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Why Live Chat is a Powerful Sales Tool

It is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Sunir Shah – Enjoy! 

As you read this article, potential customers are browsing your website, looking to buy something from you. Lost, confused, skittish, they will abandon your site before buying anything.

If only you had talked to them in time.

If you still think live chat is just for technical support, you’re in the wrong decade. As your ever present salesperson on every page of your website, the new live chat finally gives online companies that shop floor presence the average customer needs before buying.

What live chat has become

bonobosWhen I say live chat, I’m talking about the chat tab in the corner of websites like BonobosHipmunk, and Birchbox.

I’m talking about live chat that is immediate and personable, where real humans answer questions and provide helpful, actionable information. The kind of live chat that provides you with direct, one-on-one conversations with customers.

It’s no surprise that a study conducted by Shopify showed that chatting customers were 3 times more likely to become return shoppers and had 48% larger order sizes.

Why Live Chat Improves Sales

A customer clicking through from search or advertising is not a loyal customer. They just want to know, ‘What’s in it for me?’

Live chat gives you a chance to show you’re more than a landing page by being there, answering their questions, and If you’re not online to answer that question for them, customers will move on to the next website that can.

By simply initiating a chat, a customer instantly qualifies themselves as a lead.  That one-on-one interaction gives you the opportunity to answer a question or solve a problem that converts them from ‘lead’ to ‘customer.’

More importantly, you get the chance to delight them with an amazing experience that might win you a future and returning customer.

How to rock live chat

Be available. If you’re going to do live chat, you need to staff it. Not answering an incoming chat is worse than not answering the phone. It’s gives customers the same feeling as when walking into a store and not being able to find a salesperson.

Make it snappy. Customers expect immediacy, so aim to respond to their first message in under 30 seconds. A few seconds more and they could be on to the next store. Even a simple hello will get the conversation started.

Make it human. Fire the robots. Burn the scripts. Let your staff be natural when they’re helping customers. Like this Netflix customer support rep who managed to delight the customer with a deep knowledge of science fiction programming. This is a chance to build a relationship with your next loyal customer.

Prepare your team to sell. Train your staff to know solutions for common problems and problems the customer hasn’t yet considered. Ideally your operators are good listeners and strong critical thinkers, able to solve immediate problems and anticipate future needs based on conversation context. Share transcripts of good and bad chats to show your team what works and doesn’t.

Practice starting chats. The beauty of live chat is you can see who’s on your site and what pages they’re viewing. You can initiate a sales conversation by posing a targeted sales opener. For instance, if they are looking at bikes, “Hey, we have a big selection of mountain bikes. I can help you find the right one. Are you staying near the city or going offroad?

Close the sale. You can lose a lot of sales at order and fulfillment, either from customers who lose faith in the purchase, don’t trust you, or are having problems. Set an automated rule to initiate a chat for any customer that hesitates on checkout, such as “Hey, want to know more about our money back guarantee?”

Big Finish

There are tens of thousands of companies just like you using live chat for sales. Like Farms Technology, LLC, which uses it to approach sometimes introverted farmers with useful product information. Or WhoIsHostingThis.com who uses live chat to establish trust and build a rapport to boost sales.

Live chat is a powerful, if not the most powerful, sales tool you have. It’s the only tool that lets you talk to customers while they are shopping on your website.

It’s immediate, helpful, human and more like a real world sales experience than any other online channel.

‘Carpe Chatem’ – seize the opportunity in each conversation to win a customer and close more sales.

 

Sunir 1Sunir Shah is a marketer, developer and startup guy who loves making the Internet a more glorious place. Currently he’s the Chief Marketing Olarker at Olark live chat where he spends his days winning markets through engineering and his nights losing Settlers of Catan.

 

The Power of Video Throughout the Customer Journey

It is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Brad Jefferson – Enjoy! 

The business benefits of video for brand discovery, web traffic and customer engagement have been widely documented over the years. But do people really find videos helpful in making purchasing decisions? In a recent survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults, we learned that videos created by businesses really do help people make more confident shopping decisions and feel more connected to a brand. A whopping 96 percent of all respondents said they find video helpful when making purchase decisions online, and 73 percent said they are more likely to purchase a product after watching a marketing video. These are pretty convincing reasons to invest in video!

SMB Survey Infographic

photo credit: Animoto

 

Before you dash off to the scripting table, it’s important to understand that not all videos are created equal. Videos play different roles throughout each phase of the customer lifecycle, and the best approach is to create videos that are useful for each situation.

Stage 1: Drawing them in

At the acquisition phase, first impression is everything — and video can be the most personal and engaging way to reel in customers. The visual and storytelling nature of video lends itself to engaging prospects in a way that evokes emotion, reminds them of a need or desire, or teaches them something new.

The survey revealed that 64 percent of consumers find it helpful to watch videos to learn more about the company they’ll purchase from. Whether it’s a funny video that’s low on branding but likely to be shared, or an informative video introducing your business, products or services, make sure it’s easy to find and not too long. Eighty-three percent of consumers we surveyed said the ideal length of a video to inform a purchase decision is five minutes or less. Post video on your homepage as well as Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo. Include a call to action at the end, such as an invitation to visit your website, so viewers know where to go to learn more.

Stage 2: Inspiring action

After hooking the prospect, you need to inspire action. Videos can play a big role in converting sales since they provide a quick and simple way to bring a product to life and turn a prospect into a paying customer. Ninety-five percent of consumers surveyed said they find video helpful in researching a product before they buy, and 93 percent find video useful when comparison shopping.

Videos at this stage should include product features and use cases in greater depth, as the prospect is looking to understand your offering better. A good place to start is with simple informational videos, or if you have a tangible product, a 360-degree view video. Sixty-seven percent of consumers surveyed said they watched an instructional video in the past six months , and 57 percent watched a product or service demonstration in the same time frame.

Brief customer testimonials explaining the problem your product or service solves can also give the prospect the connection they need to feel compelled to purchase. If you’re selling professional services, consider giving people a behind-the-scenes look at the people running your business so prospects build a personal connection to your team.

Stage 3: Building loyalty

It’s imperative to keep communications strong after purchase to earn loyal customers who will spread the word about your business to their own networks. Video can be a great post-purchase touch point. Ninety-three percent of consumers surveyed said that instructional videos related to products they have already purchased are useful. They are also likely to seek more video from a brand after an initial purchase; in fact, 87 percent of consumers find video helpful for researching additional items from the same company.

When done well, videos can make people feel a strong connection to your brand. Seventy-seven percent of consumers consider companies that produce online videos to be more engaged with their customers, and 71 percent agree that videos created by companies leave them with a positive impression of the company, brand or product.

With increased loyalty and brand affinity comes the powerful strength of word of mouth. Because online videos are so easy to share, they are a great way to raise brand visibility and bring the customer lifecycle full-circle. Eighty-nine percent of consumers surveyed said they are likely to share video if they consider it educational, 86 percent will share if there’s an incentive (e.g., a promotion or discount), and 80 percent are more likely to share if there’s a “share” button included.

Get started

Video has been an incredibly powerful marketing tool for quite some time now. Yet only recently has it become a tool that’s accessible for marketers and businesses of all sizes with clear benefits to both customers and businesses. If you haven’t discovered video for yourself, there’s no better time than now to get started.

About Brad Jefferson, CEO and co-founder, Animoto

Brad JeffersonAs founding CEO of Animoto, Brad leads the charge in driving Animoto to be the global standard for automated video creation. Prior to co-founding Animoto in August 2006, Brad spent eight years with Onyx Software, an enterprise software company. At Onyx, he was Director of Sales Operations and managed the national team of sales engineers. Previously, Brad managed Onyx’s Professional Services team and customer base in the western US. Through Brad’s career at Onyx he saw the company grow from a 17-person start-up to an 800-person public company, and eventually an acquisition. Brad graduated from Dartmouth College and currently resides in Oakland, California, with his wife and their two children, both of whom are stars of his frequent Animoto video creations.

 

Why It Might Be Time to Start Taking Gifs Seriously

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Danny Groner – Enjoy!

Gif Images

Photo credit: shutterstock

You’re probably familiar with gifs. You see them in stray articles on social-media-minded sites like BuzzFeed. They are playful and lighthearted. And when you’re in the mood for that, they can really hit home. But as the lines between entertainment and marketing continue to blur, the techniques for one are starting to find their way into the other. After all, what works, works. All kinds of experimental native advertising are popping up in unexpected places.

Right now, we’re living through a time of transition and exploration that may frighten some but excite others. Gifs are the natural next area for small business owners and marketers to conquer. There are a number of different ways to incorporate them into your materials and your website. For example, some companies, on the About Us pages of their sites, are going in a slightly different route than the traditional one. Take a look at what your competitors and other companies have written in that space; these pages are full of unthoughtful writing and wasted space. Plus, many are chock full of professional-sounding jargon that doesn’t mean much of anything.

Now, consider what others are saying about themselves, their companies, and their approaches to customer service with the inclusion of some motion graphics and gifs. They are giving off the clear impression that they’re digitally-savvy and in touch with modern trends. Instead of a picture of their employees sitting together and smiling, they have gifs showing them hanging out and having fun. Pictures don’t deliver the same punch that gifs can.

But that’s just a small opening. There are bigger and better ways to make a solid impression through gifs. Content marketing, the hottest form of marketing this day and age, is pretty much whatever you make of it. It’s so open-ended by design that you can put your own staple on your projects. But this isn’t as simple as just turning a photo into a rotating series of them.

You’ll want to start with a brainstorm about what your customers expect from you and how content marketing can add value to their experience with your company. What’s most important to remember, though, is that people have preconceptions about what gifs are and what they do. They fall into the sillier side of the marketing you’ll do, and there’s room to maneuver there without sullying the service you offer. Once you have identified the direction you want to go in, and what emotion the content is aiming to evoke (happiness or something else), you can get started with the content creation.

Content marketing can be shared on social media, or it can exist for social media. With the advent of and addition of Vine and Instagram video to your social media repertoire, you can try things out. These platforms are built along similar lines as gifs, which you can use to your advantage. If someone on your staff has a good idea, let them test it out on Instagram and see how it resonates with your audience. Then take what you see is working and apply the methods and messages elsewhere.

Everything you do for digital marketing should convey a certain consistency of your brand. Start by thinking like a consumer and what he or she is interested in when not at work. Appeal to that sentiment. Every company is trying to show consumers that they are similar to them. Gifs can help you get there fast.

Danny GronerDanny Groner is the manager of blogger partnerships and outreach for Shutterstock. He encourages everyone to consider how they achieve visual storytelling in the age of desktop editing and publishing.

 

 

How to Leverage Phone Conversations with Customers

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is Jeanne Landau – Enjoy!

Agents

photo credit: mycallfinder.com

It is estimated that U.S. businesses experience an annual loss of $83 billion simply because they provided bad customer service (or really, they didn’t provide ‘customer service’ at all). This number is staggering. Of course, people want good service, they are paying for it after all, and with U.S. consumers becoming more sophisticated and knowledgeable every day, they are expecting more, or else they are going somewhere else to get it.

On a more positive note, research also shows that 66% of consumers are willing to spend more with a company that they believe provides excellent customer service.

These are important statistics to keep in mind as more companies are developing a proactive customer experience strategy and implementing programs and tools to ensure they aren’t losing revenue due to a lack of respect for their customers.

Reducing lost revenue and increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty is attainable, but first a company needs to know where they stand on the customer satisfaction continuum, and then take action and make departmental and operational changes to improve the experience they deliver.

Every Department Has an Effect on Customer Satisfaction

The company-customer relationship is certainly not a simple one. Businesses often have multiple touch points with the customer, which occur across several departments, including sales and customer service.

Often call monitoring and quality assurance is thought of as relevant only to the contact center operations, or customer service department. However, responsibility of the customer experience flows though all areas of a business; from sales and marketing, to customer service, even accounting, and IT (think phone trees, websites, etc.).

Analyzing the Voice of Your Customers Leads to a Better Customer Experience

Audio WavesOnly the people that are using products and services every day, and working with customer service agents, can provide the most accurate insights on how well a company is doing at providing great experiences, while also providing the data necessary for companies to evaluate their customer service workforce and their performance.

So, how do they capture the golden nuggets that customers have to offer during these interactions?

The answer is simple. Since 90% of Americans prefer to handle issues or customer service needs through a live conversation over the phone, having access to the content of those phone conversations is critical.

However, some businesses get hundreds or thousands of calls each day, so managing the listening and data-mining of all recorded calls can be a huge undertaking, and certainly not one to take on manually. The best way to access that content is through the use of advanced technologies that record and mine audio files (the recordings of customer calls) for keywords and phrases. This is where the benefits of audio mining technology make the process manageable by automatically searching call recordings for specific keywords and phrases. This auto-scanning of call content makes categorizing calls based on subject, and reviewing calls for key points of interest much more digestible.

The search terms can be customized for any business, making it relevant and applicable to any size and type of business that wants to monitor calls for quality assurance, script compliance, customer satisfaction, marketing performance and any other business application.

As the topic of the customer experience continues to trend upward, it is increasingly important for companies to develop standards and guidelines to ensure they maintain excellent service standards, and to keep revenues moving in an upwards direction.

Sources:
Greenfield Online, Datamonitor/Ovum and Genesys
American Express 2012 Global Barometer Customer Service Barometer; Findings in the United States

Jeanne LandauJeanne Landau has nine years of experience leading the public relations, social media, and content marketing programs for 800response and CallFinder; delivering telecommunications solutions and marketing technology tools to businesses in North America. CallFinder is an affordable and flexible cloud-based recording and phonetic indexing speech analytics solution that allows businesses to easily record, categorize, and analyze customer conversations to gain business insights and improve the customer experience. CallFinder identifies spoken phrases within call recordings, highlighting calls that cover business challenges like customer satisfaction, workforce training, business and competitive intelligence, script compliance, and more. Contact Jeanne at [email protected] or 1-800-317-8060.

How to Increase Customer Loyalty

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Jill at SurveyAct - Enjoy!

Picture 1

photo credit: SurveyAct

Customer satisfaction is the number one driving force behind developing loyal customers.  Gaining loyal customers is like striking gold!  This group of repeat customers converts easily, spends more, costs less to service and helps spread the word about their positive experiences.  According to data from Marketing Metrics, eConsultancy, and Adobe, loyal customers demonstrate conversion rates 5-9 times greater than first-time customers!

Not only are loyal customers “conversion-friendly” but also have the ability to generate additional business from a slew of new customers.  They are likely to be brand ambassadors and influence others to purchase from your company.  These days, word-of-mouth referrals are more prevalent because consumers are prone to sharing their opinions on public forums and social media websites.  And, did I mention that these referrals are free marketing?

Given this information about loyal customers, repeat customers are worth targeting. The challenge for merchants is earning repeat business. To meet this challenge, you must go directly to the source.

How do you develop more customer loyalty? Through the creation of customer satisfaction surveys!

Creating an anonymous online survey that asks customers to provide honest feedback about your brand will make them feel as though their business is important to you, and serve as a reference for how to increase customer satisfaction by identifying where your business needs attention and improvement.

Where to Start: Choose an online survey tool that is easy-to-use, yet includes advanced reporting methods which you to slice and dice the data you collect in many different ways.

What Types of Questions to Use: To ensure that users complete the full survey, keep most of your questions as easy to answer as possible by making them close-ended with a response rating scale.  For example create questions like:

“How do you feel about the quality of Product Widget?”

  • Extremely Satisfactory
  • Satisfactory
  • Neutral
  • Unsatisfactory
  • Extremely Unsatisfactory

What Should my Questions Address? Ask key questions that address the following key areas of your business:

  • Quality: How do your customers feel about the quality of your product?  Does it need improvement?
  • Customer Service:  Are customers satisfied with the support that they have received?
  • Pricing: Is your pricing competitive in the marketplace?  Does it match up with the quality of goods/services you sell?
  • Competition: How does your brand/product stack up to your competitors?
  • Brand experience:  How was the customer’s overall experience from beginning to end when?  Was the buying process easy and convenient?
  • Brand Perception:  Do your customer’s feel positive about your overall brand?

Lastly, ask at least one open-ended question so that customers can make suggestions that you might not have already though about.  For example:

  • “How can we improve our offerings to best suit your needs?”
Picture-2

photo credit: SurveyAct

As long as your survey tool allows you to break down your analysis into percentages, it should be quick and easy to identify which parts of your business may be under performing.

If you want to delve even deeper into the analytics, filter results based on specific criteria.  Did many people answer that that they were unsatisfied with your pricing but also claim that your product is just as good as your competitors’?  This would be a clear sign that you are missing out on business solely because your competitors are undercutting your pricing. Slash costs and you may be on your way to an increase in volume of sales.

If you have multiple target markets that you’d like to break the data down by, be sure to ask a demographic question (i.e. “What is your gender”?).  When filtering by sex, you may find out that males and females have a difference in opinion about your business. You can then take this information and develop separate campaigns that address the issues of each market.

I’ve Made Changes and Developed Campaigns Addressing Improvements.  Now What?

If customers aren’t aware of your improvements, all of your research and hard work will be for nothing!  Go ahead and shout it from the rooftops.  Announce the changes you’ve made everywhere you can – through social media, your internal newsletter, your blog and if it is news-worthy create a press release and/or pitch it to specific media outlets.

Jill is an established entrepreneur and Marketing Strategist at the newly re-launched online survey tool startup SurveyAct, based in Long Island, NY.  When she is not strategizing and executing marketing plans, she is enjoying vegetarian food, playing tennis or writing poetry.  Feel free to contact her at [email protected] with any questions regarding online surveys, marketing or whatever fits your fancy!

How to Create a Perfect Customer Experience

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is Peter Sandeen – Enjoy!

6907590105_d13ee63982

photo credit: OutofChicago

If you’re not getting the customer referrals or repeat business you hoped for, something’s wrong.

Maybe your product doesn’t deliver the benefits customers expect. Maybe your service doesn’t meet the standards they expect. Or maybe your technical support doesn’t provide the solutions they expect.

Do you see the pattern?

Poor customer experience results when expectations aren’t met.

Your first instinct might be to make improvements to meet those expectations.

But the real problem could be that you’ve created expectations that don’t match your product or service.

Here’s how to create a perfect customer experience.

Control customer expectations

Your marketing foundation is your value proposition—or it should be.

Your value proposition is the collection of the best believable reasons your target customers have for taking the action you’re asking for.

If your value proposition is strong and communicated clearly, you’re setting the right expectations.

And the customer experience will be great.

But not many companies manage to do that consistently. And if you’re not getting the referrals or repeat business you hoped for, the problem probably lies within your value proposition.

Let’s take a look.

Identify the disconnect in your value proposition

Your value proposition can, unfortunately, fail in several ways.

But the problem that affects customer experience the most is inaccuracy.

If you give poor reasons to buy your product or service, people won’t buy. But if you misrepresent your offerings, even unintentionally, people will buy and be disappointed.

Let’s say you operate a party planning business.

You’ve built your value proposition around the idea that you coordinate all planning and organizing so the client doesn’t have to spend any time thinking about it.

It sounds like a natural reason for hiring a party planning company. But it’s inaccurate.

In reality, you need to get details and preferences from the client plus review, discuss, and finalize plans. But because you’ve built your marketing around the wrong idea (“no need to spend any time on planning”), you’ve created unrealistic expectations.

To be accurate, your value proposition and marketing should emphasize “save time on planning” and other reasons for hiring your company.

The difference might seem small, but many companies don’t consider the details. And because of those small, seemingly unimportant mistakes, the customer experience will be far from perfect.

But even if your value proposition is solid, you’re not in the clear yet.

Communicate your value proposition clearly

Using the party planning example, let’s say your value proposition is already in good shape. But inaccurate expectations might still cause problems without clear customer communication.

People hear what they want to hear.

If they’re hoping you’ll handle every time-consuming task required to throw a party, they’re likely to read between the lines and believe you’ll do that.

That’s why you need to be very clear and consistent about what the client will get.

You might worry you’ll look mediocre if you’re too specific and don’t make big claims. But with a strong value proposition, you can still be the best choice by promising—and delivering—a truly outstanding experience.

Set accurate expectations combined with high value

The trick is to emphasize the “secondary” reasons for choosing you.

If the primary benefit of your service is saving time, maybe one of the secondary benefits is a truly memorable party.

Then, even if clients interpret “save time” differently, you can remind them of the other reason they chose you: “To make the party truly memorable, we need to spend some time evaluating the best options for your situation.”

Setting accurate expectations combined with high value is the key, but that’s possible only when you know your value proposition.

When you have a strong value proposition, you can build an effective marketing strategy around it and create a “perfect” customer experience.

Have you been disappointed by a purchase? What expectations weren’t met?

PeterSandeen-gravatar-smallRight now, Peter Sandeen is probably sailing with his wife and dogs while the weather is still warm (he lives in Finland). But you can download the 5-step system for finding the core of your value proposition quickly, so you’ll know what people need to hear to join your list, buy your products, or hire you.

10 Tips To Help You Build A Successful Small Business Brand

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Ross Kimbarovsky   – Enjoy!

A brand is the sum total of the experiences your customers and potential customers have with your company. A strong brand communicates what your company does, how it does it, and at the same time, establishes trust and credibility. Your brand lives in everyday interactions with your customers, the images you share, the messages you post on your website, the content of your marketing materials, and in your posts on social networks.

How can a small business develop a strong brand on a tiny budget? Here are 10 tips to help you get started:

1. Be unique. One of the most iconic brands of our time – Apple – was reborn after it launched, in 1997, an innovative campaign inviting people to “Think Different”. Today, Apple products are perceived to be better designed, more fun, and more reliable than products from Apple’s competitors. What makes your business unique? What’s your story? What do you do that others in your industry do not do?

2. Grow your community. Many of the world’s best brands, including Google, Amazon, Facebook, Virgin, and Skype, spend modest sums on advertising and instead, focus on building and improving their communities. Those companies understand that if people trust a brand’s community, they will extend trust to the brand.

Small businesses have many opportunities to build online and offline communities. For example, you can build online communities on Twitter, Facebook, your small business blog, on Instagram, or on other social networks. And remember that you can’t be in all places at once. Pick one or two places where you can focus building your community, and invest your time and resources there.

3. Build great products and services. Earlier this year, market research firm Millward Brown published its annual BrandZ study, ranking the world’s leading brands. When you consider that the number one reason people write about brands is to share experiences (see graphic below from the BrandZ study), Apple’s top ranking is not surprising – people love Apple’s products.

Some companies stop focusing on building great products and services when they become successful. This is a mistake. In 2008, Nokia was the world’s ninth most valuable brand. In 2011, Nokia was ranked 81st and this year, it fell even further. Even a strong brand will suffer when it creates average or below average products or services.

4. Have a good name and logo. A strong brand is easily recognizable. Recognition starts with the name of your business. The name will appear on your business cards, letterhead, website, social networks, promotional materials, products, and pretty much everywhere in print and online to identify your company or your company’s products and/or services.

It’s not enough to have a recognizable name. People commonly associate brands with the brand’s logo. As you think about your logo, keep your audience and products/services in mind because you want your logo to reflect your company. A good logo builds trust and a strong logo will help to pull your brand together. Think about the logos of some of the world’s most admired brands (Apple, Google, Amazon). How do you feel (emotionally) when you see their logos?

If you want to learn more about naming your business, we invite you to read 10 tips for startups and small business on naming your company. If you want to learn more about getting a great logo, we invite you to read 10 logo design tips for buyers.

5. Find your voice. What you say is important, but don’t overlook how you say it. Your company’s “voice” is the language and personality you and your employees will use to deliver your branding message and reach your customers. Successful brands speak with a unique voice. Think about the brands you admire – what makes them unique? How do they communicate with you and other customers? What do you like about their voice?

6. Be consistent. Many small businesses mistakenly change their messaging depending on their audience. For example, a company might take a more serious tone on their website but a very lighthearted tone on their Facebook fan page. This can confuse your customers and potential customers. To build and maintain a strong brand, every aspect of your brand should be as good as your product or service and you must be consistent in presenting your brand. This includes not only your company’s name, logo, overall aesthetic design, products and services, but also includes your marketing materials, website, appearances at trade shows and conferences, content posted to social networks, etc.

Why should you care about brand consistency? You should care because brand consistency leads to familiarity, and familiarity leads to trust.

Many of you recall that Duct Tape Marketing recently redesigned its website to better and more effectively communicate with customers and potential customers. The old site was cluttered and at times, confusing. A cleaner design and greater consistency resulted in significant benefits.

7. Keep your promises. Although this is common sense, you’d be surprised how many small businesses tarnish relationships with their customers by failing to keep their promises. Happy customers who feel good about your business are your best source of referrals. For example, Zappos has built great trust and credibility with customers by promising quick delivery (2-5 business days) but Zappos goes even further and upgrades most customers to free overnight shipping. As a result, Zappos has very loyal and zealous customers.

8. Stand for something. Think about brands you love. Those brands commonly stand for something (or against something) and connect with their customers emotionally. One of my favorite companies, 37signals, develops software to help people collaborate. 37signals believes that most software is bloated and difficult to use. They don’t compete on features – they compete on usability. They have developed a reputation as a company that stands for easy to use software.

What does your business stand for (or against)?

9. Empower your customers. You are not in control of your brand. You can set your brand’s direction, but how your brand is perceived is determined by your customers and potential customers. People can become your brand’s ambassadors – spreading your ideas and brand to their own networks. Spend time nurturing relationships with such people. Who are they? What can they give and get in order to help your brand? Ultimately, successful brands recognize that if they help their customers succeed, the customers will in turn help the brand succeed.

10. Deliver value. Value doesn’t always mean lowest price. You can focus on product leadership (having the best products in the marketplace, like Apple), operational excellence (having the lower prices in the marketplace, like Ikea), or great customer service (Virgin, Zappos). You can also focus on a combination of those things.

As you think about the value your company delivers – you can ask the following questions: What sets your product, service and company apart from your competitors? What value do you provide and how does that value differ from that provided by your competitors? Think about which of the benefits are emotional – the most powerful brands tap into emotions.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments. What makes your small business unique? What’s your story?

Ross Kimbarovsky co-founded crowdSPRING, the world’s #1 marketplace for logos, graphic design, and naming. Buyers who need a professional logo, website, custom graphic design, industrial design or written content post what they need, when they need it and how much they’ll pay. Once posted, creatives submit actual work. Buyers select from among actual work (an average of 150+ per project), not bids or proposals. crowdSPRING has helped tens of thousands of small businesses meet their creative needs. You can follow Ross on Twitter @rosskimbarovsky and @crowdSPRING and on the crowdSPRING Small Business Blog.

 

5 Social Media Lessons Gleaned from a New SMB Study

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Frank Strong, director of Public Relations, Vocus – Enjoy!

There is no shortage of social media advice.  Unfortunately, much of it is often at odds, conflicting and even confusing.

For example, consider scheduling tweets.  A quick Google search will return many passionate arguments both for – and against – the case for scheduled tweets. Proponents point out automation allows them to space out their social posts to avoid inundating their followers. Meanwhile, opponents say it can lead to disastrous results when these posts coincide with unforeseen events.  There’s always room for middle ground.

While such advice comes with a great deal of experience and has points of merit, it often also comes with the unique and perhaps, narrow perspective specific to that person or organization.

This is why sound research is so important and why we teamed with Duct Tape Marketing to conduct a statistically valid social media survey of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB). As we have studied the data over a course of several weeks, we have come to several conclusions based on research.

Here are five lessons we have learned from the study:

1.  You have to find your own path to influence.  Social media users are almost spiritual about the ‘right’ way to approach social promotion.  Many believe that building a tighter, highly engaged community is the best approach – it is a concept I subscribe to as well.  However, 27% of SMBs reported focusing on building a very large number of followers or fans on social media, regardless of interaction.  While this flies in the face of conventional social media wisdom, this same group was also more likely to say that social media has been very helpful for their business.  This is a testament to the fact that every business is unique: What works for one, may not work for another.  We all face different challenges in terms of industry, budget and finite resources and have to experiment to decide what will work best for us.

Lesson:  Listen, study, and observe what others are doing, but do not be afraid to go against the grain and try something different.  After all, that is what entrepreneurs often do best.

2.  Social works, but only with effort.  Most SMBs believed that social media was moving the needle for their organization. Fifty-eight percent said social media had been somewhat helpful, while almost one-third said it was very helpful. Just 10% said it had no impact.  However, there is a clear correlation between effort and results:  Those that were more willing to work at social media saw better results.  Entrepreneurs understand this concept. In many ways, it is the very reason they decided to strike out on their own.  Social media can be productive and it certainly takes an investment of time. Those that invest the time are more likely to see a return in the long run.

Lesson:  When committing to social media, keep in mind it is a marathon, not a sprint.  An aspiration of a quick hit that goes viral and leads to instant sales is setting you up for disappointment. 

3. Addressing customer service issues is an untapped opportunity.  Ninety-one percent of SMBs say they use social media to share news about their organization – the most common activity.  That is not surprising, since it is easy to share good news.  The least cited activity was managing customer service complaints, with just 46% of SMBs saying they engage in this activity online.  That is less than half and the reason is clear:  It is uncomfortable to address service complaints in such a public manner. Certainly there are different levels of customer complaints online – marketing strategist Peter Shankman breaks them down into five types – but more often than not, complaints represent an opportunity.  What opportunity?  It is the chance to resolve an issue and earn greater loyalty from the customer.

Lesson:  Addressing service complaints quickly may not just resolve the issue, but turn a customer into an advocate; there is a bonus in that those observing will credit you for addressing the matter.

4.  The challenge of dual hat responsibility.  Seventy-three percent of SMBs have added social media as an additional duty of an existing marketing person. In other words, they had a job, and then got a little more work on top of it. As your community grows, so too will the time demands of social media. How you resolve this challenge may vary – perhaps new tools, new efficiencies, or even new people. The danger of simply assigning someone an additional duty is in forcing people to do things that may not meet their natural abilities, skills or inclinations. Sure, we all have to roll up our sleeves and do grunt work sometimes, but it is the sort of commitment John Jantsch is referencing in The Commitment Engine Resources that we should be after.

Lesson:  Consider carefully who gets assigned social media as an additional duty; experience matters, but then so too does enthusiasm.

5.   Facebook dominates but keep tabs on emerging social sites. Google+ and StumbleUpon were ranked by fewer SMBs as effective social platforms for their engagement, but those that use them were also more likely to say they were very effective. It reminded me of the first solid case study I saw several years ago that used FourSquare, where a burger joint named AJ Bombers, had tapped the network with such success it captured national attention.  With social media, we do not simply build a presence and hope people visit. Instead, we go to where our customers and prospects are spending their time.

Lesson:  It may seem like everyone is on a platform, but it is important to understand if the users there are the people you want to engage. A less popular site may be the answer to driving business results.

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If there’s one overarching value proposition of engagement on social media, I would borrow a phrase from a respondent to this survey:  “It has allowed us to promote our products to people we may not have been able to reach normally.”  Indeed that is simply the power of the Web.  To download a copy of the survey please visit: Path to Influence: An Industry Study of SMBs and Social Media.

Frank Strong is the director of PR for Vocus. Find him on Twitter and the Vocus blog.