This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.
Whether we’re choosing a trainer, a restaurant or a local car dealership, most of us look to others for validation before we commit to a purchase. This is why it is so critical to make customer references a big part of your marketing.
Beyond asking customers to post a review or engaging with them via social media, what else can small businesses be doing to up their customer marketing game?
Here are four simple ways to pull in more valuable customer references.
1. Ask Specific Questions
Have you ever asked a customer for a quote or testimonial for your website and gotten back something like this?
“I really liked the service — it was just what I was looking for!”
While this quote is certainly better than nothing, it doesn’t do much to tell your story or provide a concrete reason why someone should choose you.
Instead of asking for a generic quote or testimonial, why not ask leading questions to generate quotes that specifically highlight your differentiators and benefits? For example, if you have a nail salon whose competitive edge is later evening hours, you could ask one of your regular late-night customers “What do you like about our late-evening hours?”
Alternative health practitioner Elizabeth Lutfy routinely takes this approach when asking for client testimonials, asking clients to answer such questions as, “How have our sessions impacted your work life?” or “How has our work together boosted your energy levels?”
Jackie Myers of BabyAndMeGifts.com even attaches a text graphic to her testimonials to highlight what the quotes say about her company, such as “Personal”, “Affordable” and “Quick.”
2. Create Video Testimonials
Quotes and written testimonials can be powerful marketing tools, but nothing tells a story like video.
If your business has a physical location, you can record videos of customers answering simple questions, such as “Why do you love shopping at our store?” in return for a small discount or a T-shirt with your logo. You can post these individually to your website and Facebook Page, or string a series of clips together and overlay with music for a fun customer round-up video.
A growing trend amongst businesses is to run contests that reward customers or even prospects for creating and posting their own video testimonials. For example, BigCommerce, an e-commerce software company, ran an “Ecommerce Makeover Contest” which required contestants to submit one-minute videos on YouTube outlining why they wanted to switch to BigCommerce. For an added SEO boost, contestants were also required to tag their video with the terms “BigCommerce” and “ecommerce.” The winner received a complete site makeover and other BigCommerce products and services.
3. Understand Your Customers in the Aggregate
Do you know how many of your customers are repeat visitors? Do you know what their top reasons are for choosing you? Having this type of information could allow you to paint a much broader picture of your company. The good news is, it’s never been easier to gather data from customers.
The first step is to pick a few stats that would validate your key messages — such as “XX percent of our customers shop here once a week” and then to come up with questions that will generate these stats, such as “How often do you shop here?” Once you’ve got a few questions, you can use a free survey site such as SurveyMonkey to set up your survey. It’s also a good idea to offer customers an incentive for taking the survey, such as a small discount on their next purchase or being entered into a drawing for a gift certificate.
The next step is to get customers to take your survey. If you have a regular newsletter, include a link to the survey and info about the incentive. Make sure to promote the survey on other online touch points such as Facebook and Twitter. If your primary interaction with customers is in-store, you could even load up your SurveyMonkey survey on an iPad and ask people to take the survey at the point of check-out for an instant discount.
Once you have a good number of responses, the final step is to analyze the data and pull out your key insights, which you can then use on your website and in your other marketing materials. You may even learn something about your customers that will help you improve your business!
4. Empower Customers To Spread the Word
There are a number of simple ways you can use social media to empower customers to promote your business. One is to add the Facebook “Like” button to your website. Each time someone clicks “Like” on your site (or even the particular page or product), it will post this “Like” to their news feed. John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing offers a good tutorial for how to do this here. You can also add your Facebook Page to your website to enable customers to become fans and see who else is a fan.
Another idea for businesses with a physical location is to encourage and reward people for “checking in” at your business using Facebook Places. Each time a person checks in to your location on Facebook Places, Facebook broadcasts your company name and a link to that member’s friend’s news feeds. This can quickly add up to thousands of free impressions for your business.
You can offer a small incentive for individual checkins, such as a 5% off coupon, or you can even create a virtual punch card that generates a larger coupon or voucher for a free item when your customer hits ten check-ins. There are a number of easy-to-use Facebook applications that enable you to reward fans for checkins. For example, Westfield Valley Fair shopping center in Santa Clara, California, uses Fan Appz to give shoppers a merchant coupon when they check in at the Westfield center.
Use your existing social media vehicles to promote these checkin rewards and even consider putting up signage at your physical location.
This article was posted on http://mashable.com/2011/03/16/improve-customer-marketing/