Q What's the most cost-efficient way to market your company when you can't count on having repeat business?
Bainbridge Island, Washington
If yours is the type of company that doesn't get repeat customers, you have to have a love affair with each customer you serve, because you need her to recommend you to her friends. Your most important marketing tool is the customer experience. It should feel like a relationship, not a transaction.
Make yourself accessible: I put my e-mail address--the one my husband and children use--on our website. I'm also copied on all the e-mails sent to customer service, and I'll often jump in and answer them before our manager does.
If someone has a bad experience, you need to turn that around. We take our clothing back even if it's past the date our return policy allows and even if it looks worn. When I get an angry letter, I write back and offer to shop with the letter writer myself or give her a discount. People think their letters are going to disappear into some big company, so if you respond personally, they'll be shocked and delighted--and they'll tell their friends.
It also helps to create brand awareness. Your brand should be what comes to mind when people think of your industry. If you can't afford advertising, focus on getting media coverage. I was an editor at Vogue for years, but I'm still amazed by the power of the press. I dressed Cindy Crawford when she was pregnant eight years ago, and I'm still associated with that.
Getting celebrity placements is probably easier than you think. Every celebrity is surrounded by publicists, managers, and assistants--and you can often use Google to find out how to contact them. Sometimes it means giving away something for free, but you can also offer a discount or personalized service--whatever makes their lives easier. Then pick up the phone and pitch every magazine that your customers read. The editor might not use the celebrity angle, but you'll have a better chance of getting press.
This strategy was perfect for maternity clothes because no designers were dressing pregnant celebrities when I started in 1997, but I think the same principle can work in any business. If I were in the air conditioner business I'd want it known that I sold to so-and-so. Celebrities truly influence what people buy.
Designer Liz Lange's maternity clothing is sold in Target (NYSE:TGT) and at her boutiques in New York City and Los Angeles.