When it Comes to Your Marketing Goals, Don’t Forget About Consumer Education

thinkstockphotos-484055754Whenever you begin to execute a marketing campaign, you’re usually trying to service a few key goals at the same time. One of your top priorities is most likely brand awareness – you don’t just want to get the word out about a product or service, but you’re also trying to position your company as an authority on a particular topic. You may also want to help inform your target audience about the product in question. One of the most important marketing goals that far too many people overlook until it’s too late, however, is consumer education. When it comes to your objectives, consumer education must ALWAYS be a top priority for a number of key reasons.

The Benefits of the Consumer Education Push

For marketers themselves, an increased emphasis on consumer education brings with it a host of different benefits that can’t be ignored. For starters, it allows you to take a deeper level of control over the narrative that you’re trying to tell than ever before. You’re essentially reframing the information that consumers are actively looking for in a much more positive way. Instead of making a declarative statement with your campaign like, “Here are all of the amazing and incredible features that my product or service has,” you get to instead take a decidedly less sales-oriented approach and offer advice like, “Here are the problems you have, here is why you have them, and here is how my product or service is the answer you’ve been looking for.”

Perhaps the biggest benefit of all to taking a consumer education approach to marketing, however, is that you’re no longer trying to convince your customers that your product or service is necessary. Instead, you get to essentially PROVE that it’s necessary and let your customer base come to the same conclusion on their own. This helps to deepen the sense of confidence that consumers get from your company, which almost always leads to loyalty sooner rather than later.

Transforming the Landscape

Another key thing to keep in mind about making consumer education one of your core marketing objectives has to do with the subtle ways in which you change the relationship between company and customer. With consumer education, marketing is no longer a passive approach. Instead, it’s decidedly active – consumers are no longer HEARING about your product or READING about it, they’re LEARNING about it. They’re engaged with your materials in a whole new way. It officially transforms the marketing experience into a two-way street by way of empowerment. Consumers will WANT to keep learning about what you have to say and what you have to offer, helping to increase penetration rates at the same time. The more satisfied with the marketing experience a consumer is, the more confident they ultimately are with the ways in which they spend your money. If you can turn the tide of the conversation in your direction through consumer education, you’re looking at a powerful opportunity that you can no longer afford to ignore.

These are just a few of the reasons why consumer education needs to be one of your marketing goals at all times. Not only does it bring with it the added benefit of affecting consumer behavior in a positive way, but it also helps establish you and your organization as the authority on a particular topic that people are actively looking for.

High School Loyalty and Brand Community

There’s something about high school that inspires loyalty for decades after graduation. For an outsider looking in, it can be difficult to understand why people care so much about their past high school experiences. Whether it’s journeying hundreds of miles for a high school reunion or feeling offended when someone insults the old sports hero, high school loyalties run deep for many people.

Why?

High schools have built an incredibly strong community within their walls. The students have countless shared experiences together, from classes and teachers to events and activities. These common moments help to tie the collective memories together.

This same sense of community, which helps bring high schools such strong loyalty, can also prove helpful in the business world. Building brand loyalty can lead to higher numbers of repeat customers and more referrals, both of which are excellent for the bottom line. Here’s how to go about building a community around your brand.

Create shared experiences

Help customers get to know each other and your representatives. Host get-togethers and customer events. Get involved in your local community. Raise money for a national charity, or sponsor regional fundraising events. All of these are fantastic ways to bring your customers together, improve your reputation, and get your brand in front of new potential customers. They’re also great conversation starters with followers later on social media or in blog posts.

Encourage connections

Invite existing customers to tell stories about using your products or services on various social media platforms. Have contests where people take pictures of themselves with your product or share stories of how your service helped them. This type of sharing builds credibility for your brand and helps participating customers feel more connected to your company. It helps encourage a concept known as the ‘bandwagon effect,’ where people are more likely to try a product or service when they see others doing so. Having customers share their experiences with your brand helps all customers and potential customers see themselves as a part of a desirable group, which increases loyalty.

Highlight clients and employees

Show prospects the people behind the reviews and the employees who will be helping them succeed. Highlighting past clients and employees in this manner serves two purposes. First, the person highlighted will enjoy and appreciate the attention cast upon them. And second, other customers will feel a connection to the person and thereby feel a strong connection to your brand.

Building a strong community around your brand can help tremendously when building brand loyalty. Just like a high school looking to encourage its alumni to come out and root for the home team, creating a strong loyalty can serve your company well for years to come. Keep the above three tips in mind and start coming up with ideas to build loyalty for your brand.

Keeping in Touch with Your Customers — Without Annoying Them

When you’re trying to build your business, it’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of the hunt — for new customers, that is. However, as studies from the Harvard Business School show, focusing attention on existing customers and increasing retention rates by just 5% will increase your profits by 25% to 95%!

Of course, savvy business owners know there’s a fine line between keeping in touch and being a bit… well… annoying, or even worse, stalky.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes: How many e-mails do you want to receive every day? How many phone calls do you want to take? Sure, persistence is important in cultivating your customer base, but overdoing it can prove counterproductive by annoying the very customers you’re trying to reach. Here’s how to find the right balance.

Make it Personal

Who doesn’t like to receive a personalized card or handwritten note in the mail? There’s a world of difference between sending out an impersonal flyer or form letter and a customized note printed on attractive cardstock. Which would you be more likely to open and read?

Send personalized updates on the “regular” occasions — clients’ birthdays, anniversaries, major holidays, and the like — but also consider spicing it up a bit by sending a note or card when they don’t expect it. After all, most businesses send appreciation cards and letters during the winter holidays, so that’s just par for the course. Stand out by also picking a random date to surprise them.

Loyalty Programs

And speaking of dates, choose a day with significance for your customer — like their birthday or the anniversary of their first major purchase from your business — and use that occasion to automatically enroll them in a loyalty program. All you have to do is send an email letting them know you’ve enrolled them into your “VIP” program, or whatever you choose to call it.

Why automatically? Because a key to successful loyalty programs lies in making it as effortless for your customers as possible, without requiring them to take any extra steps or actions.

Artificial Advancement

The other key to successful loyalty programs lies in creating what’s known as “artificial advancement” toward a goal or milestone. A 2006 study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that customers who received punch cards as part of a loyalty program were more likely to become repeat customers if they were given a head start toward reaching a goal. For instance, many coffee shops offer loyalty cards that give a customer a stamp for each coffee drink they buy, then reward them with a free drink once they’ve accrued 10 stamps.

Researchers found that customers were almost three times more likely to use their punch cards — and spend money at a business — if at least two stamps were already present on the card when they first received it. Apparently, customers like to feel that they’re already well on their way to receiving awards!

Make Contacts Worth Their While

Whether it’s in an e-mail, through a printed newsletter, or on a sales call, providing customers with information they can use adds value to your communications and eliminates the annoyance factor. Offering industry news, community updates, or other data that’s relevant and useful to your customers goes a long way toward transforming the way they perceive your marketing efforts. A professionally written and well-designed direct mail piece sent a few times a year that’s packed with info they can use is always welcome.

If you keep your communications relevant, concise, respectful, useful, and personalized, you’ll never have to worry about being too persistent.

Improve Customer Loyalty

It’s far more cost-effective to retain existing customers than it is to attract new ones. Here are a few tips to increase customer retention rates by improving your customer loyalty:

  • Mail personalized thank you cards showing your appreciation for recent purchases or interest in your products and services.
  • Create a customer loyalty program that offers special promotions and incentives for return customers, such as birthday discounts, a reward punch card, free shipping, monthly discounts, or free upgrades.
  • Give customers a great experience with your brand. Offer a quality product and stand behind it.
  • Encourage open communication with customers by requesting feedback and suggestions. Offer options such as e-mail, online surveys, a toll-free number, and discussion forums.
  • Humanize your brand and create a personal connection with your customers by interacting in social media. Encourage customers to respond to your blog posts, attend trade shows, provide open houses, offer hands-on training sessions, and more.
  • Treat your customers like insiders. Include them in decisions, ask for feedback, and assure them their opinions are valued.
  • Consistently under-promise and over-deliver to ensure customer satisfaction.
  • Surprise your customers with something they don’t expect, such as a coupon for “$10 off your next $10 purchase” just because.
  • Remember the golden rule. Think about the type of treatment you would like to receive as a customer.