Did you know that U.S. businesses spend $130 billion a year1 on local advertising to attract new customers? Then I bet you won’t be surprised to learn that marketing to your existing customers is becoming the rage among savvy business owners in this shaky economy who are soured by $500 rate cards and the 50 percent cut that flash sales sites take from merchants.
Marketing to your customers is as old as the Babylonian shopkeeper greeting his customers by name each day. Fast forward four thousand years and companies such as Constant Contact have simplified things a bit (or have they?) with the creation and sending of the humble email newsletter. And over the last few years, staying in touch with customers has become even more instant and easy with Facebook, Twitter and now, a slew of mobile technologies such as text messaging and smartphone-based loyalty programs.
While the promise of these instant services seems vast and accessible to all, the results vary widely among business owners. In our firm’s experience of providing mobile and social “fanbase” marketing services to local small businesses, we see the businesses that are achieving the most success excel at two principal tactics:
- Engaging customers. Fans join lists and clubs because they want to stay informed and get deals. The savviest businesses keep their fans engaged by posting photos, holding events and contests, and dishing up deals. I’ll dive deeper into this topic in a future post.
- Growing their fanbase. It might be obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing that fanbase marketing generally works in direct proportion to the size of the fanbase. Since there’s little point in engaging customers unless you have a fanbase, let’s use this blog post to discuss it in detail.
Follow these five commonsense tips for growing your fanbase:
1. Ask your customers to join your club or list in-person. I’m always surprised that the simplest and most effective way to instantly build your fanbase is often the most overlooked. What can be a more powerful method than a face-to-face request while you’re delivering your service with a smile? Says Sam, the owner of Plaza Deli Café, “I built my Facebook fans to 220 in a week or two just by telling everyone who came in.” Even better, involve your employees in a simple monthly contest to win a $25 Gift Card for the staff member who generates the most sign-ups.
2. Post signs where customers actually “look.” In the early days of a new, crazy donut shop customer of ours, we noticed that their fanbase wasn’t growing as fast as we had expected. So I visited the shop and just watched customers come, buy, eat and leave without joining the shop’s new mobile Fan Club. Why weren’t people joining when there must have been five signs scattered around the store? It was because the signs weren’t where people were looking. Turns out, people look at the donuts, and then the staff, and not much else. So we turned all the donut labels into signage and sign-ups skyrocketed.
3. Your fanbase is out there. Go get ‘em. These days, your fans are texting, tweeting, bleeping and checking in. You can claim your listing on FourSquare, for instance, and instantly find two dozen customers you can market to. Or you can set up a mobile list and see how your customers whip out their phones and text your business’ name to a 5 or 6 digit number to join your fan club.
4. Think of your fanbase as a pyramid. Savvy Cellar Wines looks to first acquire customers using traditional media and daily deal sites. Once at the store, staff members seek to “broaden casual engagement by suggesting a class or wine tasting, and ultimately, to turn customers into regular visitors and join our wine club,” says Brent Harrison, co-owner. Brent knows that people want to date before they get married, so he gives them a little bit of lovin’ and an inspirational nudge at each step of the way.
5. Fans join lists to stay informed and feel special. So give it to them. The top five reasons2 a fan follows a business on Twitter (or any list for that matter) is to get updates or specials. Freebies help. El Pelon, a jalapeño-hot Taqueria in Boston knows this, so this week blasted an alert for a free bean and cheese burrito (while supplies lasted) at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday. By 2:20 p.m., a flash mob of 45 burrito-crazed fans swarmed the joint.
Or how about just plain education? A fitness center client sends one inspirational text message per day for the first 14 days after a new client of theirs joins the center. Clients rave about the thoughtfulness. So perhaps the very best advice to grow your fanbase is simply to know what your customers want from a relationship, and give it them.
What’s your best way to grow your fanbase?
Paul Rosenfeld is the Co-Founder and CEO of Fanminder, a mobile and social Fanbase Marketing service for local small businesses.
1 Kelsey Local Media Annual Forecast 2/102 Exact Target, 2010