I am a big consumer of loyalty programs. I know they just want my data on purchasing habits, often so they can sell it to the next company, but I am sure to get what I can out of the deal as well. I’m also leery of the way in which they try to manipulate consumers into spending more than they otherwise normally would by offering “double” or “bonus” points, or a free gift.
There are two businesses I frequent often – One a national pharmacy chain who you may or may not have green walls, the other a “thrift shop” where sales are used for the good will of others. I have a Loyalty Program card which I use at both to earn “points,” which as they accumulate, provide me discounts, coupons, in-store credit and so on.
For one of the above, it seems like I’m ALWAYS earning a $5 coupon. Once I even asked, “Are you sure I earned another one already – I just got one?” For the other from above, I once asked, “What do all these points do? I never seem to earn anything.” One program has created a situation where I almost feel bad I’m getting so much out it, the other makes me question if I will ever get something out of it.
Many small businesses try to “play” the Loyalty Program game, often with punch or stamp cards or a general discount card. Others use apps or text clubs to accomplish the same thing. Whichever approach, be sure your loyalty program has a quality incentive. Your ultimate goal of these programs is for customers to spend a little more. Yet, if they don’t see any value in it, you’re spending a lot of time and effort on something which will yield no results for you.
You want your customers to feel like they’re getting a deal. Best case scenario is my example from above, where I felt like I was getting too good of a deal. You don’t need to give away the store, or discount your entire margin, but “reward” your loyal customers for being just that.
kind of marketing, whether they know it or not.” If that statement grabs their interest back, we begin the “What is marketing?” discussion.
In some ways, everything your business does is marketing, from your business cards and the hours you're open, to the way you answer your phone or the packaging you use for your products. I hold the opinion that ANY interaction with a customer or potential customer is a marketing interaction. This does not mean always selling, or using heavy promotional verbiage. It means that any and every interaction you have with a current or potential customer shapes and builds your brand/image, also known as marketing.
Many small business owners are marketing every day, they simply are not aware of it – And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, when that unknown marketing starts to have a negative impact, it’s difficult to identify and correct an unknown. Facebook pages with no posts for months; website form submissions going unanswered; an apathetic and disinterested evening-hours employee; always getting voicemail instead of a real person… All these examples represent a negative marketing experience.
How does a small business avoid these common pitfalls? Realize that while you may not do any advertising, EVERY business does marketing, and does so on a DAILY basis. Identify key customer interaction points and tools, then determine whether the marketing experience provided by each is in-line with your overall brand/image strategy and goals.
There are many businesses who do no advertising (until the late 2000’s, Starbucks was one of them), but if your business interacts with customers (good chance it does), then you ARE marketing. Take advantage of it!
This got me thinking – What’s REALLY going on here? Are people buying products or are they buying memories? The answer, of course, is both, but my retrospective on this matter took a slight turn, and my thoughts began to focus on a related thought… in my brain at least.
Current advertising practices tend to focus on attracting NEW customers. Banks, cable providers, pizza places, beauty salons – All regularly provide excellent discounts and specials to entice new customers. I get it – Businesses need new customers to grow and survive. However, many of these deals alienate the current customer base... Why do they get that such a great deal when I’ve been a loyal customer?
Further, studies and data tell us it's easier and cheaper to keep a customer than to acquire new ones, and that current customers spend more than new. Further, if you follow the 80/20 rule, you know most of your business comes from a small portion of your overall customer base.
This got me thinking…. Current customers are a lot like vintage clothing, or shoes, or cars. While they may be “outdated” and not on trend, they tend to offer an increased value to a business. Perhaps equal time, effort and money, arguably more, should be spent on wooing current customers as much as new.
None of us will admit we had a fanny pack in the 80’s/90’s, but are you aware they are making a comeback? Top name designers are including them in their latest fashion lines. However, the highly sought after packs are the original, vintage packs from the 80’s & 90’s. If you need some, let me know – My son has several in his collection. But hurry, he’s already sold a few.
behind the wheel. After about 10 seconds, he motions towards us to roll down our window. Surprised, intrigued and a bit concerned, I lower the passenger side window.
“How’s that apple?” he asked.
“Great! I love apples for a snack,” my wife replied.
“I know… They’re so crispy and juicy. Can’t go wrong with an apple,” he stated. “Well, have a nice day” he finished with.
“You too,” my wife answered.
And like that, up went the windows and there ended the conversation. Not a typical occurrence for us, casual fruit conversation with a passerby in a vehicle. It was different, unexpected, and made us smile. It was a nice surprise for the day.
As small business owners, you have an opportunity every day to engage customers with an unexpected and appreciated surprise. One year, I remembering picking up long-stem carnations in a variety of colors and having the sales staff hand them out to all female customers who walked into the store on Mother’s Day Weekend. Unadvertised, non-promotional – Just a nice surprise for the women who came in. At the same business, we also created “private label” high-definition water we would offer to guests for free, a fun play on words customers could relate to, and would make them laugh and smile.
The pressure to differentiate yourself from other retailers and online competitors is real, and the ability to set yourself apart is possible. It can be as simple as saying “Hello,” or handing out a coupon, or offering a free bottle of water… or apple. Midwest Express Airlines (now defunct) was known as much for their in-flight chocolate chip cookies as they were for their two-across seating and amazing on-time arrival numbers.
Don’t miss your next opportunity to “wow” your customers with a memorable and smile-provoking surprise. It could be as easy as asking, “How’s that apple?” but will leave a positive and lasting impression.
While the above-mentioned examples are annoying to some, they do not bother me, and in fact, I find humor in a national day of celebration over something like a donut. If I owned a small bakery, or clothing store which sold socks, I would use this “Day” to have lots of fun, celebrate the silliness of it, and use it to connect with (and possibly grow) my customer base.
Beware, however, on how far you take this concept. Each year, I grow more annoyed with my industry peers, conjuring up another President’s Day, Daylight Savings, Memorial Day, or Labor Day Sale. Why? How do birthdays of two dead presidents translate saving 40% off a sofa? Rather than Memorial Day being a “celebration of savings,” perhaps sponsor a local parade honoring those who have served our country. And I suspect on Labor Day weekend, most people would prefer a day off over having to work, selling that refrigerator for just dollars over cost.
If you’re going to use calendar events – holidays, seasonal, tax day, donut day, etc. – to help drive sales, make sure the connection make sense. Using a holiday simply as a label, or because everyone else has a similar sale, does not make it a good idea. Ask yourself, does this sale name make sense and why? Is an Arbor Day Sale a good idea for a high-end shoe store, or maybe more suited for that hand-crafted wood furniture store, who might offer a discount AND donate a new tree planting for every $50 spent?
Sales events are a great way to drive sales and acquire new customers – Every business should have a solid promotional plan. Make sure the sales you are holding have a strong call to action, accomplish the goal you were targeting with the promotion, and avoid the cliché and often poorly connected themes.
Earlier this month, I had a medical “incident” – It appeared I was having a stroke. Luckily, my wife was home that morning, and immediately took me to the ER, where they assessed my situation. After a slew of test, they determined I was not having a stroke, rather, I was suffering from Bell’s Palsy, a condition where half of your face becomes paralyzed due to inflammation around a facial nerve.
Needless to say, when half your face is paralyzed, there are some issues you need to deal with. Talking is difficult, I cannot smile, I cannot close my right eye, and eating & chewing is exhausting. While trying to determine which foods would be easiest to eat, I obviously thought of cereal. I just happened to have a box of Cocoa Pebbles in the cabinet. Small pieces, soaking in milk… Sounds tasty and easy to eat.
With each spoon full, milk would dribble down the right side of my chin, falling onto my sweatshirt, or landing on the table. After four or five attempts, I had to admit defeat. I never really thought about it, but when you eat cereal, you need to chew with liquid in your mouth. Easy to do normally, impossible to do when half your face is paralyzed. It was a sad realization.
The realization I had with my love for cereal and my Bell’s Palsy condition can also serve as a larger lesson for small businesses and their marketing strategy. Often, a small business will attempt a marketing strategy which they WANT, ignoring the obvious signs that it simply is not a good fit. Certain items take up too much of the budget, too much is focused on one event, your schedule is spread too thin or too bunched together, etc.
Don’t allow want you want to cloud what you should do. Assess the situation from a neutral view, then make your decision. Sometimes, what you want and what you should do will align. Other times, you’ll need to admit, you can’t eat cereal when you have Bell’s Palsy.
I do not participate in the “resolution” game, however, I do take this time to reflect. What did I accomplish (personal and professional) in the past 12 months? Is there something I wanted to do but did not, and why? What can I improve on? What are my options moving forward? I find this reflection to be very helpful – We often overlook our many small accomplishments and focus on one or two failures.
I also use this time of year to plan. And in my reflection/planning world, that plan can be as simple as one thing… Be a better husband, update my website, improve at being “on time,” take the dog to the park more often, and so on. I find the more specific and shorter my list, the more successful I am in accomplishing items on it.
As you start the new year, find ONE “marketing thing” you want to accomplish for your small business in 2017. Write it down, put it somewhere you can see it, and get at it. Trying to collect more emails, increasing new customers by 15%, learning more about SEO, or finally starting that blog you wanted are all great examples. And, once you finish one, feel free to start another.
While every business needs a professionally developed plan from year to year, creating your own “One Item Check List” for items you have chosen to give priority to is a simple and effective way to start out the new year.
Small biz allows for a more personal approach. You know the names of your best customers, offer special “perks” to others, and even let some pay you later, without an extensive credit or background check. Yes, you’re a business, but your customers are treated more like family than faceless transactions.
I shop at small businesses. I do so to support the cause, but small business offers other perks as well. Unique, hard to find, one-of-a-kind, fresh & homemade, local, organic, and artisan are just a few of those perks. Admittedly, on occasion I will pay a higher price for said items/perks, but the uniqueness of the item(s), along with the personal service, makes it seem worth it.
Recently I visited a local small business, and experienced what can only be describes as horrible service. No acknowledgement upon entering, looks of annoyance when asked questions, poorly marked pricing, a very uninspired promotion, and zero personality from the “shopkeeper.” If this had been my first time in the establishment, I would not have returned. Only positive prior experiences provide this business another chance.
What is the reason to visit a smaller business with fewer offerings, higher prices and crummy service? People are OK with crummy service when their selection is huge and prices are low – It’s the trade-off they make. If small business stops delivering on the ONE thing they can, and should, out-perform their big box competitors on, then THAT will be real reason small business dies. Big Box is the available alternative, but it will be the lack of doing what makes small business “Small Business” that will kill it.
For retail focused small businesses, the Holidays means increased traffic. All your “regulars” show up, and often bring a friend. New customers stop in for that specialty item you have which no one else does. Simply put, more bodies walk through the door. Don’t miss the opportunity to get their information, regardless of purchase. Ask for an email address at time of sale, offer a sign-up sheet for a monthly newsletter, or create a fun Giveaway Contest, email required. An increase of solid leads is a great tool to have and use the other 10 months of the year.
For B2B and/or service oriented businesses (retail too, of course), the Holidays provides the opportunity to give thanks, and gifts. Provide all your clients/customers with some small, seasonal “Thank you for your business” gift. These gifts need not be large or expensive – Make them fun, and be sure they are useful or delicious. You may want to give something special to your “best” clients/customers, but it’s more about the thought than the gift. Take advantage of the personal interaction a small business can offer, and the seasonal opportunity to give thanks the Holidays provides.
And finally, the Holidays is also a great time to focus on any “cause marketing” initiatives you may have. Make your business/office a collection spot for food, clothing, or toys. Donate a percentage of sales to a local shelter or non-profit. People are in a far more “giving mood” during the holidays – Take advantage of that and use it to help support a cause you believe in.
campaign for it. It had initial success in the San Francisco area, and by Christmas 1975,the “Pet Rock” had become a national success story. Estimates are Dahl sold nearly 1.5 million “Pet Rocks” at roughly $4 each. By February of 1976, sales had slowed so dramatically the product was discontinued.
What started out as a successful funny joke turned into a successful local product, which in turn morphed into a national icon of pop culture. Amazing!
A current client of mine, a child care center, recently held a FREE festival for the community – Games, prizes, food, ice cream. It was a party for current families of the facility, and a way to interact with the surrounding community on a more personal, welcoming level. Turnout was not “huge,” but about twice what was expected. A small success.
Several attendees of the event enjoyed it so much, they chose to enroll their children at the child care center. In addition, one of the families had just moved into a new subdivision in the area, and recommended this child care center to their neighbors. Additional families have since joined, and the child care has become the “official child care provider” of this new subdivision.
A small success with a FREE community festival turned into 20+ new children enrolling at the child care center. As you plan and implement events & marketing ideas for your business, keep in mind even the smallest success can lead to large rewards. Don’t be afraid to try things, and don’t get frustrated by a “perceived” lack of success. You may not always end up with a “Pet Rock,” but you may acquire loyal customers who spread the word about your business.
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Random thoughts, comments & opinions.