If you think your small business is at a disadvantage in reaching a targeting audience compared to corporations with big advertising budgets, you're wrong.
During her National Small Business Week keynote address at the Microsoft Center in Boston on Thursday, Gail Goodman, CEO of marketing firm Constant Contact, said that large companies only wish they had the marketing advantages of a small business. Instead of spending thousands of dollars to find out who their customers are and whether or not they are engaged in meaningful experiences while they are shopping at a big box store, she said, small business owners just have to open up their shop and talk to the customers who come in regularly.
"You are naturally, unbelievably close to your customers," Goodman said. "You don't need focus groups and national research, you talk to them every day. That is easy to translate into revenue growth and more business."
Below, find out the specific advantages Goodman says small businesses have, and how to use them to increase customers and sales.
Ability to create a meaningful experience
Goodman said small business owners' first advantage is possessing "the ability to create a meaningful experience, a wow experience. Think about rising above the ordinary in small ways that delight your customer." She added: "The sad truth is that the customer experience bar is low and small businesses can easily rise above that without it being expensive. It just needs to be real. It's all about bringing a smile to the face of your customer."
Everybody knows your name
Big businesses have to work hard to relate to customers on a local level. But as a small businessperson, you may know your neighbors, customers, and other community members by name. "The second advantage is that you're connected with the community, with the person who owns the store next to you, and to your chamber of commerce. You can work together to build your business, learn, and grow," Goodman said. Your repeat customers become your friends and you can build relationships easily. Your store can become a staple in the community and repeat business will become easy to get.
You know your market
This intimacy with your customers and community means you will become familiar with your market quickly and easily. "The third advantage is that you have a real ability to know your market. Your market is in front of you every day--you don't need research," Goodman said. "You have a new idea, just ask the next three customers who come through the door and see what they think. Talk to people, test, but testing can be done in such a natural and easy way."
The view of the customer experience
Unlike a big company, you can watch customers' reactions when they enter your place of business. "The final advantage you have is that you can see your entire customer experience. You don't need a secret shopper--or undercover CEO--to understand what's happening today in your business, what's delighting your customers, where are the challenges, where the opportunities are to create that great experience. And it's these real relationships that make easier marketing."
Now that you are aware of your business' advantages, it's easy to implement a cheap, effective marketing strategy.
You need to ask your customers to stay connected via email and social media, Goodman said in her speech. "Once you've created that great wow experience, ask: 'Would like you to join our mailing list? We do great industry updates. Follow me on Facebook, fan me, LinkedIn to me,'" she said. "You don't have to do all of them, but pick one or two and ask your customers to stay connected. It has the most consistent reach and ability to deliver the message."
Small business owners actually know what to say to their customers because they talk to them in person every day. So creating an effective social media strategy is all about using that knowledge and being confident enough to put it online. "With the mobile experience taking off, you need to keep it short: a picture, a paragraph, and a call to action," Goodman said. "Once you get started, your business will inspire other ideas. A customer asks a common question, now you can put together a Q&A post. The holidays are coming up, put together great gift ideas for Father's Day. Your business has a constant flow of obvious things to say and you don't need to be a copywriter. You just need to know how to talk to your customers. Once you start, things will flow."
Continue to leave breadcrumbs
Once you get in a social media groove, don't stop. Continue to post every day and make sure your business can be found on Google, Bing, Yelp, and all the social media platforms you're comfortable with. Just be real and genuine, because these are customers you see all the time. "Real relationships, talking to your customer, what does that do? That really begins to drive your business," Goodman said. "People start to see that and they follow a breadcrumb trail back to your business."
Dig deeper into your contacts
Once you have a good network of customers, reach into their networks. If you run an outdoor sports store and have a network of hikers and mountain climbers, chances are their individual networks are composed of people just like them. "Your customers' social network is your best next prospect. The mantra is "targeted, targeted, targeted"--you want a targeted, relevant audience," Goodman said. "There is nobody more targeted and relevant than your current customers' family, friends, and colleagues. They are geographically and economically targeted."