversations are happening. Show up and give advice for free. Say someone has a question about a particular topic that's in your field, go on there, and say, "I have a small business that does that. Here is what you need to know..."
If all goes well, the group will consider you an expert in your field. And, of course that impression will extend past the particular group, thanks to search engines and connectedness of the Internet.
Forrester Research has deemed this such an important form of marketing for businesses that they produced a report aptly titled, "Marketing's New Key Metric: Engagement." Author and analyst Brian Haven writes, "Once engagement takes hold of marketing, marketing messages will become conversations, and dollars will shift from media buying to customer understanding."
Enter a virtual world
Virtual world sites, like There.com and Second Life are great places for small business owners. "It's a good place to find out what's resonating," Smith says. You can get on there and, through trial and error, determine the right pricing for items and test new products. People in the virtual worlds, also have lives in the physical world where they may remember your business and spend real money.
You've got a reputation to protect
Just like in high school, reputation is everything. "It's the number one way that people select a small business," says Smith. People are talking around you whether you know it not. Better to know what they're thinking. Go to chat rooms and find out what customers are saying and figure out what it is that you have to improve.
In short, as the "Intuit Future of Small Business Report," succinctly puts it: "It's all about providing customers and prospects with the right information in the right context at the right time."