“The old rules don't work so well any more. Marketing is dead. Long live marketing.” While being a bit dramatic, Seth Godin, in his book Purple Cow, wanted to make the point that today’s marketing is not your father’s marketing.
Ray Kinsella, a character in the movie Field of Dreams, hears a voice in his cornfield tell him, "If you build it, he will come." The voice was referring to baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson. But in 1989 when that movie was released, that voice could have easily been addressing any entrepreneur about what to do to grow a business. In the words of another 1989 character, Saturday Night Live’s Grumpy Old Man, "That’s the way it was. And we liked it.”
In my recent Money Talk radio interview of Marty Sharkey, the CEO of 3 Points Marketing, said, “You got to make sure whatever product or service you’re selling -- in this day and age especially, it's got to be awesome.” Entrepreneurs must understand their target consumer better than the competition and “build wow into the product,” added Sharkey, a former Nestlé marketing manager.
Both Godin and Sharkey spoke to a fundamental change in the marketplace over the past decade or so. As a result of the ubiquitous use of search engines and social media, markets are no longer in sellers' hands. No longer can businesses push their messaging and expect buyers to listen. No longer can they build it and expect the buyers to come. Consumers won’t. They know better.
A study conducted by GroupM Search found that consumers are taking control of buying decisions by relying less on messages from sellers and more on search engines and social media. Consumers using Google, Bing and other search engines as well as peer recommendations on social sites are silencing the noise that is traditional marketing and advertising and arriving at their own conclusions about the value of products and services. “With only 24% of consumers starting with a brand site, the 76% of consumers who are starting with either search or social media are signifying intent to explore and potentially buy without commitment to a brand at the outset,” the study noted.
This lack of loyalty or commitment to a company brand means this: New entrants and those committed to growing their market share by meeting customers’ needs now have a shot at grabbing a greater piece of the pie. And businesses that lose touch with customers may quickly find themselves wondering where everyone went.
Today’s entrepreneurs must make their products and services pop -- that is, develop them in a way that takes advantage of the "power of people" (or POP). This requires business owners to discard what they think consumers want and develop products and services according to what they know customers want.
“For the first time in our history, now, through social media, companies can listen at scale to conversations about them and their competitors,” wrote Dave Kerpen in his book Likeable Social Media. “Always think like your consumer, create buying opportunities that you yourself would want to leverage, and make purchasing simple and easy.”
Entrepreneurs should consider the following steps to ensure they're offering products and services that pop:
Business owners should use search engines and social sites to find out what consumers are seeking in a product or service. Blogs focused on an entrepreneur’s industry are great places to listen and engage with prospective buyers. While formal studies, surveys and focus groups might provide useful information, they might be cost prohibitive for a small business owner. Leverage information that's publicly available on blogs, social networks and news sites.
Entrepreneurs can also use tools like Survey Money and Constant Contact to conduct informal surveys of existing customers about desired product features and upgrades. A successful entrepreneur not only knows what customers want but also knows more about them than the competition.
2. Be available.
The Internet, mobile phones and tablets have empowered prospective buyers -- around the world. They research their purchases at all hours, seven days a week. While all businesses need not operate a 24-hour call center, they should be accessible not only through Internet, phone and email but also social sites. Businesses should ensure that they provide helpful content about their products and services, including white papers and instructional videos. Companies can no longer force shoppers to comply with their business model but must meet buyer preferences.
3. Serve the customer.
Today’s customers know they have the power. Poor service can result not only in losing a customer, but it might also create a reputational nightmare. In the old days, the impact of poor customer service might spread to the client and his or her immediate circle of influence, such as friends and family. Today, with the use of social media, poor customer service can result in a major backlash. Entrepreneurs must take customer service seriously and make an effort to address problems as quickly as possible.
4. Make purchasing easy.
Business owners must imagine the purchasing process through the eyes of the customer. The purchasing process should be as easy as possible and at least simpler to navigate than the competition's. Every hurdle encountered by a potential buyer could lead to a potential abandoned transaction. Whether transactions take place online, face-to-face or through a combination of the two, the business owner must realize that there is no such thing as a sure bet. Most buyers have other options. The owner's objective should be to never remind the customer of this.
5. Be strategic.
Too often owners get lost in the weeds and caught up with the tactical side of the business. It's important to maintain a strategic mind-set so as identify potential opportunities to exploit and continue to grow the business.
A football team that cannot block or tackle well will not win many games. Similarly, a business that cannot take care of the basics will not succeed. Committing to these five steps will ensure that customers are enchanted and will share their positive experiences with the world. This will create the opportunity for the business owner to engage and win over the 76 percent of consumers who don’t believe the hype of traditional marketing and advertising and prefer to come to their own conclusions.