A Decade of Marketing: a journey through change and transformation

When I began my career in marketing over a decade ago, my world was very different. Reflecting upon this time with what I now know, I admit that there was a lot of guesswork, trial and error was often a “strategy,” and the concept of tracking was a “nice to have.” It wasn’t just because it was early in my own career; it’s just how things were done. At the time, most of my clients were focused on their newspaper and direct mail efforts and were obsessed with the creative side of things. They reluctantly dabbled in digital media [which was barely a “thing”] with a “state-of-the-art” HTML website – and this was only when they had a few dollars left in the budget and were told ad nauseam it was a good idea. These approaches were acceptable for the time, but there’s been a LOT of evolution at a breakneck pace over the past decade. As a marketer, I’ve continued to run to keep up [and have enjoyed every minute of it]!

Truth be told, during the early 2000’s it was a bit of a “churn and burn” approach to marketing – which campaign can we implement now to obtain a few new customers, never to think about them again after purchase? Since there wasn’t much data analysis, when a client “felt” like something didn’t work, they’d pull the plug and often prematurely abort an otherwise successful program. Plus, social media was in its infancy and you were lucky if you carried the latest flip phone…

Fast forward to [almost] 2015 and it’s truly a different world. There are many things I’m grateful for – the focus on segmented, targeted messaging, a high level of importance placed on tracking and analytics and the power of the consumer. The last point might be the most significant switch – as marketers we need to constantly focus on customer experience, retention and communication preference. 10yrsThis concept is a wonderful touchstone to consider when planning and implementing marketing strategies. We now find ourselves continuously asking: What resonates with the customer? How do they like to be reached [via text, email, direct mail, etc.]? What does “great” look like to them? How can we better reach, speak with and connect with our customer?

Successful communication with the customer is hinged upon targeted messaging via the appropriate medium, not just about the creative campaign – this is a significant cultural shift in the world of marketing. The mass messaging approach of yester year is a waste of time, energy and resources. Today’s consumer is highly educated and motivated to purchase based on their needs and preferred buying habits. Understanding these preferences – and communicating to each consumer in a relevant way – is the key to capturing their business, making them a repeat buyer and [hopefully] obtaining referrals for your business and/or product.

The main way today’s consumers become so informed and savvy is through online research, including price  shopping, product reviews, and referrals from peer-to-peer interactions [social media]. These are the main reasons that today’s marketing strategies and tactics are so digitally focused. It’s important for potential clients to be able to find your business via online mediums. You’ll want to ensure that you’re online reputation is stellar; this is accomplished through online reviews, social media exposure and ongoing content [regular blog postings].

Regardless of the industry, times change and marketing is often a significant driving force. I know that both my professional and personal experiences have changed because of marketing. Those who pay attention to the changes, embrace the journey and transform along the way are the ones who’ll have the most success!

Honesty In Online Communication

We learned in kindergarten that honesty is the best policy but how many of us actually apply this advice on a daily basis?  In a culture that’s increasingly driven by countless forms of communication resulting in 24-hour access with fewer and fewer chances to be ‘off the grid,’ has it become easier to stretch the truth, feign ignorance or simply lie? According to Jeffrey Hancock, associate professor of communication and information science at Cornell University, being perceived as deceptive can seriously harm reputations and relationships, regardless of the medium.  His studies have also shown [surprisingly] that we tend to lie less online than in person or over the telephone; perhaps it’s because our online, documented posts, comments, status updates, and pictures will be around for a long time.  As a business owner, the type of communication you put in front of your audience adds up – and honesty is a big part of tipping the scales in your favor.

Enter social media. 

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Honest and open communication is the cornerstone of social messaging.

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn for business or Pinterest, Instgram or YouTube for pleasure, have you thought about how you are representing yourself online?  The first thing to do is learn how to engage online responsibly and assume you are speaking in public at all times.  We’ll say it again: the internet is not forgiving; posts, comments, status updates, and pictures will live on for the foreseeable future.  Make sure your professional social presence is one you are proud of now and will be in years to come.

Also, be yourself – honest and open communication is the cornerstone of social messaging.  Customers, or potential customers, will respect genuine communication that matters to them.  For instance, use the 4-1-1 rule; post 4 interesting, funny or informational ideas, 1 promotional post and 1 re-post [share with a friend, answer a question, hit the ‘like’ button, etc.], all of which need to be relevant to your audience.  Regardless of whether you post a few times daily or a few times per month, follow the rule above for a targeted strategy that will resonate with your audience.  And as a general rule, before posting on any social medium, ask yourself if the information is honest and relevant.

The review sites.

Here’s where honesty may be most beneficial.  What happens when online reviews about your business begin popping up via Yelp and Google?   If they are positive, great!  But what about the other side of that coin?  We’d all like to think that we give 100% all day every day, but the reality is that sometimes we fall short.  It’s inevitable that you’ll see a less than stellar business review at some point.  When confronted with this ‘bad’ review, it’s how you handle this perceived setback that can set you apart.

Be courageous in the face of bad news, honorably standing tall despite conflict [even if you suspect the negative review is the handiwork of your competitor down the street].  If tempted to avoid the issue, or to make an excuse, think of how you’d feel if a comment you made went unaddressed or simply ignored.  Not pleased, right?  Human beings are deeply attracted to courageous honesty, but sometimes when we are on the other side of the complaint it’s difficult not to be defensive.  It’s best to apologize and do everything we can to make things right — right away.  A February 2014 study by the Social Media Marketing University found that 52% of US marketers respond to negative online comments within 24 hours.  That means responding diplomatically to the comment online, calling the customer [if you can] and remedying the situation ASAP!  The Retail Consumer Report found that of consumers who received a reply in response to their negative review, 33% posted a positive review and 34% deleted their original negative review.  That means by handling the issue, you might even get that nasty, negative comment retracted!

It will work. Honest.

If you believe in what you are doing and are passionate about why you get up every day, this honesty task will be a piece of cake.  Communicating with a broader audience is easier today than ever before, but remember, your message needs to be relevant, timely and genuine.

Boost Your Brand with Social Media

Once you have finally immersed yourself in the digital world with a strong web presence, the next step is to develop a strategy that will drive traffic to your website. Your website represents your practice online and the goal is to get customers from the web to your door.  As with every marketing strategy – traditional or otherwise – in order to be successful, you will need to implement various tactics that will engage your target audience online.

In the past few years, the scope of social media and its evolution of tactics have grown tremendously, revolutionizing the digital landscape through the ability to connect people via online communities. If done strategically and on a frequent basis, any business – including those in the hearing healthcare arena – can take advantage of social media to increase their online presence and foster customer interaction.

Here are some tips on how to move the digital needle in the right direction.

Identify Feasible Platforms

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Focus on two social media platforms at one time, determining which ones are best for your business.

The biggest challenge that many face is determining how to incorporate a social media strategy into their marketing plan. Research shows that for independent business owners it is more effective to only focus on two social media platforms at one time [e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter] in  order to build a strong online reputation. The best way to determine what platforms might work well for you is to check out what others are doing in the industry. By reviewing the competitions’ activity and monitoring relevant conversations, it is easier to determine what your audience is interested in.

Develop Strong Content

Once the platforms have been established, the next big step is developing strong content on a consistent basis that people will want to read and share with others, in order to generate viral content.  Getting your branding or other marketing messages out there to be shared within and among online communities is key.  Although there are various types of online content, the most effective are ones with a simplistic approach.  These will engage your target audience and will help you to build credibility as a knowledgeable expert in the hearing healthcare field.

Monitor Content Consistently

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Having a social media strategy is imperative: know your audience, post relevant messages frequently and monitor your social sites.

It is also important to monitor the content once it is developed and posted. It is one thing to have a presence, but it is essential to be engaged. One way to achieve this is to monitor comments on your social media sites and then follow up with responses in a timely manner.  Encouraging the audience to “like” or “share” the content is also a valid tactic, depending on which metrics you are measuring.

Promote Platforms Process

In order to promote these social media platforms, it is important to talk to your patients and encourage online sharing and reviewing. This process can be implemented into your process, where applicable, to encourage staff to ask patients after they had their appointment or made a purchase to submit an online review about their [positive] experience. Developing a handout with instructions on how to review via Yelp or Google+ to remind customers to go online is one idea to boost participation.  Reviews help establish business credibility online.

Interested in learning about social media and other digital marketing tactics?  Contact marketing at marketing@consultyhn.com.

Seasonal Advertising

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Most of us live our lives on a fairly regimented schedule – waking up at a certain time each weekday for work, getting the family together for dinner around the same time in the evening, trying to attend a workout class at a certain time on the weekends and preparing for upcoming holidays with planning travel, organizing gatherings and decorating with seasonal flair.  Sometimes the same schedule we follow in our personal lives can translate into good business practices.  Believe it or not, your personal event schedule can be applied to your cyclical marketing plan.

Most marketing plans are developed on a 12-month schedule.  Having an organized plan deters last minute scrambling and panicking and promotes consistent traffic and opportunities.  However, once that plan is in place, the individual tactics [including messaging and design] like ads, inserts, direct mailers and promotions need to be developed.  Think about planning the themes for these initiatives around the usual calendar events – seasons, holidays, etc.

It’s easy to tie the theme of your ad, insert or direct mailer into an upcoming holiday.  Let’s use Thanksgiving as an example.  You might consider showing an image of a family around the dinner table and including a headline that touches on both the holiday and what the prospective patient might be  missing; e.g. “What’s more memorable…the meal or time with the family?”

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Sample seasonal themed ad from MarketSource.

What’s powerful about this approach is that your audience is already in that ‘holiday’ mindset so your promotion will be relevant to their needs in that moment.  And coupling that with the pain point of ‘missing out’ on family and friend interactions around the holidays is a poignant message.

This same approach can be used for patriotic holidays, changing of seasons and much more!  Think about what your prospects will be focused on at a certain time of year.  Then, tie your message into their organic thought process at that point in time.

Also, take your 12-month marketing plan one step further by developing a calendar of tactics and messaging focused on upcoming holidays and seasons.  This will be the perfect combination of organization and subject matter for successful communication with your prospective patients!

Interested in seeing some seasonal and holiday-themed options with targeted messaging?  Visit MarketSource – marketsource.consultyhn.com – and sign up to peruse seasonal marketing samples that you can order with just a few clicks!

The Value of the Experience

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A forgettable experience won’t bring customers back through your doors – an unforgettable positive one will.

All of today’s shopping, dining and entertainment experiences are just that – experiences.  It’s more important than ever to engage customers and tether them to your distinct brand – what makes you different from your competition down the street or a purchase made online?  The answer to this question – and the way it’s conveyed to your current customers – will keep them coming back for more.

Let’s face it, in today’s marketplace, it takes more work to make [and keep] the sale.  Consumers have higher expectations, expect more value, look for discounts and demand better service – so your business has to focus on how to integrate or improve upon these factors.  Use these influencers to your advantage by enticing customers to buy from you based on what they want, not what you think they should be getting.  Maybe you can’t offer the best price, but you can give excellent service and you sell an amazing product – focus on your strengths and what makes your business unique to the customer so they’ll want to purchase from you.

Remember that the consumer experience does not end with the purchase; that’s just the beginning.  Large and small ‘follow ups’ post-purchase are necessary to keep your business top-of-mind with the consumer.  The establishment and retention of these types of relationships are becoming almost as critical as the actual product itself.  We know that your current customers are your most qualified leads, but just because they purchase from you once doesn’t guarantee repeat business.  So it’s up to you to nurture these relationships and create a strong connection between these customers and your business.  This can be accomplished via targeted direct response [email and direct mail], personal phone calls, yearly birthday messages, etc.  Stay connected to these customers to keep your business top-of-mind.

Businesses [especially privately owned ones] need to concentrate on selling the experience and differentiating themselves from the competition.  It’s the positive and unique experience that will fuse a customer to your business – not the device they take with them.  A forgettable experience won’t bring customers back through your doors – an unforgettable positive one will.

In this industry, our Associates are selling a lifestyle improvement, not merely a device.  The device is the solution, but the customers’ journey is actually more important.  Focus on the journey, the factors that are important to the customer and encouraging them to always travel back through your doors!

Remember these tips:

  • How is your business unique?  What differentiates you from the competition?   Use the answers to these questions to help your business stand out.
  • Raise the bar [especially related to service] to meet consumers’ increasing expectations.
  • Keep current customers connected to your business to encourage loyalty and repeat sales.