As a business consultant, I often have to remind small-business owners that their marketing needs to be more interactive, versus the traditional "push" model, where you broadcast your message to as many people as possible.
It started a few years ago with email satisfaction surveys after an online purchase, but now includes interactive internet ads, as well as custom requests for input on the design of future products and influencers on social media. It seems that everyone these days wants an experience and a relationship, and is willing to become your best advocate via word of mouth.
Some call it a move from always "hunting" for new customers in the wild to "gardening," or nurturing loyalty and value from the ones you already have.
In any case, the new approach is important to all businesses, and embodies some new marketing rules that you need to focus on and learn:
1. Make your marketing exploratory and dynamic.
The days of big-bang long-term campaigns that never change are over. You should be constantly trying new approaches via social media and online, and asking for feedback and input from influencers and customers. Scale quickly on good feedback, and move on if you get little engagement.
A step in the right direction is to take advantage of the new tools available at very low cost, including sponsored podcasts, blogs, visibility in online communities, and Twitter influencer support. Sometimes it's as simple as updating your website format and videos.
2. Use experiments versus designing the ideal ad.
Trends and customer interests change quickly, so use small experiments to find something that works today, and use innovation to push the envelope, before your competitors can copy and overrun you. The key is to be able to measure your return, adapt quickly, and learn from your efforts.
According to the Harvard Business Review, e-commerce companies that conducted ad experiments saw 2 to 3 percent better performance per experiment run. An advertiser that ran 15 experiments in a given year saw a 30 percent higher ad performance.
3. Motivate customers to participate and engage.
Reward customers for their advocacy and engagement with discounts and coupons, keep the interaction dynamic, and encourage their return. This requires a sense of urgency on the part of your team, and a culture of accountability and focus on the customer. Marketing must be everyone's top priority.
For example, Dunkin' Donuts did this through a photo contest, rewarding discounts to those who submitted a photo with the brand's handle and hashtag. Other companies highlight live experience and happy videos, submitted by customers, on their website and promotions.
4. Partner with others to create blended offerings.
A very successful marketing effort created by a restaurant near me during the pandemic offered a carryout from multiple sources--to combine flowers with food and drinks, all from different establishments, packaged creatively together. Everybody wins, and it spread quickly on social media.
People remember and endorse you as the primary brand that created the blended offering, as well as the other "endorsed" brands. The hybrid approach is also effective as an experiment if you are exploring ways to expand your own brand into new segments.
5. Market solutions as an experience or an event.
Advertising more features, or even a lower price, is not as memorable to customers today as a great experience or a unique event. These may be live or immersive online experiences. Use social media to build anticipation and highlight successes, to get people talking and coming back for more.
The message here is that big blockbuster campaigns and big marketing budgets are no longer the key to results in the new customer environment, where participation and relationships are key.
Now is the time to ask your customers and partners for participative ideas, do some experiments, and scale up the ones that work. Be prepared to make frequent updates as trends change.
Marketing is no longer a one-way conversation, whether you are a startup or a legacy business. How long has it been since you changed your marketing strategy? Are your costs going up and the returns going down?
Try listening and learning, more than talking and pushing.