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Use social conscious tools to win customers

Marketing 101

Kevin O’BrienHAVE YOU noticed how your customers act lately? You might have recognized that they're more educated on your products and more limited with their time and funds. Their purchase cycle for non-commodity goods is longer, and they're more socially conscious.
     Generally speaking, they're much more aware, increasingly savvy, and have higher expectations of the consumer experience than ever. They're downright more "demanding" when it really comes down to it. Have you noticed? We have. If you haven't, look around and consider changing your approach. We are all now marketing to a new breed of consumer, and we have to do it on their terms.

Be the educator
     I will not address the importance of your Internet presence. Enough has certainly been said about the necessity of a solid strategy online. However, given the fact that your customers are taking the time to learn about the products they are buying (from price comparisons and product reviews, to features and benefits, etc.), shouldn't you consider changing your approach and become their primary source for information?

     Using your marketing to impart knowledge on your products helps define the unique aspects of your business and reinforces your commitment to the products you manufacture or carry. Your social media efforts should be positioned to do the same. You should be prepared to answer questions, address concerns and to promote new products and sales.

Be present and patient
     In the past, the impulse purchase was a great thing for retailers (and for many consumers). It resulted in instant gratification for both the buyer and the seller. Now, much of that process has been replaced by the considered purchase decision.
     Impulse purchases can result in high returns, low customer satisfaction and, now with customer reviews at every turn on the Internet, lots of people acting as "town crier" if they felt they did not get a good or fair deal on your product or service. So we need to shift gears and appreciate that carefully considered purchase decision and find out how to make ourselves relevant in that space.
     We want our customers to select us based on research and consideration. It forces us to make ourselves better and more relevant.

Share your social consciousness
     Now more than ever, consumers are focused on what companies are doing to help make the world a better place. Whatever your cause - whether it's donating a portion of sales/profits to a nonprofit cause, sponsoring an event, using sustainable/green materials or helping during the aftermath of a global disaster - make consumers aware. Savvy consumers are paying attention.
     If you're currently doing something socially conscious but not promoting it, by all means, start today - if not with your paid advertising, then with your social media. And if you're not doing something that illustrates your company is socially conscious, the time is now! Even if your investment never results in a consumer choosing your product over another (most likely it will), you're still making a difference in the world, which in turn, makes your company and employees feel better about what they do.

Build profits on expectations
     The expectations placed on brands and companies are at their highest ever. Consumers expect to be sold a quality product at a competitive price and to be treated like their business matters. Come to think of it, I think that's always been the expectation, right? The difference now is that customers, today more than ever, know when a company is not meeting their expectations. A customer not treated fairly can share their displeasure with the world.
     The good news is all the potential negatives mentioned above are also potential positives. A customer who has a great experience with your brand now, has the education, savvy and most importantly, the tools to share it with the world. With these tools they can pass along special promotions to their friends, share your socially conscious efforts via social media or blogs, and can make recommendations to friends and networks that can increase your sales and profitability. At the end of the day, make sure all of your marketing efforts and customer service initiatives give these advocates a great story to tell.
     Kevin O'Brien, a brand strategist for clients throughout the United States and Canada, is the president of O'Brien et al Advertising in Virginia Beach, Va.

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