I have spent the past 10 years of my life as a marketer. In this time I have promoted tourism, fortune 500 companies, government both state and national, non-profit organizations and foreign companies. Some would say I am well rounded, others think I am fragmented. Regardless of your personal opinion of me, in order to work with that wide of a range you must develop an overarching theoretical base and then find ways to apply that to changing situations in order to be successful.
I have discovered that any marketer who comes out saying they have created a magic solution to address all situations is probably lying to you, for starters those guys would already be C level for a top 5 company if they did. So please do not think I am that person. Rather I think good marketer pulls together a mixture of observation, existing theoretical research and a healthy dose of common sense to build their own personal philosophy.
I believe in what I like to call relational marketing. I believe that, in a marketing saturated world, customers want a company who focuses more on them than selling the product. As a result my approach is building and maintaining positive relationships with customers. This takes time and effort but organically sales will flow out of this type of strategy and dramatically increase the likelihood for repeat customers, which is honestly the holy grail of sales. This has continued to grow as I have studied relational communication at a graduate level, which has had a profound impact on my philosophy.
Making it work
With this as a base, applying this philosophy across various marketing situations is highly possible. You begin with identifying a core, influential audience and what medium is best to maintain a two-way dialogue. You encourage communication that is both informative and engaging for both sides. You want to learn from your customers about their needs, desires, and complaints and you try to acknowledge and incorporate those messages back to them in your response. Notice in this the listening comes first. Yes you must reach out to encourage communication, but you always listen before taking action.
The main complication is finding the correct communication medium. For small audiences this is fairly easy, you can engage efficiently in one-to-one communication. This worked great for me in state and non-profit marketing, the target audience of influencers is few and receptive to communication. Not so much with others.
The social aspect
On a larger level however things get a bit more complicated, you have to manage potentially thousands of customers. This is where a social marketing strategy comes in. By this I do not always mean Twitter, Facebook and similar mediums. The strategy must fit the customer base, if that is Twitter then by all means use Twitter, but you must find a way to interact with customers as close to where they are as possible.
A case study
Previously I worked for a company who served as the link between a major satellite company and their local installers and service people. Through this link we provided installation supplies, installation guides, and marketing material to generate local sales. Our core influential audience was the local installation company owners, with the installers themselves and the customers of the satellite company as secondary audiences.
When I came on board our company mailed out 4 times a year a catalogue of installation parts. To order those parts or obtain installation material they had to call back into our company and place their request. Similarly when they were running local marketing campaigns they needed to call a different department, put in the request, and then call again to report the results of the campaigns so that they could be relayed back to the satellite companies marketing division. As you can imagine this whole process was extremely expensive, uncontrolled, and ineffective. The workers were over worked trying to manage it all and the customers felt no love because workers were measured on how quickly they could handle a call and move on to the next.
Doing what I was hired to do
I was brought on to develop a strategy for customers to handle all of this from one single source. The customers had to order parts, request material and managed ads. In the company’s mind if I could create this it would solve all the problems. The company was seeing a steady decline in customers over the previous 4 years. I went to work developing a two-part approach to solving the problem. I created a portal system that would allow customers to access the materials without having to request and manage, track and report all advertising. Tied in with that using a universal login was an ecommerce system that users could order and also pull installation material from the portal if needed.
In no time the vast majority of customers willingly switched to the new easier to use system. However I saw something alarming, the rate at which the company was losing customers remained rose even more. It was this relationship aspect that was missing. After some research the customers were not engaged in social media, did not respond well to email, or any other traditional interaction method. I pulled in the director of customer service and begin to devise an interaction strategy to meet the customers where they were. We had created this platform that funneled them all into one centralized place, why not use that to build relationships with the customers.
Fixing the problem
I went back and built in interaction points throughout the process encouraging feedback, questions or suggestions. Incredibly customers began using these tools. After a few months we started seeing the rate that customers were leaving begin to level off and eventually disappear. Even more important we started seeing sales creep up, even in the middle of the largest recession of my lifetime. Customers became happier and began using us for all of their supplies. Then they began telling others in the industry.
This is just one example of how this type of strategy works. There is no magic bullet, sorry to tell you. By taking a core principle such as building positive relationships however and finding ways to apply it to a situation you can be successful. This requires buy in from all levels of an organization however. Just as I can tell this positive story I can tell another story of trying to do this without the rest of the organization buying in and it failed miserably. The company saw profits fall 200% from the year before I started the strategy. Customers on one level felt cared for and on the other felt ignored and in frustration gave up and went somewhere else.
The point is that your customers will care about you only as much as you care about them. This is a constant ongoing action that you must work at each and every day. If not you come across as greedy and sleazy, which if that happens you need to talk to me about image restoration. Love your customers every day and they will love you back. That is your magic marketing bullet.