As a business owner, you must give your customers the tools to interact with your product or service however they choose. It means producing content your customers actually like and want to read or engage with. It means more conversation, more education, and less one-way communication and less sitting behind your desk waiting to take an order.
To put a finer point on it, reaching digital natives and retooling your marketing means the following:
1. Offering or sponsoring online research tools. Digital natives research before they buy. They ask their friends, and they search exhaustively online.
Think: User-contributed product reviews, and the ability to share product reviews and comments on your product and services with friends.
2. Constantly refreshed content. Digital natives are impatient. They want content served fresh, all the time. Daily, at a minimum.
Think: Content that is engaging, not boring, and that informs, not sells. Think forums and blogs and other ways to spawn frequent information updates.
3. Creating content to share. What's yours is theirs.
Think: Finding ways to encourage digital natives to pass along your online newsletters, videos, podcasts, whitepapers, blog posts, or whatever you're producing.
4. Tossing out marketing-speak and your product-centric point of view—in all your communications and advertising.
Think: Talk with your customers, not at them.
5. Finding ways to include video and/or audio. Video, audio, and other kinds of media are fun to share and pass around, and embedded video and audio players are often easier to pass along than text, too.
Think: Producing some compelling media in digital or audio format.
6. Fostering brand loyalty. The loyalty of digital natives can be intense, and some may, entirely on their own accord, evangelize your brand or product.
Think: Facebook applications, reaching out to bloggers who are leaders in your industry or who write about things related to your product or services.
7. Monitoring the conversation, and participating in it. Read leading bloggers who write about your products, services or industry. Comment on their blogs, start a dialogue when the opportunity arise.
Think: Make it someone's job to monitor Twitter, read Amazon product listings, write industry-specific blogs you publish, or read and comment on blogs written by others.
8. Being transparent. What does that mean? It means fully embracing the "empowered consumer" and giving them the tools to harness their opinions—good and bad.
Think: Interacting with your customers openly in nothing but a forthright, honest manner.
9. Being prepared for the worst. The flip side of that loyalty is that digital natives have no patience for shenanigans. A ticked off customer has a larger platform, and negative feedback can send ripples excruciatingly far.
Think: Dealing with disgruntled customers as issues occur. (And not wishing they'd simply go away.)
I often think about something I heard Arianna Huffington say. "If you are consuming old media," she said, "you are consuming it on your couch. If you are consuming new media, you are consuming it on your horse."
What Huffington meant was that the blogs, and services like Twitter, and social and new media platforms both invite and demand that its participants be engaged, and involved, and active—always moving forward. Old media, like TV especially, just asks that we passively stand around and watch.
And increasingly—for my generation, but especially for the next generation—unless we're saddled up and in constant motion, we'll fall far behind.
Ann Handley is an 11-year veteran of creating and managing digital content to build relationships for organizations and individuals. Currently, Ann is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, which provides strategicand tactical marketing know-how for marketing and business professionals through a full range of online media and live events. She also blogs at Annarchy, her acclaimed personal web blog.
Photo credit: Jim Sneddon