Are you connected? I don’t mean as in who you know, but how you keep in touch with friends, family and most importantly how your business stays in touch with its customers.
Social Media, SMS / Text Messages, Websites, e-mail and so on are in the forefront of many discussions on the topic. It’s interesting to note that many of these are marketing tools were not even around as recently as ten year ago. So how do you keep up and how do you know what’s applicable to your business?
Before you get started, there are some basic tenets that must be followed to help you to achieve success.
Know your audience.
Understand your customer’s preferred form of communications. Today, more people are using the Internet via mobile devices than by desktop computers. Conduct some research with customers. A few brief questions to hundreds of people per can yield rich, accurate results.
Align business objectives with appropriate tools.
Different tools are better at accomplishing specific goals. For example, a text message would be effective to an existing customer reminding them that they can pay a recurring bill with you; while an interactive store directory on your website would attract new customers by providing hours, directions / map or even rate information as appropriate. Doing it in a mobile format would be even better, since it is estimated that over half of all local searches are done with a mobile device. Define who you want to reach, how you want to accomplish it and what metrics will result in success.
Think beyond advertising and promotion.
All too often, it’s easy to think of marketing only in terms of advertising or promotion and not as the strategic business tool it really is. Decisions regarding product offerings, go-to-market strategies and customer relationship management are just a few of the areas that will play crucial roles in your business’ future. The traditional retail model for financial services is still a viable distribution channel, but is in the process of being redefined to meet market changes. To evolve, in fact to survive it is crucial to look at marketing through a new set of eyes and be aware of the various tools available to you.
Some practical thoughts about a few strategies that are being effectively utilized by industry thought leaders include:
Websites – both informational and transactional.
Informational websites are essentially electronic brochures with the ability to communicate everything about your business. They have essentially replaced yellow pages directory advertising for many retailers since so much more information can be shared for so much less cost. Many providers of retail short-term credit are also finding that by adding a website to their delivery channel, they are not cannibalizing their store traffic, but complimenting it by attracting new customers from beyond their traditional trade areas or from people not comfortable using financial services centers. As capital requirements are declining due to declining check counts, consider re-allocating that capital to small short-term loans like payday advances, lines of credit, title loans or even installment products.
In the past five years, the CTIA, the International Trade Association of the Wireless Industry – reported that the number of SMS or text messages grew from about 159 billion per year in 2006 to more than 2.3 trillion per year by the end of 2011 – a 1,450% Increase! This is truly becoming a consumer’s preferred choice of communications. But they are not seeking overt advertising messages, but an optional way to communicate and do business with you. Payment reminders, transaction tracking on their prepaid debit cards, EBT payment alerts … these are the types of activities consumers are seeking that may drive them to your stores better than any advertising message.
Yet another opportunity to connect with your customers beyond their visits to your stores. Again, avoid being overtly promotional as people do not want to subscribe to advertisements. But information about new product offerings, coupons for services, featured events or activities, offers to subscribe to other services like signing up for text messages or liking your Facebook page, these are all excellent ways to use email communications and nurture an ongoing relationship with your customers.
If you are not sure where to start, don’t be afraid to consult with a professional. A small investment in an education on your options could save you considerably compared to a trial and error process. Attending conferences, national and local, provide opportunities to attend workshops or meet with vendors that are experts in their fields. And of course the Internet itself is an incredible research resource for learning about various technologies and strategies. However you choose to get started is less important than getting started. Because in today’s world, if you’re not connected with your customers, someone else will.