Times have changed.

In the past, brand promises and marketing campaigns provided companies the first point of contact with potential customers and prospects. But in an age ruled by social media and instant communication, those same prospects are turning to peers for help in forming their first impression. This leaves marketers no choice but to adjust their strategy and let their customers speak for them.

But with new strategy comes new challenges. For example, if you're a small business with limited resources, how do you keep tabs on these customer conversations? And how do you conduct damage control when dealing with a dissatisfied customer?

I spoke recently with Hanna Oeljeschlaeger, Marketing Specialist for HubSpot.  Hanna manages social media channels as well as the Blog for the DACH Region.

She shared some interesting insights and strategies for the digital age of marketing.

There's been a lot of talk lately about "Generation Curious". Who is that, exactly?

Hanna:  "Generation Curious" symbolizes the typical, modern consumer. That consumer is characterized first and foremost by a strong interest in and solid understanding of technology.

Generation Curious has the ability to retrieve information about a company, brand or product at anytime from anywhere. With social platforms and online review websites, peer to peer communication about brands and products has exploded. The problem is, marketers and brand ambassadors often struggle even to discover these conversations, let alone influence them.

So how do you make sure you're leaving a positive impression?

Hanna: Essentially, it boils down to cutting through the noise. Even with all of the changes in how people communicate, the basic formula remains the same: You've got to know your target customer, personalize their experience to the extent possible, and keep them satisfied. Of course, the challenge is to do that at scale.

I recommend the following strategy:

1. Identify your brand image

By tracking positive and negative mentions about your brand across the web, you get an idea of where you stand in the market. By analyzing this data, you can identify your strengths and weaknesses from the consumer perspective, compare your products or services to those of your competitors, and develop ideas for improvements.

I recommend dividing this step into two parts: social content and web content. I use Social Mention for brand tracking, as well as to keep tabs on the most industry-relevant keywords. Digimind's another great tool. It provides an extremely rich data set that can help guide your decision making.

2.  Start your own conversation.

The next step is to work on direct engagement with your customer. Showing your audience that you actually care about their opinions and listen to their feedback not only promotes a great brand image, it builds loyalty.

The changed mindset of Generation Curious, which many brands still fail to understand, is that consumers will increasingly talk about your brand, whether you like it or not. Networks like "Booking.com" and "Yelp.com" are booming. Forbes recently reported that 33% of consumers consult online forums for feedback prior to any product purchase.

The key is to be transparent: You want to encourage this feedback. Instead of being afraid of consumer opinions, rumors and reviews, online brands should openly ask for them. The great thing is, you can use the same channels your customers are using to start the conversation. Eventually, customers will begin to see your company, not as a distant brand, but as real people behind that brand.

Of course, if certain customers are dissatisfied, your job is to fix that. At first glance, this may seem difficult to scale. But wise investment of resources will pay off in the long run.

For example, you might want to hire a person whose main task it is to manage your social media accounts. If this seems like a large investment to you, remember that you're not just dealing with single customers; you're also showing other current (and potential) customers how much you value the individual. Monitoring the social media channels of your target audience gives you the opportunity to detect and react to customer feedback in a timely manner, preventing bad reviews from turning into a grapevine (or worse). 

Additionally, this direct interaction allows you to actively engage with consumer questions as well as (bad) reviews around your brand. No review is as bad for your image as an unanswered question, let alone a complaint.

3.  Think like a consumer

In addition to responding to customer concerns, you need to be able to identify and address issues ahead of time. One way to do this is by developing "Personas".

Marketing personas aren't single users; rather, they're a representation of the goals and behaviors of a group of users. Each persona covers a different segment of your target group, and through the development of these personas, you'll grow to understand the pain points and challenges of your target audience.

One example we use at HubSpot is "Marketing Mary", whose profile is presented below.

In addition to identifying pain points, personas help you to discern what makes consumers spread the word. Ask yourself: Why should my Persona feel the desire to share this message?

Imagine the value in a message that inherently inspires your audience to share with their peers.

Keep adapting

At first glance, the rise of social sharing seems to present insurmountable obstacles when it comes to marketing. But a closer look reveals new opportunities to establish deep and loyal relationships between your brand and your customers.

 

Published on: Nov 20, 2015
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