Use the 3 C's of Communication Keep your customers and stand out in the crowd by sending customers a message they'll remember.

By Gail Goodman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There's a tendency, particularly in a tough economy, to try to be all things to all people. So some businesses that do X advertise that they also do Y and Z. They cast a wider net in hopes of bringing back whatever business they can get.

You actually stand a better chance of getting and keeping customers if you focus on what you do best and how it benefits them. Consumers are pickier than ever about whom they do business with, so you need to communicate your benefits if you want to stand out in the crowd. The way to do that is through the three C's of effective communication. Take a look at your recent marketing efforts and see whether they pass the test of the 3 C's:

Crisp and Clear
How do you describe who you are and what your business does for customers? Let's go back to that tried-and-true technique--the elevator pitch. Can you describe what you do to someone not in your industry in 30 seconds or less? When you go to a networking event and you meet a promising prospect, does your description of your business hold that person's attention? Or do his eyes glaze over or wander across the room?

Being crisp is about telling people what you do in as few words as possible--and using that same crisp message in written marketing materials.

Try This Test

Find a friend or relative who is the least likely to understand your business, and test your "message crispness" on him. Tell him what you do in two or three sentences. Avoid industry jargon and technical terms that only people in your field will understand. Then ask him to repeat what he thinks you do back to you. If he doesn't come back with the right answer, the message isn't crisp.

If your grandmother can understand your description of your business (assuming she's not the company founder), you can convey that same clear, crisp explanation to your customers via e-mail marketing and other communications.

Tell customers not only what you do but why you do it. Make sure they know that they are the focus of your business. Promote your business in terms not just of your experience and expertise, but how what you do benefits them. For example:

Let's say you're a style consultant. Your e-mail and other marketing communications could relate your experience in the industry and your fabulous style sense. Or you can tell your "value story" from your customer's perspective. Write something like, "I can help you stand out at a job fair and make a great first impression on an interview." That's your message. Make sure you illustrate it with a customer testimonial or case study that shows how your service benefits real people.

People need convincing as to why they should spend their limited dollars with you. Your story should focus on how your products or services benefit customers--written from a "what's in it for them?" perspective. When you make your story your customer's story, your marketing materials practically write themselves.

Once you've nailed down your crisp message, and you're telling your story from your customer's perspective, make sure you tell it consistently in your e-mails, on your website, in print materials, via the internet and in any other advertising and marketing media.

Nothing is more disconcerting to prospects than hearing one story from one communications channel and then reading a different version of the story someplace else. They don't know which version to believe. Reestablish who you are with every customer interaction. Reinforce your story as often as possible.

Improve Your Next Campaign
If your last e-mail or other marketing communication fell short of the three C's, jot down a few ideas to improve the next campaign. Communications that are crisp, clear, customer-centric and consistent are more likely to bring in and keep customers during tough times and in the better days ahead. Following are some additional tips for more effective e-mail communications:

  • Communicate more frequently, but make a direct sales pitch less often.
  • Offer things of value for free. For example, offer hints and tips in your e-mail newsletter or a downloadable report when customers subscribe to your mailing list from your website. When you give expertise away for free, business usually follows.
  • Communicate from the heart. Use e-mail and surveys to ask customers about how the economy is affecting their purchasing decisions and anything else that's on their minds. Tell them you're in this together and ask them to write about their positive success stories. Then share those in your newsletter.

Reinforce your commitment to customers with every interaction. And have faith. That's what entrepreneurship is all about.

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.

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