As we all know, the business of marketing hasn’t always enjoyed a sterling reputation. That’s possibly well-deserved, considering the mindset of traditional marketing, which was often to try to get away with whatever claims you can, as long as they were legally and technically defensible. The motto of the day was “buyer beware.”
But marketing has changed, especially in recent times. Businesses and brands that are doing it right have altered the way they approach communicating with consumers. And that means you should too.
Technologies and tools have had an impact, of course. The internet and social media have changed the game immensely, partly because they’ve changed consumers’ expectations.
The new consumer
Today, consumers can access an almost limitless amount of information right at their fingertips—information about products, customer reviews, unboxing videos, expert analyses and more. They can find out everything they need to know about a product before ever approaching the vendor. And when they do, there’s often a huge array of vendors to choose from. Today’s customers have greater purchasing power than ever before.
But consumers themselves have changed, too. There are likely several ways that today’s customers are different from those of the past, but here are two very important ones:
- With countless options at their disposal, they don’t see themselves as targets, the way marketers have conventionally seen them. They are in control. When they decide they want what you’re selling, you’ll hear from them.
- They don’t consider themselves passive consumers. If they have a problem or a question, they expect to get immediate attention and answers, often on a brand’s social channels such as Facebook or Twitter. And if they get no response, they have their own voices on Facebook and Twitter to use to bring attention to their gripes.
What it all boils down to is that it makes marketing to them much more difficult; traditional strategies—yesterday’s strategies—are less effective on today’s consumers.
Fortunately, there are new strategies that marketers and businesses can use to reach potential customers. They may require a change in thinking and a different approach from the traditional marketing taught in schools over the years, but what have you got to lose—except maybe your customers?
Put a premium on honesty and transparency
When I was a kid, I saw an ad in the back of a comic book for a device that promised to let you “throw your voice” expertly, like a ventriloquist. I scrounged up the money and sent away for it. When it arrived in the mail, I excitedly opened the package, to find two small, layered pieces of tin wrapped in a few spins of some kind of gauze, and held together with an elastic band. The instructions said I was to place it under my tongue, and, with practice, I would amaze my friends with my incredible voice-throwing abilities.
Didn’t happen. Maybe I just didn’t apply myself enough, but I feel quite confident in saying that it was more likely just a gimmicky piece of crap that functioned better as a choking hazard than a magical voice-throwing aid.
Thankfully, we’re living in a time when customers expect more honesty from businesses and brands. This is driven largely by demographics, and it will only get more acute. Millennials are so last year (sorry, Millennials). Looking ahead, it’s all about Generation Z (people born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s), who will account for as much as 40% of consumers by 2020, more than Millennials or Baby Boomers. This new wave of consumers puts an even higher value on transparency, honesty and authenticity.
That’s why smart brands these days are moving away from being too “sales-y” in their marketing. It’s more about fostering a relationship and trust with their customers.
People now expect transparency and openness from brands. With Twitter and Facebook, the channels exist for you to engage directly and easily with your customers and vice versa.
The bottom line is, people don’t want to be marketed to or sold to; they want to be engaged with.
So what does that mean for your business? Be real. If you make a mistake, if you screw up, own it. And then make it better. Don’t try to double-talk your way around it. You’ll lose credibility.
Being open and transparent in the way you communicate with your customers and potential customers. We like people who say what they mean, and are trustworthy in the sense that what they say is consistent with how they behave. They walk the talk. Be a brand like that. Trust is everything.
The good news is, as a small business, you’re much better able to respond to what your customers are saying, as opposed to some larger businesses, such as the major banks and large telcos. Ever notice how they tend to keep getting into crises with customer service? With a large, entrenched corporate culture, it’s like trying to turn an aircraft carrier around. You, on the other hand, are much more able to pivot and respond to get on the right side of your customers quickly.
Focus on customer service
There was an article in Forbes earlier this year that made this point very well. It was titled Customer Service is the New Marketing. In it, the author argued that people no longer have faith in mass campaigns and marketing gimmicks, but rather place more importance on their direct experience with a business or brand, or what experiences their friends or family have had, or even testimonials from people online.
It’s not a new idea, of course (“Service after the sale!”), but, again, in today’s world, it’s all about building relationships with your customers and establishing trust.
So every time you’re able to provide a great customer service experience—from the sale to handling returns and repairs, or any stage of the customer journey—you’re marketing your business.
Put another way, you shouldn’t be thinking about your product; you should be thinking about your customer. If your marketing efforts are based on the needs of your business, you’re doing it wrong. They should be based on the needs of your customers.
Be a helper and always give added value
Somewhat related to customer service, is the idea that you should find ways to be helpful to your customers. Not just during the selling phase, but at any time. In fact, don’t even think about selling; just be there for them as a helpful source of information, expertise or advice. Again, build that relationship and trust, and the sales can follow naturally.
You could help them by providing useful or interesting information through podcasts or blogs. It could be by posting or sharing helpful videos on your website or through social media.
People these days have short attention spans and an abundance of competing demands on their time and focus. We are overloaded with information, data and stimuli. This is why providing them with some added value can be a very effective way of getting through to them.
It could be something as simple as a helpful piece of information, as mentioned above, or something for free, or even just sharing some interesting or amusing content. Again, it’s not about selling, but about connecting and starting a conversation.
Content marketing represents one of the most significant ways that the marketing landscape has changed. It used to be that large companies and brands got their message out through advertising campaigns and the mass media. But technology has changed all that.
Today, your customers control what media they want to engage with, and when. They can time-shift, view on demand, search out only content that interests them, and—gasp—ignore advertisements altogether.
To reach them, you need to tell stories that resonate with them. Give them an emotional connection, make it worth their time. Where traditional marketing strategies aren’t working, content can give you a way to get through to your audience and engage with potential customers.
Just as the world is ever-changing, so too is the world of marketing. As author Daniel Pink has said, “We’ve moved from buyer beware to seller beware.” Don’t get caught using yesterday’s marketing strategies on today’s customers.
The information and tips shared on this blog are meant to be used as learning and personal development tools as you launch, run and grow your business. While a good place to start, these articles should not take the place of personalized advice from professionals. As our lawyers would say: “All content on Wave’s blog is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice.” Additionally, Wave is the legal copyright holder of all materials on the blog, and others cannot re-use or publish it without our written consent.