If you are like many of us who didn’t grow up with the current social media channels defining how we communicate, socialise and conduct business – welcome to my world. Consulting requires me to stay up-to-date with evolving social media trends. However, in an effort to comprehend these new offerings, I find myself referring back to ‘old school’ analogies. What I have realised is that the digital age is not too dissimilar to the ‘old days’ of running a non-digital business.
The biggest difference is not in the way we communicate, but rather the size of the potential marketplace and profits; if only we could master these new fang-dangled websites and apps.
In 2001 Marc Prensky first raised the concept of Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants and I know it certainly applies to the way I feel every time the next great social media app is released. Prensky identifies digital natives as being people who have been brought up using computers and the internet. If, however, you are like me and born before 1980 then there is a good chance you are a Digital Immigrant. Just like many immigrants who move to a new world and need to learn a foreign language, they may be able to adapt and master the language but it always remains a second language. Let’s follow the story of Faruk who started an ‘old school’ business and see how this is related to the digital world.
Faruk decided that his family’s fortune lay in a land far from where he was born. He came from a long line of rug makers and had heard many opportunities lay in America. After much consideration, he packed up his belongings and moved to New York to make his dreams a reality.
Having immigrated with little money, he could only afford to set up shop in a small office. It was something non-descript, the same as tens of thousands of other offices throughout the great city. With much enthusiasm Faruk put his stock on display and waited for people to come and purchase his wonderfully crafted wares. Much to his dismay people would walk past the door but very few came in.
Your website is the same as Faruk’s store, without a reason to come to it people will pass you by. There are hundreds of millions of websites out there and most of them don’t attract the business they could because they are badly designed or have a poor user experience. Your site’s usability is the same as having an office in a place with no parking, if it is too difficult to do business with you people will go somewhere that is easier to deal with.
Faruk was determined to succeed so he decided he needed to let people know he was there. He placed a featured advertisement in the Telephone Book so that his business stood out and people would choose him above other rug retailers.
Websites and Search Engines
Creating a website is like placing an advertisement in the phone book, but instead of it being restricted to your local area it has a global reach. Search engines (such as Google) are used to find what people are looking for and will rate your website based on a range of variables such as how many times your website is accessed, location and relevance. The more visitors, then the higher your rating and the higher up the search results you will appear.
Just like the phone book you want to be on the first page of the results as viewers fall drastically the further you are back in the results, that is why people always liked to have their business starting with AAAAAA because it put them as the first vendor on the list. The main difference now is that the search engines that search through the millions of websites now return the most relevant and visited websites rather than the number of As in your name.
He also wanted to increase the chances of customer’s finding his business so he decided to place advertisements in several categories throughout the phone book. He decided to place an ad in “Rugs”, “Interior Designers”, “Carpets” and “Floor Coverings” because he figured that people looking at those categories may also want a rug.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
To help optimise your ranking you can utilise SEO techniques such as using key words related to your business or having other websites refer or link to your site. More key words should lead to more search results being offered and the higher your site is listed the more visits you receive. Just like the phone book, the categories you are listed in the more likely you are to get the customer visiting you.
Every time a new customer came to the store and purchased a rug, Faruk would get them to write a recommendation in his comments book and give them a number of business cards to hand out to their friends. Faruk knew that word of mouth recommendations were much more powerful than just advertising, so Faruk always asked his customers to share the details of his business with their friends.
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
These are communication tools that people use to communicate with their friends. But many businesses have now realised the power these networks of people offer them and are starting their own Facebook pages. Faruk realised the power of getting recommendations for his business and encouraged them to share his details with their friends. The great thing about these channels if that you can communicate regularly with your customers at minimal cost once you are connected to them.
A “Like” is a way to acknowledge the websites, videos, or other content that you find relevant and meaningful with your friends. Likes show up on your wall and sometimes your newsfeed just like the recommendations in Faruk’s visitor book. The more likes then the more likely your customer’s friends will be to take this ‘word of mouth’ recommendation and visit you. Comments are another way people share their thoughts about the posts people make Facebook also has a rating system these days, where you can give a business a number of stars (out of 5), and comment.
He also knew that it was easier to sell to his existing customers or friends so he would regularly send them updates of new stock and he would create catalogues to show the latest designs. And he would always encourage his customers to pop in for a chat and he would share a story or two and show them the latest stock. But he knew not to pressure them and always try and sell them, because that would make them not feel welcome and they would probably stop coming by.
Contributing on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
Using your Facebook and Instagram pages and Twitter feeds to share updates on new products and specials is a great way to stay in touch with your customers. Post photos, interesting articles or things that your customers will want to read. Remember if you try and do the hard sell you will lose many of your customers, so make it an experience they enjoy. You have to give to receive within your community.
Faruk found about some of the rug collector groups that were around the city and he made it priority to always attend the meetings and share his knowledge about rugs in general. He became quite renowned as an expert in the field and people would seek him out to discuss future rug purchases and needs.
Forums and discussion groups
Not everyone wants a quality rug, but there is a section of the community that will be very passionate about them. Often these collectors have forums and clubs to share their passion and learn from one another. By contributing to these discussion groups on a regular basis and helping people learn about their interest in a non-sales environment you will become a sought after expert and your product will sell itself. Remember your contribution must add value otherwise your potential customers will stop listening to you.
Faruk built up a large network of contacts who could help his business, and be potential future customers. To make sure he didn’t lose their contact details he kept a rolodex with their business cards. Every year he would send them a Christmas card and while he tried to stay in contact with each of them, eventually the list grew to a point where he lost contact with a few of as they moved and changed jobs. Faruk knew not to contact them too often; otherwise they would get annoyed at him and stop taking his calls.
This is a great tool for staying in touch with your work colleagues and networks. You make connections and create a profile so that people know what you do. It’s like a mini CV but is used to outline your skills. Often recruiters will access it to find suitable candidates or people will use it to find connections in similar fields. By regularly publishing small articles it keeps you in the mind of your connections. It’s the equivalent of a catchup call but less intrusive. Used properly it can lead to good leads and can help you connect with the right people to grow your business.
As his profits grew Faruk started to think about expanding the business. Located on the Southside he had dreams about opening another store on the Northside. The problem was that he had no credit rating and therefore the banks were unwilling to lend to him. Faruk knew that he couldn’t afford to lose the money he saved so he decided that he would have a chat to one of his customers who owned some commercial property in the location he wanted. The customer loved the product and how Faruk ran his business so he decided to give him some space for a short term to help get him started. Fortunately the landlord didn’t ask for a part of the business, but wanted first option on any new product that came in.
There are some great fundraising communities such as Indigo and Kickstarter that are a community of people who are interested in good business ideas. The interesting thing with these is that they don’t get a part of your business as part of their investment. You set various levels of investment and then detail what the customer will get for their money e.g. $10 may get a photo of the product, while $500 may get an advance order on the product. Some recent success stories include the Coolest Cooler, which raised $13 million and the Bee Hive that raised over $6 million of the original $70,000 they were looking for. People have come to realise that these crowd funding sites allow you test how people will respond to you product and if it is successful then it can certainly kick start a very successful business.
Like any business Faruk occasionally had dissatisfied customers, but he knew that an unhappy customer would tell their friends who in turn would tell their friends. So it was good business to make sure he kept his customers satisfied. The last thing he wanted was to lose the good reputation he had built.
Most of your customers are probably online and have networks of friends and contacts who they share their day to day lives with. The old adage was that one dissatisfied customer would tell another 6 about their bad experience, however now this has grown exponentially to one dissatisfied customer could tell 600 of their friends with one post. But if the media picks it up, then you are now looking at potentially millions knowing about your poor service. Rule number one is to always provide outstanding customer service. Rule number two is to monitor what is being said about you online and take action to stop any issues getting out of hand. For example, Jeep recently failed to address an issue for a customer and he ran a highly publicised and reputationally damaging campaign called Destroy My Jeep. The media loved it and ran it continuously. Members of the public donated to cover the cost of him destroying his Jeep. The lesson for Jeep should have been to resolve this before it gets out of hand. Try to keep your customers happy.
Because Faruk became so well known for his expertise in quality rugs, customers started to recommend him to the local media such as TV, radio and newspapers. He became quite the local celebrity and became the go to guy for renovation show decorating advice, as well as a spokesperson for cultural issues.
All of the traditional forms of media such as television, radio and newspapers actively monitor the internet for trends and sourcing experts. The greater your online profile is and the more followers you have then then more newsworthy you become to these traditional forms of media. Equally your small local newspapers have their websites being monitored by the large global agencies. Quite often it is much easier to get something published in a regional paper and if it is interesting enough the big ones will also run with it. It truly is the age of instant celebrities. However with this immediacy of fame also comes the fickleness that the internet brings. You may be famous today, but fade into obscurity when the next fad comes along. Plan for the long term and keep building your online profile and brand.
Faruk’s business has become incredibly successful by understanding the basic rules of marketing and not being afraid to have a go. Sure he made mistakes along the way, but he learnt from them and made sure he did things better the next time. He still never takes his customers for granted and always keeps in touch with what they want and the latest trends and he is known for not only his knowledge and quality products but also his willingness to share with them to ensure they can make informed decisions. They are passionate customers and really ‘like’ doing business with him.
If you know some digital immigrants who could use an old school translator please share this blog.
© Gary Waldon and garywaldon.com 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gary Waldon and garywaldon.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.