Wednesday, January 23, 2013

New World Marketing Newsflash. It Isn't All About the Internet.

Whenever I talk with small businesses about marketing in today's environment, the conversation always turns more or less immediately to Facebook.  "I know Jim," a local restauranteur said to me one day, "we've got to get on the Facebook. That's where everybody is these days."

I laughed.  The answer is a little more complex than that.  Yes, everybody is on "the Facebook" (or most are), but everybody is also in your restaurant or your small business.  Every encounter is an opportunity to foster connection and every time this connection is not fostered is an opportunity missed.  This is probably the biggest thing that people don't understand about marketing in the new world.

We live in a culture that has changed dramatically over the last ten years.  We are online more.  We have hundreds of 'friends' in our social media portals.  If we choose to, we can literally chat with different people all day long.  This connectedness has not driven people away from each other as some early sociologists suspected it would.  In fact, if anything it has created a deeper need for real connection and businesses that learn to respond to this need are finding real success and growth (and in surprising ways, a much more rewarding experience then the simple monetary success measures of the past).

The real idea isn't to create an online billboard that someone might see.  It is to provide opportunities for people to connect.  While these opportunities may be extended online, in most situations they start in person.  Savvy businesses are using these opportunities as ways to increase the connection with their clients and in this day and age, connected clients quickly become interested evangelists for the business.

Have I lost you yet?  Here are some examples of some of these kinds of opportunities.

  1. A local restaurant that is typically closed on Monday nights has special dinners for regulars only (by invitation) exploring new dishes, wines, etc., about once every three months.  The customers pay to attend, these are not free, although the restaurant's goal is to break even as opposed to turning a profit.  The managers, owners and key wait staff are more free to chat with their customers (and often, even eat with them) and the chef or "wine guy" gets a chance to be out from behind the counter or bar to answer questions, chat about ideas, etc.  The customers who attend feel special and they naturally post their thoughts about these events online.
  2. A friend who is a CPA hosts an evening of wine and cheese for his clients at a local hotel and uses the evening to walk through changes in tax law, healthcare, investing, etc.  Giving his clients a deeper understanding of their options and preparing them in advance for what is ahead.
  3. A quilting service in a small town in Wisconsin hosts events where local enthusiasts can come to the shop to compare notes and techniques with others in their area.
  4. An Alabama based photographer hosts evenings or weekends for clients with cameras, teaching them how to take better pictures.
Wait, what?  Doesn't that last one drive that customer away from the business?  I mean, they'll start taking pictures of their own and decide they don't need the business anymore.  That's crazy talk.

But it's not.  In each of these cases the business is creating opportunities that personalize the interaction between the business and its customers.  This personalization is connection and carrying that connection into online interaction is really effortless, in whatever medium works best.  This is rewarding because these 'customers' are no longer just customers.  They're truly friends.

So effective new world marketing isn't simply a process of establishing a social media presence.  It is a process of giving old, new and regular customers chances to connect with the people in the business and then knowing that with the ease of social media access these connections will naturally turn into advertisement in its purest form, endorsement.


Craig Cochrane said...

Great points -- being a small business owner usually means being an extroverted, people person. Whether that involves clients or staff or potential partners. You ARE your business.

But I wonder what you tell someone who may be brilliant at business but terrible with people? Can you delegate connection building?

Jim Collins said...

Craig. I would tell someone who is brilliant at business but terrible with people to make sure to have a business that either allows them never to be in contact with people or a business that is successful enough to hire someone who is great with people.

And I would tell them that I can relate to their predicament... But you know that.