Small business budgets can be, well, small. Whether you’re in the beginning phases of a new business or are an established entity, budgets are tight and every penny is allocated to a specific function. When it comes to marketing budgets, they are often non-existent. Yet, marketing continues to scale the ladder of importance when it comes to small business operations.
The real question, then, is how does a small business integrate marketing efforts with minimal budget? One practically free means of marketing is to enlist your current customers as unofficial brand advocates. Tapping into your captive and loyal consumer base offers your business endless opportunities to increase brand awareness for minimal spend.
Engaging your customers in an unofficial capacity is an organic way to connect with consumers, bolster sales, and improve website traffic. It’s a win-win situation since it’s mutually beneficial for your business and your customers. So what are you waiting for?
First things first. Before you do anything, set specific goals for your brand ambassador efforts. Common objectives are increased online engagement, a specific percentage of new customers, or doubling the amount of user generated content. Once these are solidified, your business is ready to interact with your best customers.
Find The Cream of the Crop
Determining who are your most vocal customers is the key to brand advocate success. Search your social networks for direct messages, comments, tags and mentions that include your business. Locate the individuals that are already saying good things about your business and add them to your target ambassador list.
You’ll need to dig into your analytics data, but with recent advancements with Twitter Dashboard and other social insight tools, you can easily identify your best consumers.
image courtesy of Social Media Examiner
Strengthen Your Relationship with Your Customers
People want to help others whom they respect and feel respected by. In order to have customers who are willing to promote your business, you must establish your brand as a trusted resource with notable offers and valuable information.
Stumped as to where to begin building long lasting relationship? Here are three ways to make your business irresistible to your audience:
- Deliver stellar customer service
Businesses with exemplary customer service practices are well-known for a reason. People have come to expect poor service, so when they receive personalized, human customer service, they want to share it with all the world!
Be mindful of details, response time, and tone when handling customer inquiries. Establishing best practices for customer interactions will serve your business in the long run. Instill in each employee that every interaction is an opportunity to bolster a customer’s opinion. Being professional, polite, knowledgeable, and friendly will yield positive feelings and goodwill. Like the saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”
- Listen to your audience and take action on relevant feedback
Social listening is becoming a requirement for brand management for businesses of all size. Pay attention to how users are talking about your brand online.
If there is consistent feedback about an improvement or something people love about your product, take note and take action. Once you make an improvement or change something due to social feedback, you can react on social media.
Respond directly to those who informed the change and give thanks to anyone who sends out positive reviews about your business. Personalize your responses as much as possible to convey the real side of your business and further your connection with these individuals. They won’t forget kinds words, retweets or being praised.
- Offer insider access
Nothing makes someone feel more valued than exclusive access. For your best customers, send them specific emails with special offers, such as a free template, a limited-time discount, or invitation to an exclusive event. You can even ask them for direct feedback or to beta test a new product before it is released to the public. J.Crew offers behind the scenes views for their subscribers as well as styling tips to social followers. This type of sharing resonates with its target audience and garners stronger relationships because customers know they’re receiving perks for their loyalty.
image courtesy of J.Crew
By targeting and pampering your best customers, they’ll feel special, recognized and trusted, which only strengthens their loyalty to your business.
Employing these customer-centric techniques will help your business find your best customers and enhance their relationships with your brand.
How Customers Can Endorse Your Business
Now that your top tier customers are feeling warm and fuzzy about your business, it’s time to give them ways to spread the love about your brand.
- Word of Mouth
This is a tried and true method, and a highly effective means of promoting a business. As mentioned before, people like to inform others of great businesses and information. Most likely this group has already organically shared by word of mouth about your business, but with your heightened relationship, they have even more goodwill to spread about you.
- Social Media Sharing
Make your content easy to share. Add social sharing buttons to your website and emails, so your fans can quickly send great articles, templates, and offers to their networks. Tools such as, Shareaholic, place social handle widgets onto your webpages, and simplify the sharing process for your readers.
image courtesy of Shareaholic
Another way to encourage social sharing is to have branded hashtags that are associated with your business. This way, if someone tweets about your business, and uses the hashtag, it is catalogued with other mentions and comments about your brand. A good rule of thumb is to keep the hashtag short and sweet, but memorable. Once it catches on, your loyal followers will use it constantly.
Building up social equity with branded hashtags is simple to implement and pays dividends with social growth.
- Online Reviews & Testimonials
Ask for product and service reviews after a purchase. Even better, send a personalized email to your customers asking for their feedback and testimonials. This ties back to the exclusive access component that people love.
These reviews and testimonials can be added to your website and shared on social media. Real reviews are extremely valuable and contribute positively to your SEO and public authority.
- Arm Them with Promotional Goods
Give your customers something to show their affection toward your brand. Whether it’s a car magnet or a reusable tote or a pen, people will use these branded items, and they will expose your business to potential customers. Investing a small amount of money into a promotional item that people use delivers serious bang for your buck.
Customers are one of the greatest assets to a small business. Their happiness and satisfaction with a business can have huge ripple effects, and with the right tools, they can become the largest advocate. Will you make your best customers your unofficial advocates? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
About the Author: Julie Chomiak is the Content Marketing Specialist for Webs and Pagemodo. When she’s not scouring the web for small business trends, Julie loves traveling, interior design, and animals of all kinds. Get more from Julie on the Webs Blog and the Pagemodo blog.