With the advent of social media and the pervasive move to smartphones, even customers who still prefer to purchase in brick-and-mortar stores have dramatically changed their shopping habits. Many people don’t post about their experiences, but still routinely check first to see what others are saying about the brand and the product online.
This new customer paradigm is no longer a homogeneous group driven by traditional media, but a network of unique individuals who interact with each other to develop buying criteria and expect businesses to interact with them in a visible way. If you refuse to play by their rules, they have the power to easily find alternatives, and actively pull other potential customers away.
For example, mobile now has become the formidable new communication channel, posting a year-over-year growth rate of 47 percent in 2014, according to WBR Digital Research. That means your marketing must now include shopping apps, location-based services and mobile wallets. Customers expect personalized messages, delivered to them wherever they are.
Here are four new strategies that every entrepreneur must now include in their marketing platforms to survive and thrive in this digital and highly mobile age, ranked by effort and cost on your part:
Frequent new content on the web, social media and via mobile. I still see too many websites that look like they have had no updates or blogs in months or even years. Today’s customers ignore these sites in favor of ones with dynamic daily specials, promotions and positive reviews easily accessible on their mobile devices.
Get beyond push messages to real customer engagement. Interaction with customers is usually started by responding dynamically to customer-service requests, but must be extended to online chats, comments and social media. Blogs must provide value to customers.
Provide personalized solutions through customer interaction. Today’s customers expect to be able to quickly find what they need with powerful search capabilities on your site, or even the ability to customize your solution to fit their unique needs. One example of this is Nike’s shoe size page. The best sites engage customers more deeply and add more value.
Engage customers to support shared cultural and societal causes. Motivate your customers to support you by helping them support a common social cause, such as feeding the hungry or saving the environment. See this Business News Daily article for some great examples that have benefited the customer as well as the business.
While most entrepreneurs I know would agree with these initiatives, and profess to understand the new customer paradigm, I still see some common pitfalls, usually brought on by too much ego and passion for their new ideas:
- Assume that everyone loves hot new tools. Most startup founders are early adopters, so they love the latest and greatest technology. The great majority of customers, however, are wary and frustrated by new technology. The best tools, if expensive or hard to use, won’t fit the new customer paradigm you seek.
- Assume that customers are all like you. Entrepreneurs sometimes minimize customer interaction under the mistaken notion that their personal passion will be shared by everyone in their market segment or generation. In fact, customers are all different, and want to be treated uniquely. In addition, trends change rapidly and you need to keep up.
- Assume that more options are better. Focus is critical. More features only confuse your customers and complicate your message. Trying to do too many things as a startup usually means that all are done poorly. Start with a clear vision, and focus your measurements and communication around this goal.
Connecting and interacting with the new customer is everything today. These actions will help you drive sales, reduce costs and find better ways to compete, whether your business is online or on the ground. The old customer paradigm is rapidly going away, and so will your business, if you don’t change. In today’s business, maintaining the status quo is a losing strategy.
*** First published on Entrepreneur.com on 8/19/2015 ***