How Modern Marketers are Making Friends Before Making Customers

The classic marketing approach has always been a sort of “go for the jugular” strategy in which companies broadcast a sales message in some public forum and hope that out of the many people who see it, some of them will be interested enough to buy. Such a mindset is focused not on building relationships with truly interested customers, but instead rationalized that spending a million dollars to put a message in front of a million faces would return at least some sales.

Over the course of the last several years, social networking applications took the Internet by storm, and with them came a veritable shift in the way people spend their time on the web. With tens of millions of people connected to portals such as Facebook and Twitter each day, the top marketers began to sense an opportunity to intelligently utilize this endless web of contacts to change the entire sales game. By harnessing the many opportunities for fast, direct communication with potential customers, the new marketing mindset is focused on addressing customer demands, providing free products to gain loyalty, and re-branding companies as approachable, accountable, and consumer friendly businesses rather than cold, faceless entities that exist solely to take your money.

Relationship Building and The Great Advertising Awakening

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As we alluded to earlier, the old marketing approach was all about the “shotgun at the wall” strategy in which companies blasted out the same prefabricated message to everyone and hoped it would snag some customers. This strategy is slowly changing however, and the best and brightest minds in marketing are focused on establishing trust and relationships with potential buyers. I recently wrote an article for VentureBeat outlining the new sales funnel. It starts with establishing a relationship (tell before you sell). I propose you do that with ‘content.’  The basic idea is that if marketers can demonstrate their value to a customer by offering them quality free content and services, they can establish a trusting bond between the customer and the company out of which loyal buying is spawned.

In hindsight, this approach seems obvious. Indeed, customers do respond better to advertising messages from companies they volunteer to hear from, and why shouldn’t they? If you use free financial software website and find that it does, in fact, make your life easier, it follows that you are more likely to eventually buy an upgraded version or a newsletter subscription from the same company you already trust. Furthermore, when such purchases are presented to you, you are naturally more inclined to pay attention and consider the offer than if it flew by you at 40 MPH plastered to the side of a city bus on your morning commute.

Auto Responders

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Auto responders are programs that can be used in a variety of ways to send subscription based content and offers over email. These tools frequently work in conjunction with blogs to begin building a true relationship with readers. It typically works such that a blog is established around a certain topic, for example, real estate investing. Readers looking for free information on real estate investing then find the blog and enjoy the free content it publishes. These readers then have the option to subscribe to an email course that promises a new, helpful investment strategy every week. After several weeks of great content and tips being sent to the readers, they are hooked. These people have a weekly relationship with the company who runs the blog and are likely to consider paid services it offers since it has already proven its value to them. The auto responders can be triggered by certain actions the reader takes or they can be scheduled to trickle out over time.

Consumer Monitoring On Twitter

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Twitter is being used by companies to track what customers are saying about their brand and service. This allows the company to determine its strengths and quickly identify areas of weakness. Businessweek tells the story of a man who spotted celebrity William Schatner on a JetBlue airline and posted the story to his Twitter account. Within seconds, JetBlue was following his account, ostensibly to see if the post made any mention of the service he received. The article goes on to report that JetBlue is only one of many companies who regularly check for mentions of their brand on Twitter, and cites Comcast, Dell, General Motors, H&R Block, Kodak, and Whole Foods Market among them.

Facebook and the Value of Customer Interaction

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Facebook allows businesses to interact with their customers in a way never before possible. Through the use of comments, customers can tell the business exactly what they love and/or hate about their product, giving the business a chance to address these concerns and build a trusting relationship with buyers. Businesses can also broadcast various news via status updates that all “fans” of the company will see in their news feed. This allows the company to gauge customer opinion about new product ideas, announce sales events, and even just offer a friendly message to their loyal followers.

Facebook allows companies to open up a bit to their customers and share personal stories and insights that have traditionally remained within office walls. Through the use of Facebook’s “Notes” application, or by posting links to an outside blog, company executives can write about their plans for the future, address public concerns, or tell interesting stories about where various products and departments in the company originated. Sharing this kind of information with customers gives a company a personal side and helps to firm up the relationship between the business and consumer. ResourceNation provides a list of companies who are known for using sites like Facebook to blog and interact with customers, among them are such brands as Coca-Cola, AT&T and Absolute Vodka.

Facebook and the Power Of Local Events

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Local businesses have also been driving customers through their doors by using Facebook’s “Events” service. This application allows the business to post the details of an event they are planning to host, and interact with those who plan on attending. As an example, if nightclub plans to host a live DJ party on a particular night, they can create an event invitation detailing the live acts, food and drink specials, admission price and time of the event and send it to all of their “fans” on Facebook. As people respond that their are either attending or not, the nightclub can begin to predict how many people they can expect that night and plan accordingly. Additionally, fans can write comments on the event’s page telling the club what they hope to see and what they are excited or disappointed about, giving the business a chance to address these concerns and please their best customers.

This feature also allows the message of the event to travel further than the business could have ever hoped to accomplish on its own. When a fan responds that they are “attending” the event, that story shows up in the news feeds of all that person’s friends. Some of those friends might investigate where their buddy plans to be Friday night and decide they would like to attend as well. In turn, that person’s friends are now updated and the cycle continues, creating a snowball effect in which hundreds of new people might choose to patronize our theoretical nightclub’s party.

A report by Borrell Associates Inc. claims that corporate spending on social network marketing (such as Facebook and Twitter) is already around $4.5 billion, and is expected to rise to around $38 billion by 2015. “Given their unique ability to move messages among connected users, social networks have been irresistible to marketers looking for ways to deliver advertising and promotional messages,” the report explains. “The results to date have been breathtaking.”

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