How well do you know your competitors? A bit, but not enough. We’ve been told since Business 101 that we need to keep an eye on that competitor down the street. So you probably have a good handle on your competitors’ products and services, their prices, maybe even their quality and customer service. Important bits of information one and all—but that knowledge is lacking power.
Understanding your competitors certainly has its merits, but there’s really nothing you can do to change how they operate. Instead of focusing on their haves and have nots, why not focus on this: What are you doing to set yourself apart from that competitor? That you have complete control over. It’s something you can focus on today and see real results tomorrow. So let’s get started with five easy-to-implement tips.
1. Pay Attention
Your public is talking about you, I promise. Some things you hear will be positive, some things you hear will not, but make sure you’re listening to what they have to say. Be sure you are utilizing a tool to make listening easier. There are lots of choices out there to keep an ear and an eye on your company and competitors, but to start, focus on one. I would recommend Google Alerts.
Simply tell Google Alerts which keywords you would like to watch and Google will notify you via email each time it is running through sites on the Web and comes across your chosen word. Keywords to consider would be your company name, your competitors’ names, and even your personal name as well as the names of key staff members. There truly isn’t an easier way to keep an eye on the Web without searching and surfing for hours a day.
2. Talk Back
If your customers or prospects are talking about you on social media sites or elsewhere on the Web, make sure you are a part of the conversation. Create a Facebook fan page, then seek out your customers and ask them to become fans of your page. This shouldn’t be hard if they are pleased with the service you provide.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. As you watch your uncle post about his latest fishing trip on Facebook, you can’t help but wonder why your customers would be interested in this type of conversation with you. That requires a shift if your thinking. Think of Facebook as a business tool, not a personal one. That’s why you’re creating a fan page, not a personal profile page.
Once you have this fan page set up, start talking. Engage with your customers about an exciting project you are working on, talk about a new service you plan to offer. Just start talking and encourage your fans to talk back.
Authenticity is truly the name of the game when it comes to social media. Don’t get paralyzed by saying the perfect thing in response to a customer’s praise (or not-so-positive comment). Saying something—anything—is so much better than saying nothing at all. The more you encourage your customers to engage and carry on a conversation with you, the more you’ll be able to capitalize on this tool. The benefits of positive comments from your customers are obvious; the ability to respond to negative comments quickly and sincerely is even more powerful.
One other social media sphere in which to set up shop is LinkedIn. Why? Professional print buyers are on LinkedIn, so you should be too. LinkedIn is just one more opportunity to have genuine interaction with your customers and prospects while remaining in a very business appropriate environment.
Once you’re set up, seek out your customers and invite them to link in to you. Then encourage them to talk with you online as much as they would like; your job is to keep that conversation going.
One last tip about your conversations on social media sites: Don’t worry about how many fans you have at first. That will come with time as long as you keep talking and responding.
And consider this, if your Facebook fan page only has 50 fans, but one of those fans has 400 friends, your message could hit more people than you could ever hope for within minutes. All you have to do is get that fan to respond to just one of your posts, then their entire group of friends will see the writing on your wall.
3. Never Forget What Got You Here: Your Customers
Maintaining that relationship is key to the success to your business—and thanking them often is even more important. Social media is only one part of the equation when it comes to this and setting yourself apart from that competitor. You need to show your customers what you’re made of—literally.
It never ceases to surprise me how many printers out there don’t market using printed materials. What message is that sending to their customers?
Be sure to show off your wares by sending at least a few printed marketing pieces each quarter—newsletters, direct mail, even a simple, well printed insert in an invoice could go a long way.
One more non-digital idea to set you miles apart from your competitor—the simple, all too often forgotten, handwritten thank you note. Taking the time and the effort to show a customer you truly value their business will win every time. In a cluttered, crazy, online driven world, this note will speak volumes. Your customer might even thank you for the note on your Facebook fan page. That would be ideal!
4. Keep It Consistent
No matter what marketing we’re talking about, consistency is key. Because we have so many places our name and company messages will appear—online, in print, in person, you name it—be sure you keep confusion at bay by keeping your look and your message consistent.
This doesn’t mean you have to say exactly the same thing on Facebook, LinkedIn, and your direct mail piece, but the overall tone of the message should be the same. People should be able to read your Facebook post or your latest newsletter article, or even talk to one of your customer service reps and know they’re hearing from your printshop.
The design of your marketing pieces, your Facebook profile picture, your LinkedIn profile, etc., should follow this rule, as well. Ideally, your customer would see, read, or hear something about your company and would know it’s you before they ever see your name or your logo. That’s marketing at its finest, and something you’ll find with most successfully marketed companies.
5. Keep It Up And Keep It Repetitive
Keep the momentum going as much as you possibly can. You will hopefully start off on this journey with great enthusiasm and excitement. If you’re like me, you won’t be able to help it when you realize how great these tools are—don’t let that excitement die!
Do whatever you have to do to keep the conversation going. That may mean involving more of your staff in social media updating. It may mean marking your calendar with must-have marketing reviews each month that you treat with as much importance as a meeting with your biggest client. Maybe it’s a monthly incentive for your employee who receives the most comments on his company Facebook post. Whatever it takes, be sure to not let the conversation die. If it does, your following will die with it.
Need one more reason to stay engaged? This, in my opinion, is the biggest one—people love to be paid attention to, especially by their service providers. An unexpected handwritten note that comes in the mail, a Facebook message of appreciation, a monthly newsletter full of useful and educational information that proves to your customer you’re so much more than their printer—you’re truly their partner.
That’s what this is all about. That’s what will keep that competitor from taking your clients. That’s what so few businesses remember to do and why, if you take the time to pay attention, you’ll stand out from the crowd without really having to take much time at all.
Take time to take five. Follow these five simple tricks to steal the show and loyal customers are sure to follow. If you do, your competitor can price cut, he can claim better quality, he can even directly approach your customers with what he considers a “better offer.” It will matter less if your customers feel loved and well taken care of. They’ll be yours forever.