By Marc Karasu
Being an executive in this economy is tough. Being a marketing executive is almost impossible.
Whether you are at an established company with a well-known brand or at a startup, the pressure on you to deliver is immense. To make matters more challenging, it is likely that your marketing budget has been cut. Every dollar you spend is questioned for ROI and in most meetings you are asked about developments in social networking, customer service and PR because it is all anyone reads about and promises tantalizingly high yield at low cost.
Whatever category your retail business is in, the following tactics will help you build, track and keep up on the buzz about your brand without the need to invest large amounts of money. These ideas compliment almost any brand at any budget.
1. Social networking – You probably already have a Facebook and Twitter page that may or may not be yielding results for you. To help these pages along and to build up your social networking reputation or refute complaints, you should be leveraging these pages further.
What you can do now – Task a junior member of your team to be your “social outreach ambassador.” This role is focused totally on trolling Facebook, Twitter and blogs to “invite,” “reply” and “request” connections with current and potential customers and groups. By spending 20 or so hours a week on this effort you will slowly help along your Facebook and Twitter following, refute untrue online blog statements and reply to customers who have questions. This is a hard position to measure effectiveness on, so it could be hard to justify in your budget. But you have to consider this proactive marketing. The opportunity cost saved is not having uncontrolled rumors online. Many PR firms are starting to offer this service, but they don’t really get it and won’t be able to react as quickly as someone in your company culture who understands your brand.
Start with an intern and scale from there.
2. Customer service – In today’s economy no single thing matters as much for your sales and loyalty as building a great customer service brand. This is an area of marketing often overlooked or muddled with expensive and hard-to-use processes. If you are even aware of your customer service problem it is likely you first came across it the way most consumers find you: You found a review about your company online, via a search engine, and it was probably not flattering.
Online reviews are here to stay and many current and potential customers use them to help guide their online research in deciding where to buy. You can leverage the world of online reviews in your favor and often have more effect on purchase intent than the best TV commercial.
Whether you have a large customer service department, no customer service department, already have a good customer service reputation or need to build one, today many new online customer service tools exist that are often free or low cost.
What you can do now - Start asking your customers to review you on business sites like Angieslist.com and customer service sites like MeasuredUp.com. By confidently asking customers for business and customer service reviews, you will in no time have dozens of complimentary reviews of your company online. These will negate most bad reviews, increase your positioning on search engines and help interested, potential customers find and trust you when researching online. The goal here is not to have only good reviews as even the best companies have some bad reviews about them online. The goal is to have a balance and to demonstrate through association that your brand is focused on improving.
3. Online comments – The Internet is talking about you whether you like it or not. On thousands of sites, content that mentions you or a competitor is constantly being added. You need to join this conversation, even if you can’t control it.
What you can do now - Take that intern who is working on Facebook, Twitter and blogs and have him also spend five hours a week searching for reviews about your company or articles about something that is relevant to your business. When there is a comment field, have the intern write some intelligent content in response. State that they are an employee of the company and include a URL to your site. Do not try and pretend to be consumer as this will likely be found out and create further uncomplimentary content. This effort will help rebut negative views, show your company cares about its reputation and will help drive traffic to your company Web site. If you come across compliments, add on a quick “Thank You” comment, saying that you care about your reputation and appreciate the support of customers.
4. PR - You have more to say about your business than you realize. Regular press releases about important company events, news or upgrades are often overlooked. Generate interest from journalists by creating content that will interest them.
What you can do now – You know your business and the kinds of things the press wants to cover. Often, the press does not have the resources to generate data for a story. Create a poll on your Web site based on a topic of interest and then pitch the results to your press contacts. This will often lead to an exclusive or inclusion in a larger story about the topic.
If you have good contacts you also can pre-pitch an idea to them to gauge interest and then create the poll customized to their needs. Polls like these help raise your company’s credibility, build your reputation and keep your brand in front of customers.
With these easy and inexpensive marketing tips, you can quickly augment your existing marketing efforts and start to raise your company’s social media, customer service, online and PR profile while helping increase sales and build online reputation.