5 Customer Retention Strategies

  • 16 Nov 2020
  • Posted by ccrossen

It's not a secret that the cost to acquire new customers is far more expensive than the cost to retain an existing one. Smart business owners understand the value of repeat business and how it affects their bottom line. And while losing a customer isn’t as detrimental to a big business as it is a small business, every business – from big to startup – should have a customer retention strategy in place.  Here are a few strategies that can help you retain your customers.

1. Get to Know Your Customers
It is critical to form a relationship with your customers. At the very least, try to greet them by name. Forming a relationship creates a sense of trust with your customer. Going a step further to better understand their shopping habits will ultimately provide them with a more meaningful shopping experience. Customers are equally as motivated by their emotions and by the experience you provide as they are by the products or services you supply.

So go beyond their names; try to find out their likes and dislikes, and even some of their personal life! Ask questions to answer the following: What are the reasons behind their purchase? What other items could be purchased to support their need? Is anything missing? Why did they choose your business for their needs? These questions help you understand your clientele, better serve them for their future needs, and ultimately retain them.

Did you know there is a “Get to Know Your Customer Day” observed each quarter? For 2021, those days fall on January 21st, April 15th, July 15th, and October 21st. Consider using those days to plan a promotion, either by special discounts, giveaways, sending personalized thank you cards – the options are endless! Network with other businesses and share best practices. Use the #GetToKnowYourCustomersDay hashtag on social media as a starting point.

2. Stay Connected
Consistency is key, especially when it comes to communication. Your prospective customers and loyal customers want to know about your new products, services, discounts, and events. We think social media is a MUST, so whether you pair it with snail mail, an email, or a newsletter – just remember to be consistent! When you use social media, you’re able to share timely information while also engaging with your customers. Tied back to our prior section, the more you know your customers’ likes and dislikes, the easier it is to keep them coming back for more.

3. Ask for Feedback
Assuming your customers are satisfied is a poor practice; instead, ask them! Capturing feedback in the moment is critical, but you could also conduct a survey by email or telephone to allow customers to provide top-of-mind insights. Getting feedback immediately after a transaction has taken place is truly the best. Be sure to have customers attempt to identify any employees that may have assisted them or who provided the service. This will allow you to follow up with praise for work well done or corrections for issues that might have arisen. Furthermore, converting verbal compliments into digital reviews can be extremely helpful to gain new customers. As more and more people use online platforms to research before making a purchase, seeing positive reviews helps them feel at ease to try your business!

4. Quality Control
It’s common knowledge that customers seek out quality products and services. One bad product or one service gone wrong can cause you to lose a client indefinitely. Be sure to have quality assurance measures in place. But don’t fret – it’s inevitable that something can and likely will go wrong at some point or another. In this instance, be sure to respond and immediately in an effort to make it right. If someone posts a negative review, responding in an accommodating and prompt manner can create a sense of comfort for prospective clients as they know that you will rectify any issues.

5. Loyalty – Loyalty – Loyalty
No matter the type of business you own, the goal is to generate customer loyalty. You can help create loyalty by offering your returning clients a special deal, access to exclusive sales, discounts, coupons, or rewards. In some cases, it could even call for hosting customer appreciation events. Doing any combination of these things will go a long way toward making customers feel special. In turn, it will encourage them to keep doing business with you. Since 2004, Howard Bank has been helping businesses grow and prosper in the greater Baltimore area. We help business owners succeed in our local market. Today, we’re the largest bank headquartered in Baltimore with an array of product offerings that allow you to take control of your finances. Contact us today for more information on how you can make Howard Bank work for your business and build your legacy.1



( 1 ) The information contained herein is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute financial, tax, legal, or business advice.

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A Q&A with Howard Bank's Director of Marketing on their Recent Rebranding Efforts

  • 07 Aug 2020
  • Posted by ccrossen

Months after completing its merger in 2018 with 1st Mariner Bank, Howard Bank’s marketing team embarked on a major initiative to rebrand the entire company. The rebrand was meant to deliver a consistent and relevant brand experience no matter when, where, or how Howard engaged with customers or colleagues. The team completely revamped the look and feel of the Howard Bank brand across all assets and mediums. It was an extensive undertaking, but it is paying off as the bank continues to grow and attract customers.

Erica Starr, Director of Marketing at Howard Bank, provides insight into the steps taken, challenges faced, and the results. Could your company benefit from a rebrand? Read more below.

Q: How did you determine Howard Bank was in need of a rebrand?
A: After merging with 1st Mariner in March of 2018, we felt like we might have a bit of an identity crisis. Howard Bank has always been focused on small business banking and traditionally didn’t put a lot of emphasis on branding and advertising, while 1st Mariner had been focused on personal banking and had spent over 20 years positioning themselves as Baltimore’s Community Bank. On top of that, we had two similar-sized companies coming together so we knew it was important for us to help foster a culture and brand that was something our colleagues at both companies could get behind and call their own. The merger also allowed Howard to expand our focus and physical reach while gaining the capital to support medium-sized business banking.  

Q: How did you decide when and what to change for the rebrand?
The rebrand was something we knew we would need to do, but we wanted to make sure the dust had settled, so to speak. We wanted to align our external branding with our internal culture but we didn’t want it to get lost in the mix. So that meant we needed time to figure out our internal culture. Our approach to the rebrand was “inside-out.” We didn’t really have a set list of things we wanted to change. We just felt like we needed to start looking inside to see what would resonate outwardly.

Q: What steps did you take for the “inside-out” approach?
A: We wanted our brand’s voice to be authentic - meaning no matter who, how, where, when, or why, our voice would be consistent. We also wanted to avoid the redundancies of other banks’ marketing efforts. With the “inside-out” approach, our first step was researching. We spent months confidentially interviewing and surveying employees from every department of the bank and the executive team, and even some of our own customers. Whatever we came up with needed to be genuine and authentic.                                                                                        

Q. What was the biggest challenge in making your advertising authentic?
A: We wanted to avoid being redundant at all costs. We wanted our ads to be fresh, positive, and tell a story. The biggest thing in advertising is convincing someone to buy your product and establish credibility. If potential buyers see the same photo of a product in five different brands, you begin to question what is legitimate. So, for us, it was all about avoiding redundancy and creating our own footprint in the mark. We are Howard Bank, we aren’t Wells Fargo or M&T, so we work hard to make our own images that reflect what we value at Howard Bank, which are businesses in Greater Baltimore and the people who live and work in these communities.

Q: Was it easy to rebrand the bank as a local institution versus a large regional bank?
A: It was definitely easier to rebrand ourselves as a local bank. We aren’t a “plug-and-play” bank, meaning that megabanks from other cities likely use a template to create ads that they can plug and play in markets across the country. There is often little feeling behind them, no real caring. It is based on completing a transaction and them moving on with business. In our case the framework of our business is built upon our Baltimore roots. We are local, which made it that much easier to tell a story we and our customers could believe in. We knew we had a good story to tell so we let it roll. It wasn’t forced like some of the ads we see running in the market from larger institutions.

Q: Did anything from the interviews or surveys surprise you?
We were pleasantly surprised to know what we thought of ourselves was consistent with the views of our customers. At the end of the day, we want to help our customers. As a local bank, we’re focused on supporting our communities. And that’s really what differentiates us from the other banks. We’re Invested, Insightful, Passionate, and Agile – because we’re a community bank. Those four differentiating factors have become our core values, which we lovingly refer to as our “Double-IPA”.

Q: Who was the creative genius to come up with the “Double-IPA” acronym, and what exactly do each of them mean?
 I actually came up with the acronym myself, but defining them was a joint effort between our marketing team and our rebranding partners over at Gigawatt Group. We don’t just work here, we’re from here, so we’re invested in helping our communities succeed. Being from here means we’re insightful – we don’t rely on algorithms to make decisions on the local market; we’ve got the local market knowledge right here in our backyards. And that makes us agile – we’re not hopping on planes, trains, or buses to make decisions. Our executives are at arms-length. And we’re passionate, simply because we know what we do matters. We want to be a place where we are making a difference. Whether we're making someone’s dreams come true, making their dollar stretch a bit further, or simply making their day a little brighter.

Q: What exactly ended up changing and why?
 Our name obviously didn’t change and that’s because our name is our legacy and holds sentimental value denoting our humble beginnings. Our logo remains the same with its red, yellow, and black color palette to represent Maryland, where we’re from. But pretty much everything else ended up changing! Our tagline “We care about here” points simply to our local dedication. Our mission and vision statements were adjusted to expand on the fact that we’re literally helping to fund people’s dreams and helping to build their legacies. Once we ironed those details out, we were ready to start getting into the visuals.

Q: Do you think being known as a local bank gives you an edge over more large scale national or global banks that have set up shop in the Baltimore area?
A: No question about it. I think being a local bank for sure gives us a competitive edge over large national or global banks that are in Baltimore. It’s got that home team-feel. We’re run by Baltimoreans, for Baltimoreans. Your banker at Howard could be your neighbor or a parent you’ll see on your kids’ back to school night. Our motto is “We care about here,” because we mean it. I just don’t think that a bank that has set up shop in countries across the world can have that same connection to the community.”

Q: How important was it to you to rebrand yourselves as a community bank that serves small businesses?
That is what we do, serve small and medium-sized businesses. We live, breathe, eat, and sleep small and medium-sized businesses. In the Baltimore market, there are thousands of small businesses. It is what makes Baltimore go. Being known as a bank that serves that market is critical. So, when we are contemplating rebranding, the small and mid-size business market was front and center.

Q: What was your biggest challenge throughout the entire process?
To be honest, we had the help of great partners. The Gigawatt Group really helped to guide us and helped harness the creative. I’m not really sure there’s been any challenge in the discovery portion. Although, we did try to capture footage by drone out on a customer’s tugboat in the bay during an Orioles game which turns out to cast a pretty wide “no-fly” zone – but we made it work. That was fun though! But in all seriousness, the entire process was smooth. We had so many customers willing to let us shoot footage of them and in their facilities (or on their tugboats), our colleagues were supportive and involved, and it was all happening right here, at home.

Q: Where do you go from here? How do you measure success?
Right now, we’re focused on helping our customers maintain their legacies during this difficult time. The pandemic has caused so much disruption and we’re dedicated to making sure our communities are equipped to bounce back stronger than ever.  In March of this year, we opened a new Bel Air branch that reflects our new look and we’re currently working to revamp the rest of our branch network later this year. Since launching our new brand we’re seeing success from everything we’ve done.  We’ve seen a lift in customer engagement, we’ve attracted some top-tier talent from some of the larger-name banks, and according to a recent market research analysis, we’re seeing an impressive lift in both aided and unaided market awareness. To top it off, Howard Bank recently received two MX (Marketing Excellence) Awards from the AMA Baltimore chapter for Best New Brand Identity Campaign of the Year and Runner-Up for Grand MX Campaign of the Year. We’ve been really thrilled with the results and are appreciative of the recognition from the AMA. 

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8 Benefits of Social Media for Small Business

  • 01 Jun 2016
  • Posted by Admin

People were skeptical of social media for business in the beginning, but with the explosion of social media over the last few years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a marketing expert who doesn’t recommend social media as part of a holistic marketing strategy. That said, you may be wondering, what are the real benefits of social media for small business, and is it really worth the time and effort to build a social media presence if you’re just running a small operation rather than a big corporation? Short answer: There are plenty of benefits for small businesses in social media.Start taking advantage of them with these eight simple, proven advantages of social media marketing for companies of any size:

1. Social media can reduce your overall marketing costs Social networks are a cost-effective way to get your brand in front of fans and prospective customers. It doesn’t cost you anything to tweet a message, pin a product photo to Pinterest, or promote a discount on Facebook, so there’s no cost outside of your own time spent. If you do have money to invest, these channels offer advanced but affordable advertising platforms that you can use to target consumers with demographic, keyword, and interest-based campaigns. The highly specific targeting parameters offered by Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn can help you get the biggest bang for your marketing buck.

2. Social media can impact your organic search results. When it comes to impacting your website’s position in search engines, you need to create optimized and compelling content if you want your domain to appear high up on the search results page. By sharing this content on social media as well, you can get in front of interested readers who may visit your website, like or share your content on their own social networks, and link to it from their own domains. Google and Bing both pay attention to social signals like this when they decide how to rank links on the search results page.

3. You can offer better customer service with social media. If you’re looking for a way to field customer comments, concerns, and questions, then you are going to find social media to be extremely beneficial. Customers using one of the common platforms like Facebook or Twitter can communicate directly with you, and you can quickly answer them in a public format that lets other customers see the quality of your customer service. The impact of this activity can be huge: 71 percent of consumers who receive a quick brand response on social media say they are more likely to recommend that brand to other people.

4. You can design your own online personality. Social media is meant to be more like a cocktail party than a business meeting. You will always do a lot better in a social situation if you are more like yourself and less like a corporate robot. Social media is a great way to display your business’ personality, as well as behind-the-scenes information about you, your employees, your workspace, and more. When you humanize your brand in this way, it makes it easier for consumers to connect with you and develop loyalty.

5. Social media lets you associate with other businesses. The fact that you are able to connect directly to the consumer means you can use this platform to also connect to other entrepreneurs and business owners. From possible strategic business partners to new distributors, social media lets you have real conversations with actual people who might otherwise be socially or geographically inaccessible in the real world.

6. Customers can validate your business on social media. The idea behind allowing customers to correspond directly with you is so that they can get the best customer service possible. When this occurs, it happens in a very public forum that can be seen by other prospects. So when customers sing your praises to their friends, it not only boosts your online reputation, but increases the chances that someone else is going to give you a shot next time they need your services.

7. You can provide value with social media. The idea that you can provide a truly valuable service to your target market means you are positioning yourself as an expert in your industry. Whether that’s educational and entertaining blogs, posts, or tweets, if you are solving a problem or providing information, you’re adding value that customers will appreciate.

8. Social media helps you gain a competitive advantage. The true advantages of social media are the ability to get a leg-up on your competition by connecting with your current and prospective customers in an organic way across the web. If used correctly, social media can help you boost your search rankings, provide better customer service, craft a compelling online personality, connect with new business partners, build connections, and earn word-of-mouth marketing from your brand advocates. If you aren’t using social today, we recommend you start posting and start reaping the benefits of social media.

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Six Mobile Marketing Tips For Small Businesses...

  • 07 Jan 2015
  • Posted by Amarasco

By: Karen E. Klein

Mobile phones are essential to shopping these days, and a majority of cell phone owners say they’re willing to share personal data with merchants in exchange for such things as coupons and discounts.

But navigating mobile marketing can be confusing for small business owners, who must avoid bombarding people with unwanted texts while they’re slogging through crowds of holiday shoppers. So how can local merchants use mobile marketing effectively? Here are six tips.

Focus on customers. Consider how consumers already interact with their mobile devices and take advantage of that behavior. Eliminate anything that makes buying more difficult, such as a website that doesn’t load correctly on a mobile device or hard-to-find contact information. Optimize your customers’ mobile Web experiences by adding “click to call” and “click for directions” features, suggests Jeff Fagel, chief marketing officer at G/O Digital. Make sure all your marketing messages look great on the small screens where people are increasingly opening them, says Jessica Stephens, chief marketing officer at marketing technology company SmartFocus. She says 30 percent of mobile shoppers abandon transactions that aren’t optimized for mobile and 57 percent abandon sites that take more than three seconds to load.

Don’t get too pushy. Most Internet shopping activity involves consumers actively searching out information on services or products. But mobile marketing is what’s called “push” technology, which involves sending unsolicited messages to would-be customers. “It’s all done with the idea of engaging customers and getting them to spread your offers on social media,” says Betsy Page Sigman, who teaches operations and information management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “If people buy something every time you send a discount, keep sending them. But pay attention to when they stop, because that data tells you a lot, too.”

Respect privacy. The discovery of a series of ad beacons used to track phones in New York City recently caused a ruckus over privacy concerns. You won’t catch people by surprise if you direct your marketing messages to customers who have agreed to receive texted discounts or coupons or who have downloaded an app such as Shopkick. The application, and others like it, allows merchants to send messages to users’ devices when their location service is turned on, showing they are nearby.

Give something away. Most people don’t mind that their supermarket tracks their purchases—as long as they get discounts when they swipe their reward cards. The same idea applies to mobile marketing: You need to sweeten the deal, not just text annoying ads. Send customers special offers, reminders about sales, and discount coupons. Imagine the response to a “free coffee with purchase” offer you send to shoppers a block away from your bakery at 4 p.m., for instance.

Integrate. Mobile marketing should be part of your overall marketing plan, along with e-mail, direct mail, and other advertising, says John McGee, chief executive of OptifiNow, a Los Angeles sales and marketing company. “Track the results you get from each channel and see which one is working. There’s no silver bullet—you need to do a little bit of everything. And remember, it doesn’t matter what you want to do—it’s what your customers like,” he says.

Be concise. Unlike e-mail, text messages have a high open rate. But you have to get your point across in few words, which is easier to do the better you know your customers. “Text messages work better for local marketing, which lends itself to small business,” McGee says. “If a local restaurant is having a slow night and sends text to people nearby to get them in for a special, that’s more effective than a retail chain sending out messages to people 20 miles down the freeway.”



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Want to Be a Successful Business? Focus on Your Customers

  • 25 Nov 2014
  • Posted by Amarasco

By: Chad Brooks, BusinessNewsDaily Senior Writer

The difference between successful businesses and underperforming ones often lies in the way they treat their customers, new research finds.

In fact, companies that fail to focus their cultures, strategies and employees on pleasing customers are encouraging failure, according to a study from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and the American Management Association (AMA).

The best-performing organizations — as defined by their revenue growth, profitability, market share and customer satisfaction — understand that being customer-focused requires a blend of attraction, engagement, satisfaction, collaboration and retention, the study's authors said.

Overall, 40 percent of the business leaders and professionals surveyed admitted their organization doesn't know their customers well, with just 52 percent saying their companies are more customer-focused than their competitors are.

Jeremey Donovan, chief marketing officer for AMA, said that even though just about all businesses know that customer focus matters, they have to take that knowledge one step further. "High-performing organizations turn that knowledge into actionable business practices," Donovan said in a statement.

A big problem is that many organizations fail to live up to the guarantees they make to their customers, the study revealed. Nearly 35 percent of those surveyed said their organization doesn't keep the promises they make to customers.

"Failed promises can be as simple as poor service or unresponsiveness and may extend to more complex issues, such as inconsistent quality," Donovan said.

In addition to not living up to the promises of its customers, an even smaller percentage of companies — 40 percent — are keeping the promises they make to their workers.

"Organizations that fail to deliver for their employees are inviting comparable failure on delivering on promises made to customers," said Kevin Martin, chief research and marketing officer for i4cp. "The two are interdependent and cannot be viewed in isolation."

Researchers found that in order to become more customer-focused, there has to be a commitment from the people at the top of the organization. The study discovered that executives at high-performance organizations are three times more likely as executives at lower-performing companies to support the successful execution of customer-focused strategies.

Additionally, these organizations are four times more likely than lower performers to set clear customer satisfaction goals. High performers are also five times more likely to align internal systems and processes with customer needs, the study found.

The study shows that another way top organizations are focusing on their customers is by hiring employees with that goal in mind. High-performing organizations are three times more likely than lower-performing organizations to make new hires based on customer focus, the study found. In addition, the best companies are three-and-half times more likely to base promotion decisions, in part, on how employees perform at customer-oriented activities.

"Providing customer-focused training and development to employees will create brand value and drive incremental revenue," Donovan said.

Top organizations also do a better job of taking what their customers say to heart. The study found that top-performing companies take advantage of customer feedback nearly twice as much as lower-performing businesses do. Additionally, high-performance organizations are twice as likely as lower performers to collaborate with customers on custom products, the research found.

The study was based on surveys of 1,333 business leaders and professionals worldwide, as well as secondary research and interviews.



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Ideas For Growing Your Business...

  • 16 Sep 2014
  • Posted by Admin

For those of you who have already successfully started a business and are ready to take the next step, you may be wondering what you can do to help your business grow. There are many ways to do this, 10 of which are outlined below. Choosing the proper one (or ones) for your business will depend on the type of business you own, your available resources, and how much money, time and resources you're willing to invest all over again. If you're ready to grow, take a look at these tips.

1. Open another location. This is often the first way business owners approach growth. If you feel confident that your current business location is under control, consider expanding by opening a new location.

2. Offer your business as a franchise or business opportunity. Franchising your business will allow for growth without requiring you to manage the new location. This will help to maximize the time you spend improving your business in other ways, too.

3. License your product. This can be an effective, low-cost growth medium, particularly if you have a service product or branded product. Licensing also minimizes your risk and is low cost in comparison to the price of starting your own company to produce and sell your brand or product. To find a licensing partner, start by researching companies that provide products or services similar to yours.

4. Form an alliance. Aligning yourself with a similar type of business can be a powerful way to expand quickly.

5. Diversify. Diversifying is an excellent strategy for growth, because it allows you to have multiple streams of income that can often fill seasonal voids and, of course, increase sales and profit margins. Here are a few of the most common ways to diversify:

o Sell complementary products or services

o Teach adult education or other types of classes

o Import or export yours or others' products

o Become a paid speaker or columnist

6. Target other markets. Your current market is serving you well. Are there others? Probably. Use your imagination to determine what other markets could use your product.

7. Win a government contract. One of the best ways to grow your business is to win business from the government. Work with your local SBA and Small Business Development Center to help you determine the types of contracts available to you.

8. Merge with or acquire another business. Two is always bigger than one. Investigate companies that are similar to yours, or that have offerings that are complementary to yours, and consider the benefits of combining forces or acquiring the company.

9. Expand globally. To do this, you'll need a foreign distributor who can carry your product and resell it in their domestic markets. You can locate foreign distributors by scouring your city or state for a foreign company with a U.S. representative.

10. Expand to the Internet. Very often, customers discover a business through an online search engine. Be sure that your business has an online presence in order to maximize your exposure.

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Marketing 101...

  • 19 Aug 2014
  • Posted by Admin

In order to successfully grow your business, you’ll need to attract and then work to retain a large base of satisfied customers. Marketing emphasizes the value of the customer to the business, and has two guiding principles:

1. All company policies and activities should be directed toward satisfying customer needs.

2 Profitable sales volume is more important than maximum sales volume.

To best use these principles, a small business should:

• Determine the needs of their customers through market research

• Analyze their competitive advantages to develop a market strategy

• Select specific markets to serve by target marketing

• Determine how to satisfy customer needs by identifying a market mix

Marketing programs, though widely varied, are all aimed at convincing people to try out or keep using particular products or services. Business owners should carefully plan their marketing strategies and performance to keep their market presence strong.

Conducting Market Research

Successful marketing requires timely and relevant market information. An inexpensive research program, based on questionnaires given to current or prospective customers, can often uncover dissatisfaction or possible new products or services.

Market research will also identify trends that affect sales and profitability. Population shifts, legal developments, and the local economic situation should be monitored to quickly identify problems and opportunities. It is also important to keep up with competitors' market strategies.

Creating a Marketing Strategy

A marketing strategy identifies customer groups which a particular business can better serve than its target competitors, and tailors product offerings, prices, distribution, promotional efforts and services toward those segments. Ideally, the strategy should address unmet customer needs that offer adequate potential profitability. A good strategy helps a business focus on the target markets it can serve best.

Target Marketing

Most small businesses don’t have unlimited resources to devote to marketing; however, the SBA wants you to know that you can still see excellent returns while sticking to your budget if you focus on target marketing. By concentrating your efforts on one or a few key market segments, you’ll reap the most from small investments. There are two methods used to segment a market:

1. Geographical segmentation: Specializing in serving the needs of customers in a particular geographical area.

2. Customer segmentation: Identifying those people most likely to buy the product or service and targeting those groups.

Managing the Market Mix

Every marketing program contains four key components:

• Products and Services: Product strategies include concentrating on a narrow product line, developing a highly specialized product or service or providing a product-service package containing unusually high-quality service.

• Promotion: Promotion strategies focus on advertising and direct customer interaction. Good salesmanship is essential for small businesses because of their limited advertising budgets. Online marketing is a cheap, quick, and easy way to ensure that your business and product receive high visibility.

• Price: When it comes to maximizing total revenue, the right price is crucial.  Generally, higher prices mean lower volume and vice-versa; however, small businesses can often command higher prices because of their personalized service.

• Distribution: The manufacturer and wholesaler must decide how to distribute their products. Working through established distributors or manufacturers' agents is generally easiest for small manufacturers. Small retailers should consider cost and traffic flow in site selection, especially since advertising and rent can be reciprocal: a low-cost, low-traffic location means spending more on advertising to build traffic.

The aforementioned steps combine to form a holistic marketing program.

The nature of the product or service is also important in citing decisions. If purchases are based largely on impulse, then high-traffic and visibility are critical. On the other hand, location is less of a concern for products or services that customers are willing to go out of their way to find. The Internet makes it easy for people to obtain goods from anywhere in the world, so if you’re worried about reaching a certain market, selling your product online may do wonders for your business.

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Understand Your Market...

  • 29 Jul 2014
  • Posted by Admin

To run a successful business, you need to learn about your customers, your competitors and your industry. Market research is the process of analyzing data to help you understand which products and services are in demand, and how to be competitive. Market research can also provide valuable insight to help you:

• Reduce business risks

• Spot current and upcoming problems in your industry

• Identify sales opportunities

How to Conduct Market Research Before you start your business, understand the basics of market research by following these steps: 1. Identify Official Government Sources of Market and Industry Data The government offers a wealth of data and information about businesses, industries and economic conditions that can aid in conducting market research. These sources provide valuable information about your customers and competitors:

• Economic Indicators

• Employment Statistics

• Income and Earnings

2. Identify Additional Sources of Analysis Trade groups, business magazines, academic institutions and other third parties gather and analyze research data about business trends. Use Internet and database searches to find information related to your location and industry. 3. Understand the International Marketplace Today’s economy is a globalized marketplace, so it’s important to understand the international factors that influence your business. These resources will help you to research potential international markets for your products or services:

• Market Research Guide for Exporters: Identifies resources for business owners seeking to sell their products abroad.

• Country Market Research: Reports on trade issues in countries across the globe.

• BuyUSA.gov: Helps U.S. companies find new international business partners.

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Customer Engagement: 3 Essential Tips for Small Businesses ...

  • 15 Jul 2014
  • Posted by Admin

By: Nicole Fallon, Business News Daily Assistant Editor

If you want customers to interact with your brand online, your Web presence needs to be engaging.

As a small business, your website is often the first place consumers will go to find you. Your site is your chance to make a good first impression on potential leads and bring back existing customers. If you want to accomplish this, it's important to make sure your website keeps its visitors interested and engaged.

Most brands are aware of the need to create an engaging Web presence, but smaller ones typically don't think they have the time or resources to constantly update their website with fresh, new content, or even create a website at all.

"A trend among smaller businesses is to create just a Facebook page with no website," said Sarah Bordson, engagement manager at Web development firm Adage Technologies. "This is a great place to start, but to gain [customer] trust, having a website is important. It shows you're an established company."

Bordson noted that a company's website can be its No. 1 driver of business. With the right tools and strategies, building a great website doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming. Bordson offered the following tips to help small business owners optimize their Web presence for maximum customer engagement.

Make your website experience match your customer-service experience. In today's increasingly mobile and Web-centric world, consumers have come to expect the same type of experience with a brand online as they would in-store. Bordson recommended enabling features on your website that allow visitors to complete as many interactions as possible for a seamless customer-service experience. These features can include detailed descriptions of each of your products and services, easy-to-access contact and purchase information, and a way for customers to reach you quickly, such as a live-chat function or links to your social media pages.

Personalize your website in ways that make sense for your business. Another way to enhance customers' experience on your website is to tailor it to their needs. But Bordson warned against using flashy gimmicks: Only use personalization tactics that make sense for you, she said. Big Data analytics and voluntary surveys can help you send customized offers based on consumers' past shopping habits and preferred contact methods, which can help with sales conversions.

Use social media as a communication tool. The role of social media for businesses has evolved considerably in recent years. In addition to being a way to share and promote content on your website, social media can and should be used as an extension of your customer service, Bordson said.

"Your website should be the focal point for [your brand's] information," Bordson told Business News Daily. "If you can get beyond that, social media should be a way to reach out to clients in a cost-effective way."

By using Facebook, Twitter and other sites as a line of communication between your brand and your customers, you can drive them to your website in unique ways, such as by sharing a blog post that will help answer a customer's question.

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Why Social Media May Be Your Best Sales Lead Generator...

  • 17 Jun 2014
  • Posted by Admin

By Nicole Fallon, Business News Daily Assistant Editor

Five years ago, the primary function of social media for businesses was community building. Today, the role of a company's presence on popular social networks has evolved to include customer service, building brand awareness, and perhaps most importantly, lead generation.

"Social media has been the great equalizer in terms of lead generation for small-business owners," said Bill Peppler, managing partner of staffing firm Kavaliro. "No longer must you be reliant on a sophisticated CRM system with thousands of contacts. You can find what you want for free through sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn."

Twitter is an especially powerful lead-generation tool, said Bernard Perrine, CEO and co-founder of small-business marketing technology firm HipLogiq. If a business owner listens for relevant conversations, he or she can engage in them and entice potential consumers.

"Twitter is unique because as a public forum it allows for intent-based marketing," Perrine told Business News Daily. "[It provides] opportunities for small businesses to join in on relevant conversations in real time, and in a personal, direct way through @Replies and popular hashtags. With the right listening tools, small businesses can easily find conversations about their product or service happening right in their neighborhood."

For example, if a local coffee shop searches for keywords like caffeine or hashtags like #needcoffee, tools such as LeadSift and HipLogiq's SocialCentiv can find tweets within the shop's vicinity and flag them, giving the shop owner an opportunity to reply directly with a special offer to get the consumer in the door. And because these tools find the consumer right when he or she is looking for the product or service — in this case a cup of coffee — chances are high that the consumer will visit the shop.

The "favorite" button, Twitter lists, trending conversations and promoted tweets are other effective ways to generate leads on Twitter, Perrine said.

Another lead-generation tactic you can employ through social media is high-quality content marketing. A recent Business.com survey found that half of marketers want to start or already are generating leads through white paper downloads, and 40 percent are looking to invest in webinars featuring their products and services. Because many potential customers research a company before they make a purchase decision, a great piece of content discovered through the company website or social media accounts can be the determining factor in their final choice.

"Buyers are doing their own research before contacting companies," said Business.com's CEO Tony Uphoff. "Buyers expect that when they engage with a company's sales reps that it will complement the experience they've had in researching products and services online. This is why content marketing has become so valuable, both to buyers as a research tool and to advertisers as a core marketing tool."

No matter what social networks you use, it's important to remain engaged with your current and potential customers if you want to close the deal.

"Engagement is the key to sales, and social media channels give businesses a way to directly engage with [consumers]," Perrine said. "Each social network has its own type of audience and style, and businesses will find the most success if they tailor their strategy to the individual social network. With the right customized strategy, you can build communities and loyal fans who will share and retweet posts and help recruit new customers."

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