Digital Technology: A Big Boost to Small Business Marketing

by Paul Doerfler - November 19th, 2010

The digital revolution has changed communication in big ways but think small for a moment. It’s now possible to market affordably to six area high school principals or to a woman in Kokomo who runs the little league fund drive. Some call it micro-marketing. Whatever your term, it’s big, and brings enormous new power to small business marketing.

Why Important?
Let’s face it; small businesses struggle to achieve consistent, effective, affordable marketing. For some, marketing barely happens at all, forced to the back burner by today’s urgent to-do list. For others, marketing is up-down, stop-go, with strategy determined by the effectiveness of dueling single-media sales people hawking their “right answer.” In either case, it’s far too common that the real purpose of marketing is lost in the chaos.

A Clearer Understanding of Marketing’s Strategic Purpose
A room full of marketing experts wouldn’t agree on much, but they would likely agree with this: The role of marketing is to systematically convert Strangers into Loyal Customers. Advertising may attract Strangers; giving us a shot, and that’s an important component. But there’s a long road between a browsing shopper and a client who becomes a word of mouth advocate.

Now let’s step up on the soapbox. Customer loyalty is crucial to long-term success. Harvard’s Fred Reichheld has proven it by rigorous study as presented in his loyalty book series. We can see the importance in live case studies all around us. And it’s just plain common sense that loyal customers buy more, quibble less about price, are easier to serve, and give us all important referrals.

A Major Hole in Small Business Marketing

In my five years of direct interaction with small business owners, 100% have agreed with this statement: “I’m not doing enough to stay in touch with the clients and prospects vital to my success.” Most are aware that it’s a serious issue; all are aware that they don’t have the big bucks advertising budget that let’s giant companies cover the sins of poor customer service and loyalty creation. So why the glaring omission? For most, it’s simply lack of affordable communication tools. The digital revolution presents these tools.

Digital Technology and Multi-Stage Marketing
Multi-stage marketing is the concept that definable phases exist between strangers becoming loyalists. While various multi-stage theories have been around for years, the concept can be brought to life by digital technology:

1. Loyalty doesn’t just happen. It is built through time and changing relationship stages. It’s a path.
2. Logical definitions of the stages might be stranger, acquaintance, prospect, new customer, steady customer, and advocate.
3. We can do much to affect progress along the path, if we’re prepared with the right communication touch to the right person at the right time.
3. Every organization defines its own path, and honest analysis will find weaknesses. It is vital to address weaknesses.
4. The key to execution is “on-demand” communication, planned in advance, ready for instant roll-out.

Properly executed, this kind of analysis is perhaps 20% marketing theory. The other 80% is carefully planned, well-timed action, made possible by digital technology. That action can be email, postcards, letters, gifts, calls, visits — any touch that advances progress along the path. The key is action that’s on-demand, ready for timely rollout; moving marketing off the back burner, and making it an integral part of daily business infrastructure.

Some Fundamental Multi-Stage Touches.
Especially for us veterans who grew up as mass marketers, it’s not intuitive how to put the tool to work. Here are six fundamental activities:
– One-to-one introduction to high-appeal target clients, currently “Strangers”
– Follow-up with high-potential Acquaintances, often network or referral leads.
– Follow-up with active or lagging Prospects
– Welcome and orientation, new Clients
– Ongoing loyalty building, existing Clients
– Upsell / Cross-sell, existing Clients

There can be more depth to your multi-stage execution: for example, consider programs aimed at lapsed Prospects or Clients, statistically far more likely to buy than absolute Strangers. You might also begin by focusing on your most glaring omission. Whatever your strategy, the tools exist to move you toward that elusive goal: consistent, effective, affordable marketing.

Paul Doerfler

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