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Are You Ready for Social Media?
-September, 2010


You may think that social media (SM) involves only cryptic messages and diatribes about what you had for breakfast, but if you’re a small business owner, that line of thought may have you missing the mark with your customers. Before you run to your computer and sign up for every social media avatar out there, stop and take a good hard look at your brand. So many small businesses jump into SM before they’ve developed a plan and integrated the tools with their existing marketing. Then they wonder why social media just doesn’t work for them.

First, Know Your Brand

Let me first share with you a little secret that I like to share with my audiences when I’m speaking about social media. It is something so sacrosanct that you won’t believe your eyes when you first read it. Your brand is not just your logo. There, it’s out there for all the world to read. Small businesses are so proud of the company and the logo they’ve created that they sometimes don’t see the bigger picture. A brand encompasses everything about an organization. Most importantly, the brand is a projection of your customer’s perception about your organization.

From the moment a consumer comes into contact with your organization they are making subconscious judgments about your brand. For bricks and mortar businesses, that experience can begin from the parking lot or even via the customer service
phone line.

Picture This Consumer Experience:

Suzie Friedman is a mother of two boys. She’s working as a fashion buyer for a major brand and is having a typically frantic afternoon rushing to squeeze in a few errands before picking up her boys from school. The garbage disposal exploded in her kitchen just before she left for work, so she is running into the local home improvement store to buy a new one. She pulls into the parking lot only to find carts strewn in the parking lot making it impossible to pull into an open spot.

As she hurries into the store she is faced with a sea
of choices; lighting, electrical, paint, lumber, plumbing, power tools and gardening. Finding her way to the right section is taking precious moments off of her afternoon.

Halfway through the store, she still has not found the garbage disposals. There isn’t a worker to be found. Frustration begins to mount as Suzie checks her watch and realizes that she only has another 30 minutes before her boys are out of school. Amid the PVC piping and gaskets, Suzie cranes her neck up the nearly 20-feet of shelving. No garbage disposals or even anything that looks like it might go with a disposal. As she spies a help box, Suzie is relieved. “Help is just a call away!,” she thinks. She presses the button and an automated voice rings out over the loud speaker, “Customer assistance needed in plumbing. Customer assistance needed in plumbing. Who is responding?”Now Suzie feels like a spectacle, but she doesn’t care as long as someone comes to help. Silence. Silence. Silence. A person dressed in a worker’s apron appears around the corner with a warm friendly smile on his face. “How can I help you?” The rest of her interaction runs more smoothly. The employee walks Suzie to the Kitchen Renovation section where garbage disposals are kept, helps her select the right model, and sends her on her way to the register.

While this experience is all too typical, there are definite steps that could have enhanced Suzie’s experience and left her feeling elated about the brand. First, the parking lot could have been more organized. Second, there could have been a greeter at the front entrance to help guide Suzie to exactly the item she needed. Third, if a greeter was not in the store’s budget, the store could have provided a directory (either printed or electronic) where Suzie could have quickly located what she needed.

No more than the pretty face you’ve put on your business’ front window or the 15’ tall sign at the road side, your brand encompasses everything about your organization across all platforms and most importantly – how your customers perceive your organization. Now, perception is a funny thing, because it’s unique to each person. Everyone has their own way of looking at the world. Each day the average person is confronted with over 3,000 brands every day. So my question to you is, how are you making your brand stand out from all that noise? Is your brand spectacular? Is it tight across all marketing communications strategies? Are all of the components of your marketing communications strategy in place and working well together?

Don’t Panic - Let’s Break It Down.

We’ve already said that a brand encompasses more than just your logo. What else do you have?

  1. Products and Services – Are your offerings the best possible quality? Are consumers getting a good value for their money? Remember that value doesn’t necessarily translate into ‘inexpensive’ or ‘low cost’. SAAB owners are a loyal bunch. They believe they are getting a high quality performance vehicle for the sticker price. The value is perceived.

  2. Customer Service – Do your employees go above and beyond to meet your customer’s expectations and better yet, exceed them? To best understand what these expectations are, you must ASK your customers.
    Do this via survey tools and even one-on-one conversation at the cash register.
    For technology products, a user group meeting is a great way to bring clients together, talk about the product and gain important feedback.

  3. Communication – There are many roads to customer communications but a few of
    the best are face to face and telephonic.
    For new product announcements and other product/service related news, mail both electronic and U.S. postal service varieties are good. Above all, remember that communication is a two-way street, so provide opportunities for your customers to talk to you.

  4. Advertising – Are you having your ads professionally designed? If you are going
    to invest in paid advertising, it’s important that the message be on target and consistent. Avoid letting local papers design ads for you. Rather, have a graphic designer create ads that you can provide to multiple publications.

  5. Web – Your business’ online store front is the second most important priority in your overall branding effort. After the initial look and feel of the organization is determined, building a strong web site will professionally portray your brand to online consumers. Remember that the web site is often the FIRST interaction of your brand with a potential customer. If it’s outdated, has broken links or poor navigation, you’ll lose consumers and never know why.

    “Your website is the hub of all your marketing efforts,” says Len Printz, cofounder of Siphon Marketing. “All forms of advertising should be driving people to your site. From the web site you can encourage an action that YOU want. Do you want the prospect to pick up the phone? Order a free sample? Fill out an application? Whatever action you want
    your prospects to take is determined by how well your web site works.”Step back and view your web site from a consumer prospective. What are they seeing when they get to your site? If the site does not properly represent your company, all your marketing efforts can be for nothing!

    The web site should also be fully optimized in order to increase its presence on search engines. This process is called search engine optimization (SEO) and will be covered more fully in the next installment of this article series.

  6. Social media – While almost all social media tools are free that doesn’t mean that they don’t have an attached cost in your marketing budgets. To successfully integrate social media into your existing marketing efforts, it’s important to realize that you’ll need a logical strategy including which tools will be most appropriate for your organization to talk with consumers and interested parties. You’ll also need at least one company representative designated to manage and ‘speak’ for the organization in the various platforms. The greatest strength of social media is that it is highly interactive and personal. People using social media are not looking to interact with a generic Autobot that responds with predetermined messages. Consumers are not looking to be sold things, but rather gain new insights about the products, services, causes and topics in which they have an interest. Users of social media want authentic conversations with decision makers and thought leaders. As an organization you need to consider what would be interesting or useful for your consumers and then provide ways for your followers to gain a closer more personal relationship with
    your brand.

    Entering the social media arena isn’t difficult, but to do it well and with a well-integrated brand effort, it takes planning and solid execution. Take the pieces of social media that will work best for your audience and incorporate them into your existing marketing strategy. Balance your online presence and brand equity and the consumers you bring in will not only sustain your business, but help take it to the next level.

Renee Fellows has spent much of her career working in marketing and public relations for major manufacturing, health care, and small business environments. She is a freelance writer for small business and writes a weekly blog called One Clear Point. She can be reached at RFellows(at)oneclearpoint(dot)com or via @Leadsinger on Twitter.