You’ve probably read a ton of articles on marketing, search engine optimisation and branding, detailing steps you and your team (or business) should be taking. But this article will simplify six marketing hacks that will surely help your business.
First let me tell you about my friend, Silas.
Silas had a thriving craft business, he made the most beautiful things out of seashells. After two years, he had saved up enough money to put down a deposit on a condo, and found a partner to take the business out of our town and into the city. But a water-skiing accident left Silas hospitalized for months and saddled him with a lot of debt. In six months, someone else had started the same type of business and his customer had forgotten about him. My friend came to me dispirited, exhausted and angry at the situation.
These are the six things I told him to do, and how they transformed his business and life.
1. Engage with your customers on social media.
Notice that I didn’t say, get on social media, I said engage. Too many businesses are on social media just as a signpost of their existence. Few engage their customers about their products. Experts say that companies need to decide how they will help customers to interact with their products or brands. I asked Silas to take a survey of customers’ perception of seashell usefulness. Most people answered, “Put it in a glass.” They didn’t know that they could be used to create mosaic, household crafts, tools, and furniture.
So I advised him to open an Instagram account. We set it up together using clear, well-defined pictures. Then I told him to highlight a list of things he could say about seashells and discuss these on his page. In six months, not only did his customers know about seashells, they were motivated to buy his work, and not just from our town but from all over the country.
This marketing strategy caused new customers to become aware of Silas’ brand, much more than he anticipated. For the customers, it wasn’t just about seeing new crafts, but learning about seashells and product creation. Silas had to dedicate hours to answer questions about seashell types, crafting and uses.
2. Use instant messaging and SMS to market your products
Prior to the accident, Silas owned a small store by a popular bistro. Couples and groups would usually stroll into his store and get his latest creation. It was close to the beach and a favorite spot for tourists; he didn’t need much publicity, because he was right there. After his accident, he could no longer afford the store and had to operate out of his home. He needed to find a way to reconnect with his old customers.
I told Silas he had to communicate with them on the go, through SMS and an instant messaging platform. Instant messaging especially helps retailers to take their business with them on their devices. With the voice, video, and text features of most apps, marketers can maintain and improve brand awareness by providing customer service and advertising their goods and services.
Luckily Silas had a record of some of his old customers, and gradually started to reach out to them. He told them he was back in business, and all the ways he had restructured his business to suit their demands. Some of them wanted to know if he could deliver their products to them, and thankfully he had already set this up.
Others wanted to know what he thought about allegations against the seashell industry, but he didn’t know what to answer. Silas had never heard about such allegations. Suffice it to say that he lost those customers, some of whom called him cruel and greedy. And that’s where this next advice came in.
3. Be proactive with brand reputation
Silas came to me on a wet Saturday morning, his eyes red with worry. Some of these angry customers had found him on Instagram and left nasty reviews about his line of business. “Psychopath Silas”, they called him. Concerned customers cancelled their orders, and others were posting emotional videos of them throwing their seashell products into rivers and lakes. His Instagram follower count dropped by the hundreds. Silas had looked on in horror as the crisis grew from bad to worse. “I thought it would pass away, I thought things would get better,” he said.
Marketing teams should be proactive with their brand reputation. Silas had not been aware of the damning allegations against his industry, and only found out about it after it had damaged his brand reputation. Even when he was aware of the situation, he thought it would blow over and didn’t take any steps to counteract the hostility on social media.
We spent that Saturday drafting a business strategy, focusing on brand strategies and marketing plans. Silas also signed up for the latest news in wild and sea life. After consulting a public relations professional, he released a public statement expressing his regret about the situation and utmost respect for sea creatures. Then he let his followers know that he sourced his own sea shells ethically, he was branching into seashell photography, and that his craft was done in honor of these sea creatures. He followed this up with his own volunteer experience in saving endangered species. As a proactive measure, he started a weekly awareness program about sea life preservation and started a non-profit to further this. To counter the Psychopath Silas hashtag, he started a new one: #SeaLifeHonor.
With these, Silas regained the trust of his followers. He also learned a very important lesson: always stay on top of your brand reputation.
4. Prioritize customer reviews and feedback: Make them brand ambassadors
As Silas’s business gained new reputation and new followership, he decided that he needed other voices championing the cause of his business. As part of his weekly social media outreach, he started to include an appeal for customer reviews. A good number of his followers were only too happy to do this, and gave glowing reports of his products, non-profit work and warm personality.
As a thank you for these reviews, Silas began a monthly giveaway through a quiz. He did this via SMS and social media. When he reviewed his Instagram Insights, he noticed a spike in customer engagement during this time of the month. So he decided to use the giveaway as a marketing tactic. The giveaway prize was henceforth one of his new creations. You can imagine that the popularity of this giveaway soared. As a result, his brand awareness increased, and so did his Instagram followership and income (by 27% and 32% respectively).
5. Collaborate with other businesses to give customers a fuller package
However you look at it, seashell craft is a luxury. Silas had recognized that he needed to put in more effort at marketing during off-peak periods, and one of the ways he thought he could do this is through collaboration.
He identified the businesses close to his former store by the beach: the bistros, the photo booths, cocktail huts, surf shops and the beach huts. Then he approached the most relevant ones with a plan to give customers more and drive cash flow (the off-peak period affected them too).
Doing this required developing new products based on market segmentation and the businesses involved. For instance, he created four product types: one for vegetarians, one for meat lovers, one for senior citizens, and one for newlyweds. They agreed to drive awareness of these products through social media and SMS. According to Silas: “We had to reach them off and online, and it worked!” They sold these products much more than they had anticipated and business was much better than in previous years.
What Silas and his collaborators did right, is that they identified their customers’ needs and put together an offer that gave potential customers a range of products in one affordable package. Notwithstanding the discounts they all had to give, these businesses were able to drive revenue, encounter new customers, and network for the future.
6. Connect your products to a theme or event
The movie industry uses a brilliant tool to sensitize its audience: trailers. Trailers give an idea of what to come, build expectations and create a connection between the audience and the story. Luxury products are usually given as a souvenir or gift; these products thrive on sentimental value. Marketing teams need to find a way to bring about this connection between the audience and the product, and the glue for this bond is sentimental value. Coca Cola did this with their 1995 Christmas ad, in which audiences see a town’s residents rush to await a Coca Cola train that lights up the Christmas lights on the houses. The ad says one thing: Coca Cola will light up your Christmas. This idea of merging the most anticipated season with a brand was brilliant and continues to be used annually by the company.
I told Silas he needed to do this too. Here’s what he did. He talked about his accident and how it had affected his business, in short, he told the story of the journey that had brought him from that fateful day at the beach, to his fully paid condo and the business that now served customers nationwide. Then he announced a new line of products that were symbols of his journey. He called it: The Epoch Series.
As you can imagine, it garnered well-wishes and support for his brand. As soon as the new product line was ready, orders came in a flood and he had to employ temporary staff to deliver them all.
Silas’s story continues to inspire me and I tell it to as many people who come to me with marketing and branding challenges. One thing stands out to me whenever I retell or recall this story: Silas knew his customers. This is what he once said when we talked about it: “I thought all I had to do was create a great product, but what I really needed to do was to create a community of customers who love the product and the brand.”