Turning a young startup into a thriving business is no easy task, and it requires a long process of building up brand recognition. In the beginning, no one will have heard of your company, and no one will care. How do you get the consuming public to notice your brand and consider spending their money? From the outset, you’ll have to do much of the legwork yourself. You’ll have to pick up the phone and contact people, network with others online and get out there in the community and meet with potential customers. But ultimately, you want to reach the point where your customers are marketing your business for you. You need to develop brand advocates.
“You want to reach the point where your customers are marketing your business for you.”
Eventually, if your products and services are good enough, you should find people who are fiercely loyal to your company—so much so that they’re willing to tell their friends and spread awareness for you. How can you capitalize on their appreciation? How can you take these strong relationships and get the maximum effect from them? That’s an important goal. Once you establish a customer base, you want to grow it exponentially. Here’s how.
The Value of Relationships in Nurturing Brand Advocates
Customer advocates increase your marketing clout without breaking the bank. Entrepreneurial adviser William Mougayar notes in “7 Marketing Trends for Tech Startups in 2014” that we tend to spend a lot of money on advertising and sponsorships, but advocacy can be a lot more effective. It just takes time and the willingness to nurture your customer relationships. “Your advocates are probably the easiest group of people to establish a relationship with, because they are totally committed to your product,” Mougayar points out. “You just need to lightly orchestrate their actions in areas like referrals, case studies, reviews, and allow them to communicate their expertise to their peers.
The outcome is you’ll soon be collecting high-quality leads coming from your advocates, or closing other ones with their help.” Heike Young, global content lead at Salesforce Marketing Cloud, writes of advocates in “7 Tips to Turn Existing Customers Into Your Small Biz’s Biggest Advocates,” “They’re the ones who will recommend your services, subscribe to your newsletter, write online reviews, and tweet about you (and not only with their complaints). Everything you do to keep these customers and keep them happy is a meaningful investment in your company’s longevity.” Your greatest asset in marketing your business probably won’t be your Twitter promoted tweets or your Google AdWords campaign, but rather your relationships with real people and how you build upon them.
Establishing a Steady Dialogue
Let’s say you’ve already got initial interest from customers in your company—perhaps from people posting positive comments online. How do you keep that dialogue going and turn interested consumers into real brand advocates? That’s a matter of responding positively to people’s reviews and encouraging additional communication. Morgan Remmers, Yelp’s senior manager of local business outreach, explains in “Top 3 Tips to Mastering Your Online Reputation” that the review site provides options both to respond to reviews publicly and to send private messages.
Either one can help you build a rapport with people. “Regardless of the response tool you choose to use, respond diplomatically, thank the reviewer for sharing their feedback and ask someone less involved in your business to read over your response before you hit the ‘send’ button,” Remmers recommends. You want feedback to be a continuous loop, not just a one-time thing. Once people engage the first time, you want to make them feel welcome so they keep coming back. Eventually, these people will turn into ambassadors for your brand.
How Email Marketing Fits In
You might soon reach the point where consumers are willing to share their email addresses with you and continue the dialogue that way. Young recommends email campaigns as a powerful tool for engaging customers. She points to data from the “2015 State of Marketing” report, which showed that 72% of email marketers rate email loyalty campaigns as “effective” or “very effective.” Therefore, it’s important to nurture relationships via email. “Include valuable, newsworthy, or money-saving content in your email campaigns to encourage subscribers to forward to their friends and family,” Young advises.
Spreading the Word
Whenever customers recommend your company, you want to call attention to it. If the word is positive about your business, you want to spread it! Social media can help you make the most of customer testimonials and other positive feedback. In “How To Put Testimonials To Work For Your Business,” marketing expert Allie Naughton advises sharing all new testimonials via Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and your other social networks.
If you’re really lucky, a snowball effect will ensue—people will see all the positive comments, and they’ll feel compelled to share their own success stories. “Remember, no one tells your story better than your customers,” says Naughton. “People want to hear what it’s really like working with you, and your existing customers can describe the experience better than anyone else—even you.”
What You Can Do Right Now
- Commit to nurturing customer relationships as part of your marketing strategy.
- Respond to reviews in a diplomatic way, encouraging customers to continue their conversation with you. Engage customers who reach out on social media.
- Use email campaigns to provide value to customers (in the form of relevant content, notification about sales, coupons, and the like) and invite their feedback.
- Make sure to amplify any positive responses you receive! Post testimonials and other feedback on your website and social media channels.