by Justin Topliff
Efficiency in creating marketing from existing customers and customer behavior around trusting peers makes this the most valuable and under-utilized marketing strategy for small business.
What is the most under-utilized and effective marketing strategy for small business? Your existing customers.
Paid, owned, earned
“Paid,” “owned,” and “earned” marketing are terms small businesses may hear thrown around by marketing agencies or marketing blogs. I’ll be honest, I’m a professional marketer and I didn’t learn what these terms truly meant until later than I should have. So, allow me to save you the headache.
“Paid” advertising is marketing you have to pay for. Basically, you’re paying the owner of a space in exchange for the use of that space. Paid advertising can be digital or non-digital. Common digital options for paid advertising include Facebook ads, LinkedIn ads, and Google ads. The way these ads are powered and billed are where all the search engine marketing (SEM) buzzwords come into play: pay-per-click (PPC), cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM), cost-per-acquisition (CPA), etc. Common non-digital options for paid advertising include newspaper ads, billboards, directory listings, and sponsorships. It’s basically the same thing; you’re paying an owner of a space for the opportunity to use that space. Paid marketing in a nutshell.
“Owned” advertising is marketing you produce and distribute through a channel you own. In most cases it’s free, because you produce and own it. Examples of owned advertising include your company’s website, blog, and social pages. The benefit here (aside from being free) is that you control both the content and the channel. You decide what your website says, what your most recent blog post is about, or what you’re going to post on social. You can post whatever you want, when you want, and it stays out there without expiring timeframes or having to pay someone to put it there.
“Earned” advertising is when your customers become the marketing channel. The best examples of earned advertising is word of mouth, buzz, testimonials, or having a piece of your content go viral. The best way to “earn” earned advertising is to practice daily excellence and deliver delightful customer experiences so that your customers are so wowed they want to talk about you. Out of all the marketing channels (paid, owned, earned), earned advertising is by far the most trusted by consumers and delivers the highest return-on-investment (ROI) for you as a small business owner.
Prospects are filtering out traditional (and online) marketing
A challenge small businesses are facing today is that consumers are starting to tune out marketing because they get so much of it. Even small business owners tune out the advertising we see—banner ads online, billboards we drive by, and emails we receive. We marketers call this “blindness,” and it’s not just for banner ads anymore. Today, only about 20 percent of Facebook posts produce an emotional reaction in consumers.
This is bad news for paid and owned advertising. It’s also discouraging for small business. All the money you’re spending on advertising and all the time you’re spending writing social posts probably isn’t paying off. How are you supposed to get in front of your audience and stand out from the noise if consumer behavior says that subconsciously, nobody is paying attention to advertising?
People trust each other
People may be paying less attention to ads, but they’re paying more attention to each other. In fact, a recent Nielsen study found that out of all advertising formats, earned media is the most trusted. Eight out of 10 people trust recommendations from their family or friends, and 66 percent trust reviews from other consumers (both earned). By comparison, 70 percent trust your branded website (owned), 56 percent trust emails they signed up for (owned), and only 42 percent trust online banner ads (paid).
Those are powerful numbers for small business owners. Looking for return on investment from your marketing? Turn your customers into advertisers
A matter of cost
Aside from earned advertising being the most trusted amongst consumers, there’s also the cost consideration. For small businesses, paid advertising is costly and complicated. You have to create ads, manage them, buy space and budget how much you want to spend and how quickly. Owned advertising isn’t free either. It takes time to write blog posts and social media posts. For a small business, time is money, so both paid and owned advertising can be costly.
Instead, imagine focusing on your business and delivering great customer experiences that will leave customers so delighted that they tell their friends. If five customers tell five friends each, that’s 25 prospects. If 80 percent trust recommendations from their friends and family, there’s a good chance you could have 20 new customers.
How to actually turn your customers into marketing minions
Don’t get me wrong, delivering delightful experiences is also hard work. Additionally, small business owners often make the mistake of hoping customers will spread the word without any help. Don’t fall into this trap. Here are some ways you can make sure you’re making it easy for delighted customers to spread the word about your small business.
Set your goals
Take a step back and ask yourself what you need right now. Does your business need more customers? More marketing content? Better engagement with the customers you already have? For example, if you need more marketing content, ask a delighted customer if they want to write a testimonial or be featured on your website. If you need more customers, think about instituting a referral bonus when customers bring friends in.
Identify your best customers
Now that we’ve decided on the “what,” time to decide on the “who.” In some cases, it’s easy to identify your best, raving customers. Other times, it’s not. If you’re unsure, consider sending an email to your list asking for volunteers. Offer something in return, like 10 percent off their next order or a free bonus. Before you know it, you may have a whole group of people wanting to help you promote your business in exchange for some value.
Ask, recognize, and reward
Now that you have your little army, instruct them on what to do. If they do it, reward them. Close the loop here, or you risk changing their minds about how great your business is. Keep in mind that the reward doesn’t always have to be monetary; it could be early access to a new product, featuring them on your website or inviting them to a private event.
Don’t forget, marketing is all about measurement and optimization
Keep an eye on what’s working, with customers and your influencers alike. If something’s not working, don’t be afraid to change it. Hopefully, thanks to your newfound earned advertising, you’ll have customers rushing in the door.
Justin is a product marketing manager at Keap, where he leads customer research, marketing efforts and new product launches. Previously, Justin was a senior venture associate at Tallwave, the nation’s first startup “commercializer,” and a creative resource designer and consultant for Jostens, Inc. A small business owner himself, Justin founded the Product Marketing Summit after identifying an educational gap for product marketers in the tech space. Launching later this year, the summit will disseminate free knowledge from over 40 of tech’s top product marketers.