The Power of People
Thumbs upThough the basic principles of conversational marketing have remained unchanged, technology has vastly extended its reach. We can now communicate across the globe at light speed. People are talking again. Social media has enabled us to exchange opinions about anything, from our favorite brand of ice cream to the President’s performance, for the world to read. Databases allow us to track information about our customers so we can group them in niche segments and communicate with them on a more personal level. People expect to receive information and messages that are relevant to their interests. Consumers have more power than ever before and there is a distrust of many companies, particularly those that do not treat them as individuals.

Word of mouth is more powerful than ever before. According to a recent Ogilvy Cannes study, 74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decision. Corporate America can no longer rely on mass marketing to sway public opinion. If businesses are to remain competitive, they must personalize their relationships with customers, transitioning from mass marketing to one-to-one marketing solutions. Soliciting consumer input and tailoring strategies to address their reactions is the key. Even large companies are successfully using this bottom-up approach to gain significant market share. Here’s how they are doing it:

Personalized Communication
Thanks to advancements in database management software, an expanded number of e-communication tools, and customized direct mailers, it is easy and cost effective to personalize marketing efforts to appeal to the unique affinities of individual customers. Popular email software such as Constant Contact, MailChimp and Emma will allow you to segment your mailing list for ease of personalization.

We use a software product called Hubspot at our agency to keep track of our contacts’ information and preferences, as well as our conversations and correspondence with them. This helps all of us in the agency access information on the evolution of our relationships with key contacts. As a result, many of the people we do business with feel that our agency offers a highly personalized level of service.

Individualized Recommendations and Offers
Customized benefits let your customers know you are really listening, just like a good conversationalist. Grocery store chains have adopted a process of generating coupons for specific customers based on items they have purchased in the past. Mail order DVD rental service Netflix and internet shopping resource Amazon give purchase recommendations based on past sales and browsing history.

In our database, we keep track of how the journalists like to receive press releases, whether it’s by email, fax, or postal mail. Yes, some people still like to receive mail the old-fashioned way, and we honor that! They appreciate the fact that we provide information to them in the format that they can use.

Keeping the Conversation Going
Those you have already won over are your most powerful marketing tool. They are your brand ambassadors. Therefore, it’s important to give customers a reason to continue spreading the word about your company and buying your product. Skilled marketers keep them coming back by including new information customers will value in every promotional piece. Specialty retailer Williams-Sonoma includes appealing recipes made with featured cooking gadgets in its culinary catalog. Longfellows Greenhouses, a family-owned business in central Maine, includes seasonal plant care advice and notices about specials and sales in its regular e-newsletter.

Encouraging interaction is a must. Requesting testimonials, utilizing customer service surveys, and hosting contests relevant to your product are all effective ways of generating customer involvement. The Jones Soda Co. features photos of customers on its ever-changing soda bottle labels. How’s that for building affinity?

Varying your method of contact reinforces your message and maintains interest. This also prevents the impression of over communication. Many retail companies send out quarterly catalogs through the mail and then reinforce their main sales piece by emailing notices with gift ideas, sales notices or special offers several weeks later. It’s also critical to respond to customer queries promptly. Remember, conversational marketing is a dialogue. To continue the dialogue, a customer’s needs and concerns must be addressed in a timely, professional fashion.

Reward Loyalty
Give your devoted customers the royal treatment. They already like you. Now make them love you. What do you do when you find something you really love? Talk about it! Consider them ambassadors of your product. Treat them to special discounts, membership in a “V.I.P.” club, advance information on new products and promotions, birthday cards, and rewards that communicate they are part of a select, highly valued group.

Let the Customer Control the Process
As Donna Baier Stein and Alexandra MacAaron stress in their book “The New Marketing Conversation,” the customer should be able to dictate how, and how often, you contact them. Let them decide on print versus electronic, or monthly versus weekly. Also, make it easy for contacts to remove themselves from your mailing list. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting valuable marketing dollars on direct mail pieces tossed in the trash and e-communications relegated to the junk mailbox. The secret to effective marketing is focusing on high-probability contacts. Why waste time reaching out to those that do not value what you are selling?

I’ll wrap up this article on conversational marketing next month…