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Personalizing Your Customer Communications A little technology can go a long way toward enhancing your customers' experience by personalizing your marketing materials.

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In a competitive marketplace, effective marketing is essentialto a business' success. But marketing that makes an impactmeans more than just advertising your company name and service:It's about meeting the needs and expectations of your customersthrough targeted, personalized communications. By leveragingtechnology to help you do that, you can make the most out of atight marketing budget while still creating highly-effectivemarketing materials.

Personalization in marketing efforts is a trend any smallbusiness can easily adopt. Ensuring that your customers feel theirpersonal preferences and needs are being taken into account createsan effective approach that's hard to beat. Technology is oneway of gaining greater access to and knowledge of your customers.In fact, various software, such as publishing tools, exist to helpyou create inexpensive, personalized and professional marketingmaterials with the ability to create a consistent company image onyour own.

Trevor Thirsk, a top real estate agent in Washington with JohnL. Scott Real Estate, uses Microsoft Office Publisher 2003 toquickly and easily create marketing materials such as propertyfliers and customer postcards. Thirsk can also create a documentonce and publish it multiple times, saving him the time and effortof creating the same or similar materials from scratch.

"I use the predesigned templates for my marketingmaterials, so there's a consistent, professional look,"Thirsk says. "I save $100 to $200 per month doing it myself. Ican now create a street-box flier with photos, graphics and text,e-mail it to my new client, and get approval without having tointerrupt their dinner or waste time getting linked up. It's asimple thing, but it's less hassle for the client and saves meone to two hours."

The following tips and examples will help you improve yourcustomer communications:

  • Get to know your customers. Start by understanding theirgeographic location, demographics and purchasing history using yourown computer, database management tools or the Internet. Payattention to customer trends, purchasing patterns and needs.Solicit feedback, and ask your customers to share information aboutthemselves to help you in this process. Ensure that yourcommunications use their language and speak to them in a meaningfulway. This one-on-one attention builds loyalty and helps positionyour business in their minds as a company that cares.
  • Build your brand. Guarantee that your materials arevisually consistent by creating your own letterhead, businesscards, forms and more using customizable templates available onlineor within popular software applications. Be creative: Add visualssuch as a scanned company logo, or make use of the free clip art orphotos many online sites offer. A consistent brand strategy is thecore of all sales efforts, customer service and communications.It's a powerful way to help set your business apart from yourcompetitors and add substance to your advertising messages. It alsohelps customers develop loyalty to your company and the products orservices it provides.
  • Create a company newsletter. Newsletters can be apowerful communications tool to help your company stand out withyour customers. You can inform customers about sales, offer promosto them, or showcase customer success stories or quotes tohighlight real-life examples of what your business can do for yourclients. Newsletters can foster closer relationships, in the sameway magazine readers come to identify with their favoriteperiodical. Newsletters should reflect the tone and personality ofyour business; find the voice that best fits the character andstyle you want to project. Use the built-in color and font schemesand layout guides many software applications offer to create anewsletter that's timely, topical and addresses yourcustomers' expressed interests.
  • Distribute a catalog or company brochure. A simplecatalog or brochure can keep your current customers informed of theproducts and services you offer, while showcasing new offerings tohelp boost sales. Today's software offers easy-to-use templatesand guides to create professional-looking materials. By mergingtext and pictures from a specified computer file, such as aspreadsheet or database, you can create a publication that'seasy to update when content in the file changes.

Nigel Burton is the general manager of the U.S.Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partners group at Microsoftand is responsible for developing the strategy and programs thatdrive Microsoft's marketing efforts to small- and midsizedbusinesses.

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