Most entrepreneurs would agree--2009 was a wild ride.
The economic roller coaster made everybody woozy; and a new president took office with promises of hope around the bend. Businesses scrambled to hold on to customers, all while unemployment soared higher and consumer spending got tighter.
During all this uncertainty, social media exploded--creating excitement, opportunity, and confusion. Organizations hired social media "gurus" to help them turn Twitter followers and Facebook fans into customers, clients, and members.
No wonder it was a challenging year for anyone trying to market a small business, franchise, or nonprofit. But as stressed out as everyone was, I saw extraordinary acts of compassion throughout the year. People went the extra mile to help out their neighbors and stayed loyal to businesses that had done right by them in the past.
That's why the most important lesson I took away from last year is that loyalty matters . No matter what tools you're using to market your business, building loyal customer relationships is still the No. 1 way to grow your business--in good times and in tough times, too.
With that in mind, here are four other important lessons we learned in 2009; and resolutions to jump-start your chances for business success in 2010.
Lesson No. 1: E-mail Marketing Is Still the King of Relationship Building
The tsunami-sized rise of social media in 2009 left some people wondering, "Is e-mail marketing still relevant?" My answer is yes, now more than ever. Here's why:
- E-mail creates a quiet, dedicated moment with your customers. Consumers are pickier about which e-mail lists they subscribe to. When your customer opens your e-mail, you have their attention for one precious moment. In internet time, that moment is priceless.
- When it comes to ROI, e-mail kicks butt. The Direct Marketing Association recently reported that "commercial e-mail returned a whopping $43.62 for every dollar spent on it in 2009." That's because e-mail enables you to inexpensively and effectively create a quality over quantity mailing list of loyal customers and qualified prospects.
- E-mail is still the primary form of professional business communication. Business people use e-mail to communicate with each other, not Tweets or Facebook wall posts. E-mail is personal. It's professional. It's not going anywhere.
Your e-mail newsletter is a solid piece of quality content that you can archive on your website. Both B2B and B2C operations can boost their brand image and credibility by publishing and archiving a body of expertise through their e-mail newsletter articles, and inviting reader participation. Business people love to talk shop. Ask for their input in your e-mail communications and get a dialogue--and some relationships--going.
Lesson No. 2: E-mail Marketing Complements Social Media Marketing
According to a recent Nielsen report, heavy users of Facebook and Twitter use e-mail more than casual users. That means your audience is probably in multiple places--using e-mail and visiting social networking websites. But it's not about tweeting 10 times a day and posting random messages on your Facebook page just to be part of the social media movement.
Remember: Quality content trumps frequency of postings. Your e-mail newsletter should remain the centerpiece of your online communications, offering practical advice and meaningful insights that resonate with your audience. Social media is used to spot customer trends, mine ideas for future newsletter articles, respond to customer concerns, and find new mailing list subscribers.
Lesson No. 3: Two-Way Communication Is the Key to Survival
Great business communications is more than talking about your products and services. It's listening to your audience and inviting them to talk back to you. It's all about keeping a beat on your customers. Smart businesses regularly survey or poll their readers in their e-mail marketing communications, and use that intelligence to make adjustments to their businesses.
2009 was a year of change: changing economic environments, changing customer needs, changing perceptions. The businesses who listened to their customers and changed with the times survived.
Lesson No. 4: The Personal Touch Is Timeless ... and Effective
The business survivors of 2009 made genuine connections with their customers. They learned to communicate in a conversational voice when they wrote their e-mail newsletters--it helped customers to feel like people, not just "subscribers."
Some businesses even invited customers, employees, business partners, and community members to share their personal stories related to the businesses' products or services. The best ones were featured in an issue of the e-mail newsletter. This put a personal spin on sometimes impersonal topics.
The valuable lessons learned in 2009 can help all of us make more lasting customer connections in 2010. Happy New Year!
Gail Goodman is the author of Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins In a Socially Connected World (Wiley, 2012) and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact Inc., a provider of email marketing, event marketing, social media marketing, local deal and online survey tools and services for small businesses, associations and nonprofits.