Why (and how) you should let your customers do the advertising for you

customer advertising

photo credit: DSC_0134 via photopin (license)

I grew up in the nineties, and my parents weren’t big on technology. My first computer had a 486 processor with a monochrome screen, it ran DOS, and it had Chessmaster 3000 on it. It was given to me by the people who owned the used bookstore in town after it had finally become too dated for even them to use. I loved that little computer.

Finally, one Christmas, my parents broke down and bought a more modern computer. It had Windows 95 and could connect to the internet. I was in heaven. I quickly taught myself to write HTML and launched my first website, a resource for pet rabbit enthusiasts.

Since that time, I have been responsible for the creation and promotion of many more websites, some of which have gone on to become full-fledged, successful businesses.

I am currently CEO of a company I founded around 8 years ago: Hatchwise. Hatchwise is a crowdsourced design community that has designed over a million different logos, websites and graphics of all kinds.

When I first launched Hatchwise, I was still running an internet company I had started previously, called MyCustomLogo, which relied almost 100% on PPC ads to bring in new sales. My company was profitable, but I was constantly stressing over the daily fluctuations in advertising cost. Also, there were a massive amount of competitors who were offering services which were priced similarly to mine, who were then advertising in the same places I did. So each of these factors made me decide that I wanted my next business to rely heavily on word of mouth, and to avoid PPC bidding wars and razor thin margins.

I was successful. The vast majority of contests started on Hatchwise come from people who heard about us through word of mouth, and who then go on to tell others about us, and just about everybody who wraps up a contest on Hatchwise has nothing but good things to say about us.

In this article, I am going to detail what we focus on here at Hatchwise, and why our customers love to tell their friends about us.

1. Focus on what you are selling. If people love the experience they’ll come back.

If your main focus is on getting new customers, but you’re neglecting the service, software, or experience that you are selling, then, in my opinion, you are wasting your time. Having a solid offering will increase your conversion rate and help you maintain a healthy growth. You should always strive to be a company that you would want to be a customer of.

Make sure that you have a website that is scalable and user-friendly. You do this by getting feedback from as many actual customers as possible. For example, it may seem to you that your website is easy to navigate, but you can’t know this for sure until you’ve gotten feedback from the people who are actually using it. Ask them what they like and don’t like about it, and how you can improve their experience.

Once you have a solid website and product you can then focus on spreading the word because everyone who uses your website or buys your product will be telling their friends about you. Obviously, the same situation applies if a customer has a bad experience, which is where the next point comes in.

2. Go above and beyond with your customer service. Everyone should have an amazing experience.

In our current day and age, people expect fast and responsive customer service. One of the things we do at Hatchwise is to make sure that all emails are responded to as quickly as possible. We also try to be aware that if we are consistently getting the same questions over and over, we need to figure out what we can do to eliminate the issue that is causing the email in the first place.

We use every email we receive as a chance to think about how we could make the customer experience easier and better than it already is. There have been times when a customer had an idea, and we implemented it that day, simply because it was a great idea. Every customer is important to us, and if they take the time to provide an idea or problem we take it very seriously.

3. If you never ask you’ll never know.

Several years ago, we began requesting feedback on our customers experience after they’ve completed a contest. This really helped us scale efficiently because we quickly identified issues that affected multiple customers. One of the big issues that arose was that the site was not mobile friendly. We realized pretty quickly by hearing feedback from customers that having a mobile-friendly site was very important to them, which is something that we had, for whatever reason, not really paid any attention to.

We also created an easy way for customers to share issues and request improvements as they were in the process of running a contest. This made it simple for customers to let us know about an issue they were having without having to email us. So we have also received a lot of great suggestions through this tool.

4. Do what you do better than anyone else.

Regardless of what you sell, customer satisfaction should be your number one concern. Identify what your customers want from you and make sure they get what they want. At Hatchwise, we realize the most important aspect of our website is the design that the customer receives. With that as our focus, we’ve worked hard to make sure that the designers who use Hatchwise are completely happy. We do this by dealing as fairly as possible with the hundreds of little issues that pop off when you have a community of thousands of designers, and also, we do this by making sure the website has all the tools and features that they require in order to operate as efficiently as they can. Shortly after we launched we created a unique program that runs in the background of the site that catches most clipart and keeps designers from copying the work of other designers.

By making sure that the designers are happy, we are able to provide an overall better experience to our clients, which results in everyone being happy.

5. It’s okay to reward people.

For a long time we did not have an affiliate program. Anytime a customer referred us it was because they thought we were awesome and they received nothing for doing it. We have recently launched an affiliate program after receiving a lot of requests to implement one. The results have been great. Giving people an incentive to recommend us was something that we should have done a while ago. If people love you and also receive something for recommending you, they are going to do it way more often.

6. It’s all about happiness.

Focusing on customer satisfaction and making it easy for customers to share any issues they are having is one of the biggest things you can do to grow your platform. It’s easy to create banner ads and market your site, but if the customers you have already have are not 100% satisfied, you are wasting your money. It is much better to have your existing customers be the marketers for your website. This will save you a significant amount of money and you will have a much more stable site.

George RyanGeorge Ryan is a serial entrepreneur who is the founder and CEO of Hatchwise, a community of tens of thousands of graphic designers and writers who have created over a million amazing designs and company names since 2008. George resides on the Connecticut coast, where he enjoys photography, his family, and starting new businesses.

 

5 Ways to Gain Brand Ambassadors (And Keep Them)

160929d“Brand ambassadors” seems like a relatively new term; however, they’ve been around as long as advertising and marketing itself (and even long before that). Knowingly or not, you’ve probably acted as a brand ambassador yourself when you recommended a product to a friend or was writing a glowing review for a local business.

More often than not, social media celebrities and bloggers come to mind when the term is used. However, the foremost important way to build brand ambassadorship is through brand loyalty of regular users. While they might not have a huge following, their words are probably more valuable to their closest circles.

Research shows that people tend to believe other people and review websites more than advertising copy on a company’s website. According to Nielsen (http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2012/consumer-trust-in-online-social-and-mobile-advertising-grows.html), 92 percent of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising. Online consumer reviews are the second most trusted source of brand information and messaging with 70 percent trust level. It follows that brand ambassadors add one more channel to your marketing strategy as well as a new dimension to it: personality.

Brand ambassadors often encompass the target market, their aspirations and needs. So, spend some time identifying your brand ambassadors and nurture relationships with them.

Listen to conversations

If you haven’t started already, start listening to conversations happening around your brand online. One of the most obvious ways to do it is to read the comments below your social posts. Yet, with modern online listening technology, the possibilities are endless.

There are quite a few free and paid services you could use to tune in into conversations regarding your company. Viralheat is a great social media listening tool that provides in-depth analytics for mentions of your brand name, products, location, and competition. Mention offers a website app, Chrome app, as well as iOS and Android apps, so you can constantly monitor conversation happening about your brand online. Social Mention might be the most user-friendly option for beginners because it doesn’t require registration and presents information in a single information stream. Using Hootsuite, you can set up a stream that will aggregate all of the conversations about your brand even if they don’t tag you in it. For example, they may use a hashtag instead of @ symbol or not use your full brand name. They also might not use any hashtags whatsoever and just say “Mike’s Subs in downtown rocks!” If you set up a stream with search query “Mike’s Subs” and specify the location to match your city, you will get all of these tweets.

Now, if you get consistently negative sentiment regarding the same areas of your business (say customer service, long wait time, overall quality, etc.), that means you have to take care of these issues before you can start earning brand ambassadors.

However, if these reviews or comments are occasional and scattered, take them with a grain of salt; treat these as an individual case, not as a sign that your whole business model needs to be changed.

Look for the most engaged followers

It’s more difficult to achieve with business pages that have a large following, yet try to outline a few people who you notice on your social channels the most. I’m not talking about just likes here, your super fans are more engaged – they comment and share your posts frequently. Those are your raving fans because they show dedication and a true following of your brand. They might be already acting as brand ambassadors for you in their circles. If you reach out to them to act as your online brand ambassadors officially, they will be super happy to help you out because they will feel even more appreciated.

Watch out for bloggers

Blogger outreach is another great strategy to gain more “experienced” or “heavyweight” brand ambassadors. Do your research and find most influential and interesting bloggers in your niche; see if it makes sense to work with these bloggers. Try to go as targeted as you can. Sometimes it is better to work with bloggers who have a smaller following, but are considered a true guru in their respective niche. If you sell wine and they blog about all kinds of alcoholic drinks, your turn to shine might not happen often. Instead, focus on wine bloggers who might shine a true spotlight on your products. Besides, wine bloggers’ audience is specifically interested in wine, whereas more broad bloggers have a much more varied audience that might not necessarily be interested in your type of product.

Quality over quantity approach is very important with this strategy. Sure you can buy ads on pretty much any website, or you could find great affiliate networks that will promote your products day and night. However, if these affiliates, bloggers or other publishers didn’t build the trust with their respective audiences, your efforts will go to waste. Another thing you should examine is how many products they promote and whether they promote industry competitors. Try to find authentic publishers who have built their credibility and trust; this will warm up their audiences to your pitch as well.

Another thing to take into consideration is what type of reimbursement these bloggers work for. Some might accept product reimbursements; other bloggers only accept monetary reimbursements (and some of those are pretty hefty and specific). If a blogger already mentioned your product on their blog because they liked it (I often share links to online tools I use and like), then approaching them might be very easy and reimbursements for their mentions might be minimal.

Sometimes you just need to hire a few brand ambassadors to get the ball rolling. It’s ok. This way, you will have a full control of what gets said, where it is shared and when some information should come down. Besides, you will have professional relations with these people, so you can edit their writing before it gets published. There will be no hurt feelings either once you decide to part ways.

Look internally

Sometimes your best brand ambassadors are your own employees. A lot of times, employees use company’s products already. All you need to do here is to identify employees who a) truly love the company and/or the product and b) write well. These employees can write occasional interviews and blog posts clearly disclosing that they are employed with a company; otherwise, you might run into trouble later.

When you identify and work with brand ambassadors, make sure to show your appreciation of their efforts. Especially if these people are regular people loving your products and telling your friends about it, be personable and human. Whatever approach you choose, make sure that selected brand ambassadors:

  1. Make sense for you industry-wise;
  2. Have built up credibility and following;
  3. Provide value to their audiences by promoting your products (otherwise no one will care for your offering even if it’s amazing).

What do you think? Do you think brand ambassadors play an important role in your marketing strategy? What approaches and tactics do you use to manage relationships with existing brand ambassadors and nurture new ones? Share in the comments section below.
IMG_2939-small-1024x683Lesya Liu is a blogger at The Social Media Current, a photographer and a social media expert. Her passion lies in art and marketing (and combining the two). You can find her latest tactics advice here.