Small businesses need to connect with their customers via multiple marketing channels
Before the pandemic, retailers were still able to dictate where and when the public had to shop. While the big chains were all online, if you wanted something from your favourite boutique or a service from your local provider, typically, you had to visit their store or office. With the ramping up of online life in 2020, all of that changed. Small clothing, shoe, and gift stores, fitness teachers, artists, bakeries and builders – even the big banks – had to find ways to have conversations with their customers – and sell – without a face-to-face experience. We had to go where our clients were, instead of relying on them to come to us.
Consumers are literally shopping everywhere, anywhere, and anytime. Their selection is huge, and most of what they want, they can have delivered. It’s convenient, it’s easy, and it’s not going away. Even post-pandemic, many consumers may no longer be interested in visiting a store or office. Or, they may choose a mix of ways to interact with you – your offline and online customer may be the same person. To remain competitive, retailers and service providers have to find a way to let customers buy from them how, when, and where they want.
This poses new challenges for those of us with small and medium-size local businesses. Our advantages have always revolved around our ability to build real relationships and community, respond to local needs, and provide personalized service and advice. But if our customers are no longer coming to us, how do we continue to connect?
Customers have escaped the “purchase funnel”
In the past, if a small business had an online presence they typically used it – just like their ads and promotions – to push people to their store, office, or to a telephone. But with the proliferation of devices and channels, consumers have escaped the conventional linear “purchase funnel”. They choose where they get their information and the messaging they want to see, and can easily ignore or skip messages in traditional media. They’re also choosing where and when they want to buy.
Now, their path to a purchase looks a lot like one of those trails Jeffy used to make in the old Family Circus cartoons. For a single purchase, a customer might get the inspiration from a TikTok video, look at their options online in several different places, consider the text or email offer sent by a competitor, and gather opinions and reviews from friends on social media – all without leaving the couch. Their path to a purchase has many more touchpoints than it used to, and many more places where they can immediately make the buy.
What does it mean to be “channel agnostic”?
Which brings us to this idea: “channel agnostic”. It’s a phrase that’s been around for several years. When you strip away all of the marketing chatter surrounding it, being channel agnostic means that you’re willing to go wherever you need to go to meet your customers and sell to them. As your customer chooses to access the market via mobile, social media, and websites – you make yourself available in each of those places.
A channel-agnostic business uses multiple marketing channels to connect with their market, but a better word might be multiple “customer touchpoints” – places where their customer has the potential to interact with their brand: in-store, online, on social and, post-pandemic, at events. (We like the word touchpoint, because it focuses on the experience and the idea of a multi-stage journey, rather than the channel.)
Make it easy for your customer to buy how, when, and where they want
At each touchpoint, make it as easy as possible for your customer to make a decision about you, and then make a purchase. Since, as a small or medium-size business, you’re not going to be able to cover all of the possible touchpoints on a customer’s buying journey – like Starbucks or Apple can – the key to success is the same as it’s always been: learn about your customers, and then be strategic about delivering on their wants and needs.
Figure out where your customers are gathering their research about your types of product or service, and make sure you have positive reviews. Find out what channels they buy on, and make sure you’re represented on the main ones. Learn how and when they want to interact with you, and deliver. If you’re small and local, use your advantages: ask for testimonials, create local social that connects, and looks and feels authentic, and offer personalized service. Pick what you can do, and do it well, rather than spreading yourself too thin.
Create a great experience at every customer touchpoint
- Let your customer buy where, when and how they want
- Make the experience as seamless and as painless as possible. Wherever they find you, make it easy for your customer to read a review, view a product or service, make a purchase, and pick up or receive a delivery.
- Offer a consistent brand experience across touchpoints: visually, in your messaging, and customer service
- Follow up on questions, requests and sales satisfaction
- Build relationships
The last point in the list above, “build relationships”, is something small businesses typically do well. Use authentic communication to start a conversation with thank you notes and samples tucked in purchases, an invite to sign up for your newsletter (which features promotions and giveaways), and follow-up emails to check on customer satisfaction.
This small business shows how it’s done
Lots of local businesses did a great job of pivoting in 2020: they offered curbside pickup and delivery, created a website if they didn’t have one, and began using their social media as serious sales and promotion tools.
Local jewellery design company Reiko Designs is one such company. When the pandemic started, most of their sales were in stores and at craft markets. They also showcased their products on Instagram and Facebook. In 2020 they pivoted, had their product catalogue shot by local photographer Tyler Garnham, refreshed their Shopify website with new images and content, and intensified their social media. They added free local delivery, the graphic design talents of daughter, Mackenzie, and the ability to shop from their website, social media sites, or by visiting a store. Business is booming.
But I don’t have time to manage multiple marketing channels!
If you’re thinking, “I’m a small store and I can’t keep up with multiple channels!”…we get it! It will be some time before small business owners feel rested and energized again. But we have a thought on managing your online touchpoints.
Remember that young staff person you couldn’t give enough hours to when business was slow? Instead of having them walk the floor as part of your sales staff, put them in charge of your online touchpoints, helping customers buy.
Make them responsible for content creation, responding to chat and emails, filling and delivering orders. The extra body – even part-time – will give you the opportunity to feature “a product a day”, interview staff, show “how-to” videos, pan and post video of your store shelves…all of that online relationship-building you don’t have time to do as the business owner.
Using the BC Business Recovery Grant to help your business grow online?
There are a list of ways you can use the grant to help your business recover and thrive in the “new normal”, from modifying your physical location to moving and/or improving your business online.
We’re not good with a hammer and nails, but we do know how to build an online business! We can help you:
- Brainstorm a strategy for attracting more clients or customers
- Perform a website audit to see where your site could do a better job of driving traffic to your services or products
- Create a more effective user experience, ensuring the sales experience is seamless from your social media, to your website, to your “buy” button
- Design and create website content, from copy to visuals
- Elevate your social media presence
- Create branded social posts to drive more traffic/new markets to your website
The grant allows you to hire a BC-based online marketing service to help you move forward. If that’s got you thinking, we’d love to chat – please give us a call or send us an email.
While we believe that there’s going to be a lot of pent-up demand for face-to-face experiences once we’re all able to socialize safely again, the ease and convenience of online shopping, meetings, form-filing, delivery and curbside pickup has changed our habits for good. Consumers are now in the driver’s seat in terms of dictating where and how they shop.
If all this seems overwhelming, here’s a parting thought on the “new normal” from author, teacher, and marketing guru, Seth Godin: “We’ve got a deep-seated desire for things to go back to normal, the way we were used to. But this, this moment of ours is now normal. For now. And then, there will be another normal. There is no ‘the new normal’. Because that’s definitive. There’s simply the normal of now. A new normal. This too shall pass.”