Consumer Trends Focus on Customer Experience & Information Sharing

Working this morning through my daily routine of reviewing some 300+ blogs, articles and newsletters  continue to see a trend that refers to what today’s customer wants, needs and commands. The trend touches on customers in all age groups, what brands need to do, and, of course, technology and its ever increasing role in business. But the common ground that everything centers around is customer experience and information access.

I believe the days of worrying about being too intrusive with consumers is behind us. The thing we must learn, and fast is that today’s consumer wants information and wants it now, in real-time. They are more sophisticated and technologically advanced than ever before. Small business owners must follow suit and adapt accordingly. In the franchise space, franchisors must lead the charge and do so, in part by leading by example – embrace and adapt to change!

Below are three interesting articles that lend towards the common ground defined above and indicate major changes already taking place across many industry segments. Would love to hear your thoughts on the same.

Social Customer Expectations as published on Social Media Club

In a study from this year, Gartner predicts not responding to customers via social channels will be as harmful in 2014 as not answering the phone is today. The reason? Customers simply expect it.

Customers have long complained about the lack of attention via certain channels when dealing with companies. Ever stand in line at a store while they answer the phone and have a lengthy conversation? That’s the feeling customers get when they try to reach a brand via social media and are ignored.

Read more here.

All Eyes Turn To Boomers and How They Use The Internet as published on ReadWriteWeb.com

Eighty million Boomers live, work and spend in the United States, nearly a third of the population. If you add the previous generation, the number of 50-plus Americans is 98 million, a segment of the population that’s expected to grow 34% between now and 2030, when nearly half of the nation will be aged 50 or over, according to a recent study from The Nielsen Company.

That is a huge economic force, one that has been shaping the U.S. private sector for a long time. But unlike previous generations, where the members “age out” of active spending and societal influence, the sheer size of the Boomer generation means that it will continue to be a force for a long time to come. By the middle of the 21st century, Nielsen reckons, there could be around 161 million 50-plus citizens in the country.

Already, this is a generation heavily influencing technology, just from it’s buying power. 41% of Apple customers are Boomers, the Nielsen report states.

Read more here.

SoLoMo Update: Mobile-only Social Networks to Reach 1B Users by 2014... as published on TechCrunch.com

Crystal ball-gazing time from Gartner… The analysts, which last night published some stats on how PCs continue to reign as the woolly mammoth of the tech world, today followed up with a list of predictions for one of the areas still on a big upswing: mobile services, and specifically on smartphones and tablets (AKA the devices that are causing all that doom and gloom for PCs). Gartner predicts that we will see 1 billion smartphones sold in 2015, with a further 350 million media tablets sold by that time (as a point of comparison it looks like worldwide PC sales will be under 400 million units this year, using Gartner’s figures).

And it also wrapped those up with a list of suggestions of what services may still have some growing to do.

Read more here.


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Top Five Social Media Tips For Small Business

The following article was written by Guest Author, Linda Daichendt. Linda is Founder, CEO and Managing Consultant at Strategic Growth Concepts, a consulting firm specializing in start-up, small and mid-sized businesses, and a Strategic Partner of franchisEssentials. She is a recognized expert with 20+ years experience in providing Marketing, Operations, HR, and Strategic planning services to start-up, small and mid-sized businesses. Linda can be contacted at linda@strategicgrowthconcepts.com and the company website at www.strategicgrowthconcepts.com.

Top 5 Social Media Tips for Small Business
by Linda Daichendt
as posted on Marketing With New Technology July 16, 2009
(Please Note: some content in this posting is from an article by Mya Frazier for Bankrate.com)

A few years ago, using the Internet to market a small business simply meant to create a presence online with a simple, informational Web site. Then came the demands of search engine optimization to ensure Google and Yahoo searches yielded top-ranked results for your company. Was your business’s Web site chock full of the key search terms that would bring it to the attention of customers?

social-media-trendsToday, social media is transforming the small-business marketing landscape. Social media are Web- or mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information. It’s not just for seeing who your high school sweetheart married. Businesses can tap into powerful networking sites and other social media to drive customers to their shops or companies.

If done right, small-business owners might even be able to slash their traditional marketing spending to zero. Writing blogs (short for “Web logs”) or on-going online commentary using social-networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube, can provide inexpensive but powerful online marketing.

Because it’s free, people think it’s easy to create a social media presence. But this attitude can lead to missteps. So before you dive headlong into social media, take some time to observe the customs and social norms of these new forms of communications, says David Spark, founder of Spark Media Solutions, a San Francisco-based firm that helps companies tell their story through social media. “Also think about your strategy for effectively utilizing social media before you jump in,” says Linda Daichendt, CEO/Managing Consultant of Strategic Growth Concepts. “It’s easier to avoid costly mistakes before you begin than to correct them after they’ve done damage to your company’s reputation.”

New_rules_of_marketing_and_PR“Think of social media as a cocktail party,” says, David Meerman Scott, author of “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” and “World Wide Rave,” books about how to create buzz online. “You don’t go into the cocktail party and go into the middle room and scream at the top of your lungs and say, ‘Buy my products.’ … What works is you have some meaningful conversation first. And that’s just how social media works.”

If you decide to take the social-networking plunge, here are five ways to harness social media to help your business.

1. Use free sites. Use free online services, such as the mobile short-message site Twitter, and popular networking sites Facebook and MySpace, to post significant news, specials or events. For example, you run a small Italian restaurant with a loyal following. You could create a Twitter account and upload the lunch or dinner specials via “tweets,” or short messages of up to 140 characters, daily to customers’ smart phones or to other Web sites.

“All you have to do is give a (Twitter) handle and start a conversation. You could put the Twitter handle on the menu or in the restaurant,” says Chris Abraham, Abraham Harrison LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based digital public relations agency. Granted, social networking sites are still for early adopters. “You aren’t going to get Aunt Matilda to tweet about the experience she had at dinner,” Abraham says.

Abraham considers Twitter one of the easiest ways for a newbie to social media to get started. “It’s more challenging to do Facebook,” Abraham says. “You have to create a personal profile, create a page and so on. With Twitter, if you’re Joe Smith with Motorcycle Emporium, you don’t have to create a page. And you can create Twitter updates via a phone or mobile device easily.”

“Don’t try to reinvent the wheel,” he says. “There are lots of people sold on really expensive solutions, but two of the best investments for reaching out to people and engaging with them are free on Twitter and Facebook.”

2. Shift marketing costs to social media. After learning how social networking operates, use social media to free up traditional marketing dollars for your small business by putting it online. You can quickly learn which of your Facebook or MySpace “friends” or online “group” members received and responded to your message.

Stanya Doty has cut her print marketing budget to zero. As owner of Simple Indulgences, a wine and high-end gift shop in Delaware, Ohio, she began using Facebook in December 2008 to communicate with her brother but quickly realized the online marketing possibilities.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, there are so many people here,’ ” she says. Indeed, Facebook boasts 200 million users worldwide. In April 2009, she began promoting monthly wine tastings via a Facebook page for the shop that quickly attracted 100 members. Combined with an e-newsletter created using the do-it-yourself, e-mail marketing Web site Constant Contact, she keeps enough buzz going about her shop that her advertising budget for local print ads no longer seemed necessary. She usually sends out about 700 e-mails, with the response rate sometimes reaching nearly 50 percent. It sure beats a postal mailing. “If I sent out a postcard with postage and paid for all that, I’d still have no idea who read it and who threw it away,” she says.

Indeed, unlike a print ad, Doty gets instant, measurable results. “On Facebook, you can see who has responded to invites,” she says. “It’s easy, it’s cheap and I’m actually appealing to people that at first know me from the store and then hopefully … pass the word along throughout their networks.”

google-yahoo-thumb23. Do your own social-media optimization project. Learn about the competition in your industry and geographic region that are tapping social networking. Spark recommends starting by researching the competition in the major search engines — Google and Yahoo.

“Type in keywords and phrases that people would use to find you, like ‘plumber’ and ‘San Francisco.’ If you don’t appear in the top percentage of pages, take a look at the Website of those plumbers that do show up,” says Spark. “Look at their pages, and usually they will have a lot of content on their sites.”

To increase a business’s presence on the Internet, Spark advocates companies create blogs, newsletters and other articles on their sites to bolster the number of keywords — terms that search engines recognize — to boost their ranking in all-important Web searches.

“That’s the way people discover you,” he says. “Take that plumber in San Francisco. The right search terms might just be ‘clogged toilet and San Francisco.’” “That tells me I should write … in my blog about how to fix a clogged toilet and mention that I am a plumber in San Francisco,” he says.

4. Take social-network marketing to the next level. Create and post richer content about what your customers would expect from someone in your business. Don’t view social media sites as a place to simply hype your wares. It’s a place for conversation.

“Social media is about earning attention,” says David Meerman Scott, author of “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” and “World Wide Rave,” books about how to create buzz online. “What’s most important is to forget about what your company does. Instead, think about the people who are buying your products. Simply hyping products and services online and in social media sites completely backfires. People are not looking for products but for something fun. They are looking to make connections,” Scott says.

So it’s all about having something interesting to say or show. It could be a blog, or a video on the video-sharing Website YouTube.

For example, if you’re a caterer, instead of talking about your service, create engaging culinary content. Imagine positioning yourself as a gourmet magazine on the Web, complete with links to a video you uploaded to YouTube.

“A caterer could create a blog with information about how to create a fantastic party, and each blog post or YouTube video could be another installment,” Scott says. “On the Web, you are what you publish and being on the Web is about publishing information.”

So back to that plumber faced with the prospect of dropping an expensive Yellow Pages listing but worried about customers not finding him if they have a burst pipe or a misfiring shower head. Scott recommends the plumber post a list of “the 100 home fixes for common plumbing problems.”

“All of a sudden you are going to get indexed very highly in the search engines, and people are going to share that content with their friends,” he says. “When someone puts an update on Facebook asking if anyone knows a good plumber in Boston, a friend might point to your content.”

blogging5. Use blogging to drive search results and help new customers find you. Lately, blogging has gained greater attention, with the advent of “micro-blogging” on Twitter. But consider the time commitment and strategy before launching an account.

Even with the spread of micro-blogging, Abraham remains a big fan of traditional blogs, which are lengthier and show up on Web sites. In general, no matter what form the blog takes, it should be consistent over time.

“If you can’t keep up one (blog) post a day or 12 tweets a day, do one tweet every Thursday. Consistency in blogging or tweeting will create a relationship of trust with your followers or readers. Do it once a week, but for the next two years,” Abraham says.

And don’t spend extra money on blogging software, technical help, or a ghost writer for your blog. To get started, sign up with WordPress.com or Blogger – both are free blogging platforms which are easy to use for beginners.

Additional opportunities within the social media environment include: online radio shows on platforms such as BlogTalkRadio, social networking sites such as LinkedIN, Plaxo, and FriendFeed, and a wide variety of additional tools as well depending on your type of business.

Following these social media basics for small business will get your company started on the right road to gaining new customers and increased revenue via social media.

Integrating Social Media with Traditional Franchise Marketing

The first segment of Franchise Development via Social Media described how to establish the “Virtual Meeting Room” as the online site to enable interested parties to gather and share information about your franchise concept. The second segment of this four part series, explored the path of guiding an interested party through the virtual meeting room, enhancing the experience with videos, photos and a multitude of Web 2.0 tools, until the individual transitions from general to specific interest and evolves into a franchise candidate. At this point, the franchise candidate is primed to move through the franchise sales process and make an informed decision about his or her entrepreneurial future. Interacting with the candidate throughout the time spent in the virtual meeting room enables your executive committee to make an informed decision as to whether or not the candidate should be awarded a franchise in your system.

anne-indecisiveNot convinced that a social media strategy will help you achieve your franchise development objectives? That’s understandable as it is certainly new, and as such, is difficult to measure for complete efficiency and effectiveness. Basically, there really isn’t anything to measure it against. So, if it doesn’t work, for whatever reason, you need to be prepared and have a back up plan. Is that your thinking? If it is, you’re partially correct in thinking this way. I say, partially, because you should transition into any new marketing approach, and the best way to do so, is to integrate the old with new, the traditional with the innovative.

I also say, partially, because a back up plan, running simultaneously, is a double expenditure and as such may cause you to shortcut the new strategy justifying your decision as you being more comfortable with the old strategy anyway. But keep in mind, the old has been losing its effectiveness over the past few years and today’s franchise candidates are trending away from old methods of exploring business opportunities so change is necessary. Fortunately, you can move into social media at your own pace and slowly transition away from traditional strategies while maintaining the total marketing efforts necessary to achieve your objectives.

Now, let’s look at some of the traditional marketing you might have used in past franchise development efforts and see how you can integrate the same with social media. Over time, you may transition completely out of the traditional methods or may opt to keep some in place, at reduced levels than in the past, and as dictated by the franchise development results achieved by the total efforts.

franchises_availableTraditional strategy: Tapping your current franchise network for customers that may be interested in your franchise concept. Various costly marketing tools include newsletters, post cards, in-store signage and printed materials. Approaching customers should be effective as they’re basically the low-hanging fruit that should be easily picked. Customers know the concept and are generally satisfied with the product or services. They’ve seen how busy the franchise unit is and have experienced the growth of the brand in the market.

Social media strategy: Invite franchise customers to the company’s social networking site and encourage them to participate. On the site, they’ll see videos and photos as we’ve described in parts one and two of this series. The effectiveness of this interaction is far stronger than introducing customers to the possibility of owning their own franchise through cumbersome print materials that get left in the back of the car or get discarded. Certainly the interactivity of the social network site blows away the message being told in print.

Traditional strategy: Advertising in local and national media for individuals interested in small business ownership, franchising and hopefully, your franchise concept. This is an expensive proposition as print advertising is very specific to a local market and multiple markets may be necessary to grow effectively. Or, the national publication costs are cost prohibitive for the size of your concept.

Social media strategy: Blogs are today’s media. Blog writers are today’s journalists. Through tags and various Web 2.0 tools (widgets), content is spread across the internet to multitudes of bloggers that ultimately wind up discussing and promoting your concept. As discussed in previous parts to this series, social network groups can be targeted to attract franchise candidates according to the ideal franchise profile you’ve created. This makes your actual sales efforts more concentrated to actual qualified candidates as opposed to dealing with the swarm of tire-kickers from print media.

lemonTraditional strategy: Portal websites became very popular as the internet gained steam in both popularity and daily usage. Unfortunately, now there are so many portals that regurgitate leads across the internet that many portal leads have been contacted by 10-20-30 different “franchise experts.” This has created a “used car salesman” effect that has actually turned people that may have been interested in franchising, totally against the industry.

Social media strategy: Similar to the strategy identified above as the alternative to advertising in local and national media. And, instead of an interested party being directed to specific information, the social media effort gradually presents the facts and information about the franchise while encouraging interaction with the entire franchise family. This goes a long way towards building trust, an essential component to the franchise sale.

Traditional strategy: Personally, I believe franchise expos and tradeshows are quickly becoming a thing of the past. First, it’s just too expensive to send a team of representatives to man a trade booth in some city outside the city where the corporate headquarters is located. Further, people are intimidated by salespeople and prefer instead to search for opportunities online in a non-intimidating environment, and at their own pace.

Social media strategy: With the wealth and breadth of information available online, an individual’s computer is in essence, a virtual tradeshow or franchise expo. Why should an individual interetsed in franchising go anywhere else? However, it’s not good enough to just have a website. A website is static and two-dimensional. Instead, a blog and social network page, again as we’ve previously described, is essential to stand out from the crowd and create an interactive forum where the franchise candidate can learn and share information towards making an informed decision. Again, at his or her own pace and without feeling intimidated.

Non-traditional strategies: There’s a multitude of fairly new strategies that have been utilized in franchise development efforts. One, email marketing, is effective to an extent. Email blasts have become very common and have had a relative level of success. Except, it’s starting to become stagnant as more and more companies have launched extensive email campaigns and the excitement of yesterday is gone today. Most people now look at email marketing as spam and actually block it whenever and however they can.

email-vs-social-mediaSocial media strategies: Welcome to video email marketing. Or, as is commonly referred to as vidmail marketing. Actually, let’s call it email on steroids! Videos, an essential Web 2.0 tool, can be transfered to blogs and social networks to enhance the experience and more importantly, convey a consistent message in a dynamic form. People remember 10% of what they read. 20% of what they hear. And 30% of what they see. But, remember 50% of what they see AND hear together. So, which is it, email or vidmail?

A recent blog post on The Buzz Bin, defined some basic “musts” for fluid integration of social media. They include:

•Ensuring overarching value proposition and related communications are available in social web when dialogue naturally permits
•Cross-promotion of URLS and calls-to-action through web, mobile and print media for giving, tell-a-friend, webinars, etc.
•Spotlight third party coverage from blogs in the press room
•Advertising: Word of mouth is buoyed by advertising, so social media efforts should be tied to ad campaigns for print, online and keyword marketing. “Connect on Facebook” and other similar calls-to-action should start becoming common aspects of your ad campaigns.
•Public relations: Integrating willing online influencers as part of your outreach is essential.
•Emails: Any email sent from an organizational property should also include a call-to-action for the social web. Think about this: People reading email are already online.
•Website: Prominent first screenview promotion of social media properties needs to be developed for the 1.0 site. We recommend a clean badge or clearly delineated text.
•Cross promotion of social web activities. Badges should link to a portal site that unites all of your social media properties (once you develop them). Then use the portal as the home page and calls-to-action site for all online activity

Certainly, this list is far more technical than the explanations provided in this series but they correspond very well and should be used as a guide when executing your plan to integrate social media with traditional strategies.

Tomorrow, we’ll be closing out the series with Part 4 of Franchise Development via Social Media. Our last segment will tie everything together to make increased franchise sales a reality as opposed to a vision, or fantasy. We’ll also touch on basic sales skills necessary to add the personal touch that is so essential to closing the sale.

In the meantime, please list your questions and comments in the space provided below, and I will respond accordingly prior to releasing the last part of the series.