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Everyone knows about the proliferation of the latest “deal” emails and offers (a.k.a. Groupon, Living Social, Google Offers, and the like). However, marketing is more than just offering a discount. Marketing that relies only on price cuts becomes a battle over the lowest price but that doesn’t help company grow or build long-term customer relationships. (There will always be a competitor with a lower price who can steal away your price-driven customers.)Coupon

Instead, what is needed is an evolution of marketing to focus on listening to customers, engaging in dialogue with them, and being responsive. Those are key elements to earning customer loyalty. Think about your customer relationships as a 2-way street instead of just focusing on the 1-way street of transactions/purchases which tends to treat customers as nothing more than a walking wallet.  If you focus on 2-way dialogue and create great customer experiences you’ll find that customers wish to repeat the experience (buy from you again). And maybe they will even tell their friends (cha ching!).

In your marketing efforts, be sure to focus on providing value to customers (value doesn’t necessarily mean price-based offers). Yes, there will always be a segment of consumers that primarily act based on price, but I’m talking about the rest of the universe who can more effectively contribute to your bottom line. It’s been proven in more and more surveys that there are customers willing to pay more for a better experience (which is of value to them).

How can you provide value to your customers (read: what do your customers value)?

Here are a few ideas:

  • YOUR PROCESSES: Make it easy for customers to do business with you (customers value their time). You can do this by making it easy to buy, to renew, to repurchase, to pay an invoice, to make a return or reach an agent who can quickly solve problems. This can be a real differentiator from your competition and can contribute to loyalty. Heard of Commerce Banks “kill a stupid rule” approach (read here: http://www.bankstocks.com/ArticleViewer.aspx?ArticleID=3735&ArticleTypeID=2) this can help you kill bad processes making customers lives easier.
  • WHAT CUSTOMERS NEED: Think about what your customers need…and do what you can to support/ solve /meet that need. This need doesn’t have to be just around your product/service. Perhaps your customers need first access to information so they can make decisions faster, or perhaps they value “being the first to know.”  I’ve had firsthand experience with a company where getting first access to new content was hugely valuable to our customer evangelists. They wanted to be first to share that new content and I discovered this was a HUGE traffic driver for the website. We grew traffic (for free) by tapping into that need. That was of high value to our customers and kept them coming back because we satisfied this need for them.
  • YOUR MESSAGES: Stop selling and pushing and start helping, educating and sharing with your customers. Here’s an example of what I mean. Home services professionals can help educate their customers on how to care for their homes rather than just sending out discounts. After all, how many discount emails can a customer really use from a painting company? Instead, they can recommend the best schedule for maintenance (not just the kind related to painting, for example) and the best way to protect the value of a home. Other ideas of value could be how often to paint the inside or outside of your home. Or, when to replace a hot water heater or how can you determine if your washing machine is about to call it quits. There are plenty of home owners who value free education about maintaining their home investment. And they will value the company who makes it easy for them to do this.
  • A GUIDELINE: The best rule of thumb for the ratio of information/ education to promotion/ sales messages in your communication is 80% education, 20% promotion (it can vary, but keep close to this ratio to best engage customers in the long term). This applies to all marketing: e-mail marketing, social media, etc. It’s not that promotional offers are bad, but customers wear tired of them quickly. Here’s an example of wear out on promotional messages: I have received one email a week selling me on the premium service of YouSendIt.com. Every subject line is about buying their service. How many customers want to see you selling your services in their email box continually? None. There is nothing new in each email and nothing of value to me and thus it becomes a negative customer experience. I finally unsubscribed after deleting their messages for weeks. Now they don’t have permission to contact me, and all because they didn’t offer value but instead just pushed their paid services on me.

Moving away from too many price promotions allows you to instead listen to what your customers value and rethink your marketing messages to orient around what they feel is valuable. Have a dialogue. There is no dialogue when marketing just consists of transaction focus messages – that is pushy. The best approach for long-term customer value and business value is to offer information and education, ask for customer feedback, listen to customers and then tailor your marketing messages/methods and business offerings accordingly.

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