Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Your Database – A Powerful Marketing Tool

So, how valuable is your customer database? Figures will vary from industry to industry, but it is a fact that it costs a lot more money to attract a new customer than it does to retain an existing one. And think about the head start you have with your existing customers. For starters, they not only know your business and what you do, they actually like you enough to do business with you. But how often do you talk to them in between transactions?

One of the first questions I ask any business I go to talk to is “How good is your database?” Without fail (and this includes the honest big companies as well as smaller businesses), the answer is “Not as good as it could be.”

What do we mean by good? Here’s 10 questions for you to test yourself on:

  1. Is your database in a readily accessible format, i.e. electronic spreadsheet?
  2. Do you update it regularly?
  3. Do you know what your customers bought from you?
  4. Do you know why they bought from you?
  5. Do you know where they heard about you?
  6. Do you know when they might be looking to buy again?
  7. Do you contact them just prior to that time?
  8. Do you keep in touch with your customers and tell them what you are doing, or make them aware of any new products and services?
  9. Do you tailor your customer contact to make it relevant for them?
  10. Do you follow up your customer contact with a phone call?

I would hazard a guess that most businesses would probably score between 3 and 5, quite a few would be 1-3, and very few would hit 7 upwards.

The question is - in these difficult trading conditions, can you afford to take your customers for granted? It is a safe bet that those businesses that are succeeding are using database marketing to drive their business. From supermarkets to insurance companies, high street clothing stores to mail order wine clubs, leading businesses collect information on their customers, and talk to them as often as they can.

So, assuming you have a database (and if you haven’t, now is the time to start building one, perhaps by asking customers to leave their business card for a prize draw, or collating your sales records into an electronic format), and you agree that keeping in touch with your customers will help your business, what to send them?

This will depend on your industry, as will whether electronic versions such as e-shots will work better than a nicely presented flyer or eye-catching direct mail piece (we recommend trying both, and asking your customers which they prefer), but here are a few starters for ten.

If your products are seasonal, you’ve got a great excuse to mail your customers at least 4 times a year. If not, why not create a reason, linking in to events in the calendar, or even your own special offers? Give people an incentive, and for best results put a time frame on it – this encourages a faster response.

It is also vital to portray your business in a professional manner, as well as making your message eye-catching, so don’t forget to put aside some of your budget for good quality graphic design and print – it really does make all the difference as to whether your mailer is read or not.

Above all else though, please dedicate time to getting your database up to date, add new customers whenever possible, and talk to them. When the responses come, don’t forget to update their details, and remember, you need to market regularly to see real results. Work on the basis that your customer needs to see three different communications from you before they start to remember you. Good Luck!

Monday, 4 August 2008

The Power of Good PR

We all know the typical representations of the PR industry, whether it’s Patsy and Edina heading off on their latest champagne-fuelled freebie press launch, or ‘PR to the Celebrities’ Max Clifford organising another kiss-and-tell leak in order to boost his clients’ publicity and sell a few more red top papers.

The reality though, is very different – especially in the much less frothy arena of West Yorkshire, where PR can still be a very useful marketing tool and an invaluable one when budgets are tight. So, what exactly is PR?

Public Relations is about reputation - the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.

So, what does that mean to the average small to medium business, and why should it bother to invest in PR? Perhaps the most important comparison between PR and other forms of marketing is in the reader or recipient’s perception.

For example, if someone receives a flyer from a business, or sees an advertisement in the local paper, the company advertising its wares will probably say something along the lines of:

  • We are the leading provider of ABC in West Yorkshire.
  • We have many years experience.
  • Our prices are fantastic.
  • We care for all our customers.
  • We guarantee satisfaction.

Which may indeed all be true, but then, they would say that, wouldn’t they? Imagine then if, instead of (or even better, as well as) the company itself saying these things, one of its customers said them, or a respected journalist wrote a piece about the company. This third party endorsement makes a massive difference to the reader’s perception of the company, because it is someone else saying it. Many businesses already rely on an informal version of PR – word of mouth, which is fantastic, but unfortunately limited in terms of how many people it can reach.

Of course, in order to make PR work for you, there has to be a story to begin with, some good news that you can share with your target customers, but everyone has something they can say. Whether it’s a significant milestone, a new member of the team, a major contract won or an award nomination, these are all good news stories.

In terms of putting your press release together, think along the lines of What, Where, When, Who and Why and you won’t go far wrong. Many businesses realise that they just don’t have the time, or perhaps skills, to put their own news items together, liaise with the press, arrange photographs etc, and appoint a marketing company to help them.

Even so, the cost of preparing and issuing a news release can often be less than the cost of an advertisement giving similar coverage, and when combined these mediums allow you to have the best of both worlds – an attractive, eye-catching introduction to your business, backed up by a positive news piece from a third party perspective.

As ever, in order for marketing of any sort to be effective there has to be a build up of momentum, so keep those stories coming, and good luck with building your reputation!