Thinking Big When You’re Small: Engagement Marketing

What I find fascinating in small business sales and marketing today is that there is a huge emphasis on selling, but not necessarily building the loyalty in keeping the customer once you’ve snared them. We want our products to penetrate the market, but not necessarily permeate into the emotional culture of the customer we’re all after.

So, why the emphasis on the sell? Probably the continued need for a focus on the short-term bottom line, monthly projections, and quarterly sales goals. Operationally, I can see why this would be of interest. Without short-term cash flow, it possibly impedes business success. Strategically though, it can be a long-term recipe for disaster. The difference in thinking? Engagement and thinking big when you’re still small.

A customer’s engagement with your business can be vital in producing a healthy, long-term relationship that has them returning back to you over and over again. If you want to see business success in sales, let’s take a look at some of the giants. Southwest is a great example. Many of us who are A-List above don’t do it for the free wi-fi. While that’s a nice perk, we fly Southwest because of their low fares, no change fees, no baggage fees, and a culture of friendly customer service that makes the difference when you live much of your life in airports. It shows too. Southwest just reported for 2014 over $1 billion in revenue, completed a successful merger with AirTran, and haven’t hardly increased their sales tactics except for a refresh of their website and marketing materials look and feel. .

Another great example is Budweiser. Say what you want about the King of Beers, but they know their customers and man, do they engage with them. It’s a dialogue that pervades the places they serve Bud products, the commercials they air, and the social media they banter with (#ThisBudsForYou anyone?). They were just voted again on Forbes as one of the world’s most valuable brands and pulled in a cool nearly $22 billion last year in annual revenue. And while they sell, they make it so darn funny, you almost feel like you’re having a beer with a friend than a giant corporation that wants you to drink their product.

Finally, there’s the master of all customer engagement: Apple. I had a friend recently post on Facebook, shortly after Apple shared that they had earned $77 billion dollars in one quarter, the query of how one company could make so much money. You almost felt the sheepish pause as the rest of his friends, and finally the writer himself, counted and began posting pictures of the numerous Apple products everyone owns. Between work and home, I have six Apple products and my husband nearly as many. It’s not just that I prefer the way Apple products are. It’s because they’re seen as cool, and by association, hopefully I’m a little cooler too. The people wandering around with white ear buds and the latest music device are applying to the same thinking. The last Apple ad that I can remember was for the iPad mini, nearly a year and a half ago. I’m under the impression that they almost don’t need to sell, because their customers walk around as ongoing evangelists for them.

I’ve written before about engagement marketing, after I had returned from Disney World, another brand that does engagement and loyalty building well. What makes engagement marketing so masterful is it focuses around the business of creating these mini- communities where your customer feels like they have a space to belong. It’s as comfortable as home and as fun as Cheers, the popular Boston bar that always knows your name. Instead of selling, you’re building loyalty and a tribe that loves your business as much as you do. And as small business owners or really any business owners or employees, wouldn’t we want that for our customers? That they can’t wait to take part in the product or work we create because it’s so amazing? And not just amazing because we’ve told them so. Amazing because they’ve experienced it for themselves and love the continued outcomes they experience.

Here are three easy tips to thinking big when you’re small and keeping your eye on engagement

Be strategic and focused on the WIIFT
We must think big as the big companies do and strategically move ourselves out of “WIIFM” thinking into “WIIFT”, or what’s in it for them? Don’t lose sight of the cash flow, but also don’t rob Peter to pay Paul if there is true value in holding steady to creating long-term value for the business. Some products and events aren’t going to be as successful as others.  It’s going to sting to take a short-term loss. It’s going to sting a whole lot more if you declare bankruptcy because you over-discount or over-saturate the market with your sell, and still don’t see strong results.

Tell, not sell
Say what you will about the SuperBowl commercials this year, even that Nationwide one, but you remember most of them, don’t you? Using your marketing and communications to tell stories about your business, product lines, and culture is smart. Why? Stories create connections, connections create opportunities, and opportunities create sales. Tell prospective customers how you can make life better, easier, happier, smarter, etc. Don’t beat them over the head with the hard sell. Let the emotion and hook do the hard lifting for you.

Be consistent and fair
Maybe your sales techniques are working, but you aren’t retaining your customers. Are you consistently meeting expectations and delivering results? Are you offering more deals and discounts to the new customers or are you focused on all customers? Use the data that you’re gathering on customer and prospect behavior and tendencies wisely. Funnels aren’t just for prospects. They’re for everyone, because all of your customers went to you for a solution in the beginning. What are you giving them (or not giving them) is that allows them loyal and true to you?

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