New Ways to Engage Customers Make sure these 3 crucial elements are part of your marketing plan.

By Kim T. Gordon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Want to know how to spend your marketing dollars this fall? Here's a hint--throw out last year's plan and start fresh. The economic downturn coupled with the rise in social media and the full-bore acceptance of an internet that's accessible virtually everywhere has forever changed the way customers shop.

Rather than rely solely on media such as television, radio, newspapers and magazines, it's time to allocate a larger percentage of your budget to less traditional tactics. Winning and keeping customers now calls for innovative marketing that engages prospects in more direct ways. As you plan your holiday marketing tactics, be sure to factor in these three critical elements for a campaign that will work in today's socially and economically altered marketplace:

1. New Media Has Taken Hold
This is not the time for an off-the-shelf media buy. Now is the time to integrate traditional media with new ways of reaching customers. For example, you could use cable TV ads to build recognition and credibility for your business, and newspaper ads to draw prospects to specific price promotions. But both techniques produce better results today if combined with a terrific interactive company website--the first stop many customers make to learn more about you--as well as positive online reviews and recommendations on third-party sites. If you regularly use radio advertising, this fall combine it with a social media effort built around a fun or innovative concept that keeps customers listening for the next installment in your ad campaign.

2. One-on-one Communication Builds Bonds
They say everything old is new again, and that couldn't be more on point when it comes to devising opportunities for customer interaction. Consumers who are evaluating every purchase want to make safe and sound decisions. So they're spending their money at businesses, and on products and services, they trust to deliver on every level--from the purchase itself to customer service, low price guarantees and shopping convenience.

Create opportunities to communicate directly with customers. If you're a retailer, it's a great time to revive or step up in-store demonstrations, workshops and other events. And customer appreciation events that allow you to share information can be held in your office or off-site. Once you're face-to-face with customers you'll have the opportunity to communicate in ways that can never be achieved strictly through media advertising alone.

3. Consumers Expect to Be Engaged and Understood
In this era of instant and pervasive interpersonal communication, engagement through online dialogue helps customers relate to your company or brand. The key to establishing a positive relationship is to demonstrate that your company cares about the same things its customers care about. Encourage customers to talk with you or about you, just so long as you get them talking.

There are several smart ways to engage customers online. You can participate actively in social networking websites and add an interactive element to your own company website where customers can communicate with you and each other.

This fall, consider selecting individuals to be part of an online "advisory" group that will provide you with feedback and insight in exchange for early notifications of sales, new products and offers, or free or additional rewards. You can post their insights through a message board or blog and feature stories about their experiences with your products or services on your site.

Are there charitable causes that are important to your customers? There's no better way to demonstrate you share their concerns than by contributing your time or dollars to address issues important to them. Detail your charitable efforts on your website to demonstrate that your company is one customers can trust and believe in.

Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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