How to build your customer database…it’s a tough question that keeps many business owners up at night. You want to reach your customers and clientele on their level. You want to meet their needs, provide service that wows them, and keep them coming back for more.
But at the same time, many marketing managers worry about coming on too strong and getting too personal. You want to build a genuine relationship with your clients—not wear them down or come off as invasive.
While your key customers value their privacy, they also expect personalization—so many companies end up attempting a balancing act. Yet, most research shows customers willingly share information, provided they know it’s being used to create a positive experience.
Your best bet? Give customers opportunities to share information openly rather than staying quiet and waiting for data that will never come.
Here are four innovative ways to get your customers to open up:
1. Conduct (short) surveys to capture details
Micro-surveys have become quite popular over the last few years. These quick surveys consist of less than five questions and are often conducted right at the point of sale. While they’re obviously effective for collecting customer satisfaction metrics in B2C settings such as retail, they’re ALSO a great way to capture metrics about your key buyers, even in B2B. But don’t get greedy—keep your surveys short. Measure overall satisfaction or let clients quickly assess one issue like delivery speed. If you want to collect a demographic metric, focus on one, such as company size or volume. Keeping it concise keeps your contact from feeling hassled.
2. Work with micro-influencers who click with your audience
Micro-influencers (those with a social media audience of under 5000 followers) are also great promoters of your brand, especially seeing as 85% of consumers trust peer recommendations over traditional ads. This same approach works for B2B sales as well. Campaigns driven by micro-influencers show 60% higher engagement. For a much lower cost than a “celebrity endorsement,” an influencer will share your products or services with their enthusiastic and loyal peer supporters—many of whom share commonalities you can use for segmentation as you build your customer database.
3. Offer subscribing customers incentives
Can you give your top clients access to exclusive notifications? Bonus content? New products or services before they’re otherwise publicized? If you want to collect customer data by sharing a weekly newsletter or another piece of content, then give them exclusive access or extra incentives for handing over their information. Customers respond well to value-driven opt-in incentives: a series of demonstration videos, a printable maintenance schedule, an easy reference guide. Don’t offer a one-time opt-in to trade for their email address and contact information and then forget about the relationship. Use communication, incentives, bonuses and exclusive opportunities as a method for building that ongoing relationship and discovering more about your clients.
4. Provide easy signups to build your customer database
How easy is it for your clients to share their data with you? When your customers visit your website or place a job order, are they given a clear, easy way to sign up for future communication? It may seem like a no-brainer, but many businesses skip this critical step. Clients may visit your website one time, but if you want to build repeat business, create a clear, obvious, easy method for capturing those leads. Customers spend under a minute on a website (sometimes far less time), so don’t miss out on a chance to build a connection.
If you want to build your customer database, it’s important to focus on building your relationships. When you’ve forged a strong bond with your clients, built loyalty, and offered them incentives, they’ll keep on comin’ back for more.
Do you dream of building a big following on one or more of the major social media channels? Don’t bother – it’s a waste of your time and it’s important you understand why.
It wasn’t always that way. During the last decade, the bigger your social networks were, the more people you could reach. Many of your posts to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social channels got a decent number of likes and shares. As the volume of messages on these networks has grown exponentially, that’s no longer the case.
The social networks are changing. In order to support these massive numbers of users, the major social media networks have turned their attention to growing their revenues. In many cases, they’re reducing the number of followers who can see your free updates. If you want to be seen by your target audience, you must now pay for that privilege.
Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Medium and other channels now decide how much your content is visible to the world. Lately, those numbers have been going down:
- Posts to your Facebook company page are now shown to only 2-3% of your followers. That’s abysmal!
- Twitter and LinkedIn, have been modifying their search algorithms to de-emphasize organic (free) content so they can serve more paid advertising in your streams.
Don’t build your house on rented land
In today’s online world, there’s a real danger to “building your house on rented land.”
In other words, by publishing your content on platforms and channels you don’t own or control, you run the risk of them unexpectedly changing the rules and compromising your brand’s visibility. This is happening more frequently today. Imagine, for example, the Fortune 100 consumer products company that invested hundreds of thousands of dollars building a million-person audience on Facebook – only to discover that only a fraction of this massive audience can see its updates. That big investment is now practically worthless!
A common-sense approach to social media
In this constantly shifting environment, your best bet is to focus your content on platforms and channels that you DO own. Your website is the first and most obvious place to do that. What does this mean from a tactical standpoint?
- Your website should serve as the hub of your online presence. Think of your social media accounts as spokes joined to it. Your posts on these channels should always lead visitors to your website – for example, to download a new report, read a blog post or learn more about a new product.
- Because your free posts aren’t likely to reach as big of an audience as before, you should consider selectively using paid promotion to ensure that other potential customers can see your most important updates.
- Your ultimate goal should be to provide these visitors with such great value that they will subscribe to your enewsletter. As you may have already guessed, a list of confirmed email subscribers is another asset you own and control. You can communicate with them whenever you want, within reason.
Subscribers versus sales leads
One final note: You may believe you already have a list of subscribers because your website is generating sales leads. But they are not the same. A sales lead is an inquiry about a specific product, service or need that a prospect has. It doesn’t explicitly give you permission to communicate with them on an ongoing basis – any more than meeting someone once at a cocktail party means you can call them every week. A subscription, on the other hand, gives you explicit permission to communicate with them over time.
Now that you better understand what’s at stake, it’s time to make some adjustments in your content distribution strategy. Focus on building your house on solid ground – the web properties and assets you own and control. Good luck!
Most companies are addicted to pumping out content, even though a bevy of research shows that’s not an effective strategy.
According to the 2015 B2B Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends Report from the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), 76% of marketers say they’re creating more content in 2016 than in 2015. Why? Because In many cases, they don’t have a sound strategy for what they’re doing. Even worse, only 32% of marketers have a documented content marketing strategy.
The conventional wisdom of marketing goes something like this:
- Content marketing seems like it may be important, so let’s publish some of it.
- We need to be everywhere online so our prospective customers can find us.
- So let’s create more of it, and promote it to every social media channel we can think of!
But what many marketers don’t stop to think about is that all of this content represents a cost to the business. Someone – either internally or externally – needs to be paid to create, publish and promote it. It also has an opportunity cost: By doing A, you don’t have time to do B.
In addition to time, you have to consider ROI. Is your current content making an impact on your target audience? Is it changing their behavior? Driving leads and sales? Helping you build relationships with them? Are they taking desirable action as a result of consuming your content?
If you’re not sure, then it’s time to step back and ask “Why?”
It’s time to get more purposeful with your content
Invest some time to think about each of your content-related channels and tactics using this simple but powerful question:
- Why do we have a presence on (name your communications channel of choice)?
Repeat this question for each of the channels where you’re currently publishing or promoting content. I think you’ll find it’s an eye-opening exercise!
Here are several additional questions that can help you separate the wheat from the chaff and surface assumptions you didn’t realize you were making:
- What is the business reason for us to participate in this channel?
- Do our customers and prospects use this channel? Is it an effective way of communicating with them?
- Is our content making a measurable impact on their behavior?
You can also drill deeper into your thoughts and motivations by asking “Why?” multiple times in succession. For example:
- Why are we promoting our products and services on LinkedIn Groups? Because several of them appear to match the demographics of our prospective customers.
- Why do these groups appeal to our prospective customers? Because they discuss business topics that help them be more effective in their work roles.
- Why aren’t we getting more engagement on our posts within these groups? Because “drive-by posting” isn’t an effective approach to group participation on LinkedIn. We need to actively participate and be helpful to other members there.
Stop doing what isn’t working!
The bottom line of this exercise is to help you stop doing the things that aren’t working. Focus more of your time and energy on those tactics and tasks that DO resonate your target audience and DO contribute an ROI to your business.
We all complain that we don’t have enough hours in the day to get everything done. But if you eliminate the activities that don’t add value, it magically frees up time that you can devote to higher value-added tasks that WILL make a bigger impact on your business. You simply need to ask:
Now that many brands are figuring out how to produce content efficiently, their natural tendency is to publish more of it, faster. More must be better, right? When it comes to content marketing, no. In most cases, it’s a race to irrelevance.
The greatest value lies in the QUALITY of your thinking, not the QUANTITY.
The glut of content is about to get worse
According to the B2B Content Marketing – 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends – North America report recently published by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), 73% of the most effective B2B marketers say they will increase the amount of content they produce in 2016. An astounding 81% of the least effective marketers will do this year. At the same time, 40% of the least effective marketers say they do not have a content marketing strategy – written or verbal.
Without a strategy, most companies find themselves in the mode of throwing a bunch of spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks, figuratively speaking. They produce some content and measure the results. But what they end up with is a pile of disjointed pieces that do nothing to build trusted relationships with their target audience. In addition, they tend to discover that the tradeoff between quantity and quality is almost unavoidable.
In other words, more content almost always results in lower quality.
In the early days of content marketing, the tactic of producing more content was generally accepted as a best practice. But even CMI has backed away from that in the last year or two as the world has become buried under a glut of low-value listicles, basic “how-to” articles and other forms of “evergreen content.” Robert Rose, CMI’s chief strategist, now advocates producing the minimum amount of content you need to generate the impact you require, but no more.
This approach makes abundant sense because it is driven by a clear strategy and objectives. You must have measurable goals in mind in order to know how much impact your efforts are generating.
Absent goals, the metrics you’re tracking have little or no meaning.
Here are three ways poor content quality can actually damage your brand:
- Irrelevance breeds ignorance: If your content isn’t relevant to the needs of your prospective customers, they will quickly learn to ignore it.
- Sayonara, boring content: They may become more active in blocking your communications by unsubscribing from your email list and unfollowing you on social networks. Think about the ways in which you pare down your online networks, and who you eliminate first. Your target audience will likely use similar criteria to weed you out of their networks. Nobody has time for self-serving, irrelevant communications.
- I found someone else: Existing customers may get so tired of your irrelevant communications that they may switch suppliers – that’s the worst-case scenario, obviously, but it IS possible.
Unfortunately, however, old ways die hard. Many companies will continue to turn the crank faster and will pursue strategies and tactics to “scale” their content marketing efforts. In some large industries and markets, that may still make some sense, as brands jockey to become the thought leaders in their niche.
But for the majority of brands and industries, there is NO discernable reward for the volume of content created. In most cases, more mediocre content just becomes part of the background noise and gets ignored by customers and prospects.
What should you do now?
Invest more time creating a smaller quantity of high quality, creative content. It needs to be clearly focused on the needs of its target audience and must be clearly differentiated from its competitors to rise above the noise and make a lasting impact.
Take your time: When you only have one opportunity to influence a potential customer, you must put your best foot forward. Take your time and do it right!
By now, most companies realize they need to be implementing a content marketing strategy. As they start to exercise this new marketing muscle, their efforts can quickly veer off track, if they’re not careful. In other words, those companies that dabble in content marketing tend to fail.
What do I mean by dabbling? Trying a few experiments – but not really making a commitment to it. There are two primary scenarios that tend to happen when companies adopt an informal, unstructured approach to content marketing:
Without a strategy, early efforts at content marketing tend to be scattered, disconnected and ineffective. Producing content without a specific target audience and well-developed personas is like sailing a ship without a rudder. Without the ability to steer, it gets pushed in any direction the wind blows. So it is with corporate content experiments. Without a consistent direction and publishing calendar, they deliver little or no measurable results, and thus quietly wither away.
Pilot programs for content marketing
Pilot programs make a lot of sense for marketing managers seeking to build a base of support: Start with a small, low-cost experiment. Learn from it. Show an early success to your boss and other stakeholders. Ask for modest budget. Build a committed group of internal champions to support your fledgling content initiative before you make a bigger “ask.”
Even though pilot programs tend feel more structured than ad hoc experiments, they often end up in the same place. You not only need quality, customer-focused content, but also consistency to win at this new game. A several-month experiment doesn’t usually produce enough engagement data for the marketing team to extract meaningful insights. Building customer relationships takes time – far longer than the typical timeframe of a pilot project.
What content marketing research says
The Content Marketing Institute’s B2B Content Marketing 2016: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America report supports the idea that many marketers aren’t being very strategic:
- Only 35% of respondents say they have a documented content marketing strategy, and
- Only one-third (30%) believe they are effective at it.
When it comes to content marketing, failing to plan is planning to fail.
So what’s the solution to this common problem?
A well-thought out content marketing strategy can significantly increase your odds of success. It should include these elements:
A clear set of objectives. What are your goals for launching a content marketing initiative? To increase brand preference? Generate a larger number of qualified sales leads? Be clear on your destination. Define it as specifically as you can in your plan.
A tightly-defined target audience. Who are you trying to influence as part of this content marketing initiative? Focus on a single, narrowly-defined audience segment whose need to conserve.
A comprehensive audience persona. Invest time developing a detailed audience persona. What problems does this person face in their business? What keeps them awake at night? What motivates them? What are their aspirations?
Describe their buyer’s journey. What are your touchpoints with this person from the time he or she first joins your list until they purchase your product or service? Add this information to a timeline.
Define their needs at each touch point on the customer journey. These needs will change significantly throughout this process. Map this information to your timeline.
Brainstorm content ideas for each stage of the buyer’s journey. Develop ideas for high quality informational content that will help to nurture them each step of the way.
After you launch your content marketing initiative, review the data from your metrics to determine which content is resonating with your audience and which pieces are not. Make adjustments as needed.
It’s time to develop your plan
Do you have a documented content strategy, customer personas defined and content mapped to it? If not, now’s the time to develop a comprehensive plan to take your content initiative to new levels of effectiveness.
To learn more, download our new content marketing eGuide, Making the Leap to Better Waters: Growth Cycle Marketing – a proven strategy for generating sales.