Improve the way you promote your small business in the new economy.
These days, a product or service’s reputation—rather than its brand—fuels consumers’ purchasing decisions. Take a look at the numbers: 70 percent of today’s shoppers consult product and service reviews or ratings before purchasing something, according to research and consulting firm Penn Schoen Berland. And 92 percent of consumers trust information they find online more than information they get from salespeople or other sources.
While this trend can be partly attributed to the rise in the number of online review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List, people also began making smarter purchasing decisions fol-lowing the economic downturn of 2007 to 2008. Logic dictates that if the consumer buys differently, businesses need to sell differently. Pre-crash marketing techniques will no longer garner post-crash sales.
In the new economy, it’s essential for all small business owners to put their best foot forward. A good start is a solid marketing plan—one that reflects consumers’ current buying habits.
Why Brand Marketing Doesn’t Work As Well Anymore
For decades, companies have used brand marketing to promote their businesses. With this method, businesses promote their logos, images and products with a “sell all we can” mentality. Advertising—whether in print, television, radio or digital—is the vehicle for brand marketing. The ads focus on telling consumers how good your company is and why they should buy your product. While stalwart brands such as Nike and Apple can rely on such marketing, it may not be the best option for smaller brands and businesses.
These days, consumers are more swayed by others’ opinions than by advertisements, which is why so many of them consult reviews and ratings before making purchasing decisions. This means consumers are analyzing a product or service’s reputation—not its brand.
Reputation marketing responds to this trend in consumer purchasing habits. It’s centered on building a relationship with consumers and providing products based on their wants and needs. Moreover, the investment and risk of starting a reputation-marketing plan is low compared to the expense of launching a pricey, single-brand advertising campaign.
Reputation marketing requires you to take a step beyond simply advertising your brand or products; it requires you to demonstrate your worth to consumers and take action based on their feedback. You must continuously collect data and alter your processes and products based on customer input. In turn, consumers will recommend and promote your products to their family and networks. So how can you do this?
5 Steps to Successful Reputation Marketing
Start capitalizing on reputation marketing by following these five steps:
1. Discover your business’ current reputation. Use short surveys to collect data and feedback from the consumers of your products. You can do this by mailing or emailing surveys to your customers, or by posting an incentivized survey on your website and driving traffic to it through social media. You can reward participants with gift certificates or discounts to your business. The survey questions should focus on your products and why and how consumers use them. Questions to ask include:
- What do we do well?
- What can we do better?
- How can we improve your experience with our product or service?
2. Define the reputation your business needs to be successful. You should be a leader in your field and consumer-service focused. You should make it easy for your customers to purchase your products. Does your company develop products you think they need, or do you develop products your consumers tell you they need to solve their issues?
3. Strengthen your business’ reputation. Focus on these three areas:
1. First impression: If you have a brick-and-mortar store, is your business clean, friendly and easy to navigate? Is your staff helpful and trained? (The same questions could be applied to a website or online store.)
2. Communications: Does your website target your market? Does your marketing message focus on your products or how they help solve customers’ problems?
3. Network: Who are your company’s employees and vendors? Are they qualified, and do they have a great reputation?
4. Get tips from marketing professionals. Consider hiring marketing professionals who can help you determine the types of communications tools—including websites, social media and email marketing—that are best suited to your industry.
5. Monitor your progress. Use Google Alerts, Klout, Radian6 and other tools to monitor how consumers are discussing your company, brand and products or services on-line. Read customer reviews on websites such as Yelp, Angie’s List and TripAdvisor weekly, and record it in a spreadsheet or other organized system that you can easily maintain. When you see negative feedback, correct the issues immediately and notify customers about the positive changes. Paying attention to these online reviews is crucial; with 47 million reviews on Yelp, 260 million TripAdvisor unique monthly visitors and 2 million Angie’s List members, these numbers cannot be ignored.
The bottom line: Consumers are talking about your company, and a good reputation always wins.
Pamela S. Gockley is CEO and co-founder of Vigilant Corporation, a Leesport, Pa.-based marketing company, and author of “The Reputation Factor.”