How to Engage Customers on a Dime

Engaging customers is about reaching them with a compelling message. Here are some ways to do this without breaking the bank.

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By Jim Joseph

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The following is the ninth in the series "Marketing Like the Big Brands," running every other week in which marketing expert Jim Joseph shows entrepreneurs on a small-business budget how to apply marketing strategies used by big brands.

Throughout this series, we've been following a step-by-step process toward creating a brand experience for the customer that builds loyalty. In my last column, "The Art of Positioning Your Brand and Why You Can't Afford to Screw It Up," we addressed how to strike the right tone with customers. Now it's time to reach out and engage them.

Back in the day, it was relatively easy to put together a media plan because we mainly focused on television and print advertising. As the media landscape started to get fragmented, it got more complicated.

Gone is the brand's sole focus on a few core media outlets. Instead we look at the life of our customer much more holistically. We try to evaluate the full media landscape and pick out all the ways that we can touch our customer. We pick "touchpoints" that are likely to create opportunities for our brand to connect with our customer.

These "touchpoints" cross a wide range of outlets. The big brands utilize the obvious ones like television advertising, websites, in-store vehicles and social media. Small businesses need to be smarter since they don't have big budgets to quickly get mass reach.

In order to pick the best media for your marketing plan, understand the different ways to grab your customer's attention. Here are five media categories you should consider:

  1. Paid Media. This involves paying someone to distribute your message. Newspaper advertising is a good example -- something many small businesses utilize locally.
  2. Owned Media. These are the brand assets you own that you can use to relay your message, like your website or your packaging.
  3. Earned Media. This is when you get someone else to tell your message on your behalf, mostly because they inherently agree with you or are motivated to promote you. It's classic in public relations.
  4. Trade Media. When you partner with another brand and you "trade" assets to leverage the power of joint marketing, you are being smart about using trade media. This can cost little because you are either using each other's owned media for free or splitting other media costs.
  5. Shared Media. The most talked-about media these days is shared media, when you and your customers are sharing information across multiple platforms in a dialogue format. Any kind of media can be shared media, regardless of its form. Facebook, which is a form of owned media, is certainly shared media as well. You can and generally should add a "share" element to every touchpoint possible.

The key is to create a proper mix of media based on how you've defined your brand, what you know about your customer, and what your budget will allow -- and get them all to work together in a seamless experience.

#insert related here#

There's a formal dress shop in my little town that found a really innovative use for an owned touchpoint. During prom season, the owner posted pictures on the shop's Facebook page of the dresses that were purchased by each girl based on their high school. This way, none of the girls had to worry about buying a duplicate dress for their prom. To spread the word about this, she not only broadcast it on the shop's Facebook page, but advertised this benefit in the local papers, read by these teenagers' parents. You can imagine the sharing that happened as a result!

When my kids were young, we went to a pediatric dentist who really knew how to maximize her owned touchpoints and combine them with other local businesses. Her brand was all about the color purple, so everything associated with her practice included the color purple. The waiting room, uniforms, website, even the small gifts she gave to kids who brushed well were purple. She also gave gift certificates to the local water ice shop for -- you guessed it -- grape water ice.

I love these two examples because many small businesses think they can't compete with the big brands when it comes to utilizing touchpoints. Not true! You have the opportunity to be even more clever and engaging if you put your mind to it.

Once you've identified those touchpoints that will most effectively reach your customer, it's time to string them together into a touchpoint map: the modern day media plan. Make sure all your touch points are working together to fully communicate what your brand can offer your customer. No one touchpoint can do it all alone. It takes a continuous flow of information. Map the experience you want to deliver to your customer, forming a complete picture of the value you promise to add to their life.

If you can add a few consistent branding elements each time, like the color purple, your customers' experience will be all the better for it.

Jim Joseph

Marketing Master - Author - Blogger - Dad

Jim Joseph is a commentator on the marketing industry. He is Global President of the marketing communications agency BCW, author of The Experience Effect series and an adjunct instructor at New York University.

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