Many marketers think of word-of-mouth advertising as the holy grail, and for one simple reason: it’s incredibly effective. In our digitally connected modern world, the humble online review is often seen as the equivalent of word-to-mouth advertising. Many buyers use these reviews to find local businesses to patronize and learn more about which to avoid. Don’t leave the impact of your customer reviews up to chance—instead, use a few simple steps to maximize the positive benefits of online reviews for your business.
Get Proactive: Respond to Every Review
If a customer approaches you in your business with a compliment, you’ll thank them warmly for their business. With a complaint, you’ll work to resolve the problem in an amicable way. Apply these same simple techniques to your reviewers online and you’ll be in good shape.
Most review sites allow business owners to respond to their client feedback. When someone shares positive feedback, thank them and explain that you can’t wait to see them again soon. Negative and unpleasant reviewers should also get a response. Be thoughtful and kind in your comments and when possible, invite the client to stop in again for a better experience. Most importantly, don’t let frustration or anger get the better of you.
Responding to reviews shows other customers that you’re engaged and committed to providing great customer service. It can even result in an unhappy customer rethinking his opinion. Either way, you’ve demonstrated your business’ approach to providing great customer service, which will leave a positive impression for others.
Build a Complete Profile
Of course, the reviews themselves are the main dish of sites like Yelp, but business owners also have a role to play beyond simple responses. Use review sites to highlight the key selling points of your business. Complete your business profile in the greatest detail possible, and upload a full gallery of images. Remember, when catering to a customer who doesn’t know your company or your product, you want to help fill in as many gaps as possible.
Encourage More Reviews
Many review sites have clauses that explicitly forbid soliciting reviews from your customers, but don’t let that stop you from publicizing your business’ presence on these sites. Consider adding a small review logo to your website footer and business cards, which will remind customers to share their feedback. You might also want to think about advertising with a review site. Many of these destinations allow businesses to offer special deals to clients who learn about them through a review.
Engaging with customers in a way that reflects positively on your business is nothing new. As the old adage goes, the customer is king. By treating a review site as a public forum for maintaining positive relationships with existing clients and resolving disputes, you can harness the power of these destinations for your business. Ultimately, building a review response strategy alongside your social media campaigns and traditional advertising initiatives can help supercharge your company’s marketing prowess and earn you more business.
It isn’t uncommon for small business owners to shy away from defining their target market, believing their product or service appeals to everyone. Unfortunately, a poorly defined target market often causes a myriad of headaches—from poorly optimized content to wasted marketing dollars, misunderstanding your core audience can make a dramatic impact on your business’ success. One simple solution is to build a detailed buyer persona, which you can use to direct your marketing efforts.
What Exactly is a Buyer Persona?
Buyer personas are fictionalized representations of your ideal customers. Who is most likely to patronize your restaurant, purchase your beverage, or repeatedly visit your website? Perhaps “Bob” is your buyer persona, a retiree with a taste for the finer things in life. Do you run a family-friendly diner with a wide array of dishes that appeal to kids and adults alike? You may be catering to “Megan,” a busy soccer mom looking for options when she’s too tired to cook.
Of course, it’s not enough to simply give your fictionalized buyer a name. You want to understand what makes him or her tick. What are the needs of your customer? What are his or her hobbies, passions, and habits? The more closely you can define your buyer persona, the more effective this tool ultimately proves.
How to Use Your Buyer Persona
After carefully constructing your personas, you can think more intentionally about the best way to market and advertise your business. What magazines does “Megan” read, and what sort of topics interest “Bob” online? You can use this information to better target potential customers.
Buyer personas also prove useful when segmenting your market into various buckets. Retiree “Bob” may want to visit your restaurant with his wife for a romantic evening out while successful businesswoman “Sarah” needs a place to hold meetings with her clients. By segmenting your market into multiple personas, you can tailor your communications to fit the mold of your buyers. The ads, digital content, and interactions you direct towards each persona will vary based on the profile of the customer.
Research Makes Perfect
You may be familiar with the expression, “practice makes perfect,” but in marketing, research is the path to perfection. Don’t simply guess what your ideal customers are looking for—instead, work to tweak your personas by continually investing in market research.
This process doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Instead, listen to customer feedback and take the time to ask specific questions. Start conversations with your customers and ask specific questions to get a better understanding for the needs and wants of your buyer.
Buyer personas hold plenty of potential for businesses struggling to gain marketing traction. By carefully researching your market, defining target segments, and working to shape your initiatives to fit the needs of your personas, you’ll maximize earning potential and protect your bottom line. It may sound simple at first, but you’ll find yourself surprised at just how effective this fundamental marketing technique can be.
Many small businesses flock to social media in the hopes of supercharging their digital marketing efforts, but few companies manage to make a lasting impact online. Harnessing the potential of social platforms requires a carefully structured strategy, much like a traditional marketing plan. If you’re ready to boost your business’ prowess on the social web, use the following keys to begin building your social media strategy.
Defining Your Goals
Don’t simply create a social media profile and hope for the best. Instead, set specific goals you’d like to achieve, and then work out how you plan to reach those milestones. It’s better to set measurable goals and link them to a specific timeline, which will help you stay on the right track.
As with any marketing initiative, develop a clear target audience for your social accounts. If you know which audience you’re trying to reach, you’ll better direct your energy on the web. For example, Facebook may be the best platform for reaching a wide, general audience, but LinkedIn is better suited for B2B marketers. Use statistics and consumer research to determine which platforms you should explore. From Instagram to Pinterest, the options are nearly unlimited.
Creating Content for the Web
Once you’ve established where you’re headed, begin crafting content that will help you meet your goals. Brainstorm ideas for blog posts, videos, and images you can share to generate interest. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ideas and concepts—you never know what could turn viral.
Whether you want to post once a week or twice a month, consistency is important. Your followers will come to expect the same regular interactions, so don’t leave them in the dark while you go on vacation or get busy with other things. If you struggle with this idea, consider creating an editorial calendar to track your progress.
Building Your Presence
Don’t be that sad business with 15 followers and 6 lonely tweets. Once you commit to launching your social media efforts, attack in full force. Be proactive about responding to comments, actively seek out new followers, and monitor activity on a daily basis.
If you aren’t able to commit to updating your accounts on a regular basis, consider partnering with an agency that can manage your profiles for you. As your popularity online grows, your accounts may need several hours worth of your attention each week. If you don’t have the time to personally commit to growing your network, an agency can help you ensure your goals don’t fall to the wayside.
Regardless of which approach you take, don’t be tempted to forego social media altogether. According to statistics from the Social Media Examiner, 95% of businesses active on social platforms in 2014 saw increased exposure for their brand—the numbers don’t lie. Make your social accounts a priority and watch your brand build momentum that could last a lifetime
Mobile technology has dramatically rewritten the rules for the service industry, and the restaurant world is no exception to the rule. According to a report from the National Restaurant Association, a whopping 88% of consumers use technology to interact with a restaurant in some way. From reading reviews to scheduling reservations through online reservation systems, technology simplifies the buying process and helps find restaurants to visit. Of course, providing services like digital reservations comes at a cost—is the investment worth it?
Examining the Digital Reservation Model
OpenTable is easily the biggest player in the digital reservations world. Participating restaurants pay a monthly fee and $1 per person for the service. Along with the reservations themselves, the restaurant receives a touchscreen reservation system and can offer reservations directly from their own website. A restaurant could theoretically create a similar system in a proprietary model, although the development and implementation of such a system would likely prove prohibitively expensive.
As the NY Times points out, a number of competitors have also sprung up in recent years. Some of the competitors in this space include review company, Yelp (SeatMe). A few other minor players also operate in the industry.
Calculating the Cost
It’s difficult to substantiate the value of a digital reservation, as it’s nearly impossible to say whether or not a diner would have still visited a restaurant without a digital option. And yet, many restaurant owners feel the cost is well worth the service it delivers. A piece published in FSR included feedback from restaurant owners who credit online reservations with pulling diners during quiet periods and building the company’s reputation with positive feedback.
Maximizing the Value of a Digital Reservation
In addition to the reservation itself, services like OpenTable provide in-depth analytic information that allows restaurants to track buyer patterns and note specific information about the diners. Dietary habits, birthdays and anniversaries, and other personal information can all be tracked for the diner. This can help the eaterie to provide superior service for repeat visitors.
Many restaurants also feel a digital system helps create greater efficiency for the front of the house. Reservations can easily be tracked and the status changed as diners check-in for their meal. Managers can also take a look at reservations before the shift begins to better determine availability for walk-ins and schedule staff breaks.
Taking the gamble on an online reservation system can feel like a daunting undertaking, but the benefits these systems provide make them an appealing option for restaurants of all shapes and sizes. OpenTable alone services 32,000 restaurants, with approximately 16 million visits reserved each month. As consumers increasingly turn to their smartphone as a means of finding local businesses to visit, implementing a digital reservation system simply makes sense for restaurants eager to grow their earning potential.
In mid-September 2015, Groupon announced it would be cutting 1,100 jobs and shuttering its operations in many countries around the world. It marks a devastating turn for the leader in daily deal sites, a company that was once the fastest-growing business in the world. Where did it all go wrong?
Unfortunately, for small businesses and large chains alike, daily deal sites cause more problems than they solve. Touted as an inexpensive way to land new customers and increase revenue, many business owners have found daily deals generate nothing but headaches. And yet, some businesses are still tempted to purchase advertising space on these sites. Before you make this faux pas, consider the four problems daily deals create:
1. Daily Deals Attract the Wrong Buyers
Pulling in a new customer with a great sale makes logical sense, right? Unfortunately, daily most deals shoppers are simply bargain hunters. You’re not reaching members of your target audience—you’re giving away products and services on the cheap to people who likely won’t come back.
2. Traffic Issues Cause Lasting Repercussions
If you flood the market with an unbeatable deal for your business, you could see your traffic increase exponentially. Sadly, very few small businesses are ready to deal with the challenges that accompany a short term traffic boost. If your service or product suffers as you scramble to serve a massive number of new customers, unsatisfied buyers will flood the web with poor reviews and negative feedback.
3. You’re Selling Yourself Short
In marketing, perception is everything. By setting your prices, you’re teaching buyers what your product is worth. When your $45 entree becomes $15 on a daily deals site, you’re rewriting customer value perceptions. Why should that customer ever want to spend three times as much on the same service he received at a discounted rate?
4. You’re Not Maximizing Your Marketing Dollar
When you purchase a daily deal ad, you’re selling discounted vouchers to customers through a third party. If you’d offered the same sale yourself, you would have the buyer’s personal information, which you could use for marketing initiatives down the road. Instead, you’ve simply purchased a customer’s business as a one-off opportunity.
Even worse, you likely won’t see the money from that sale for some time. For example, Groupon lays out a complicated payment structure for its merchants. You won’t receive the entirety of the money until two months after the sale, by which time you’ll likely have seen the customers come and go. If you operate on a tight budget, this could cause serious cash flow issues.
The clever idea behind sites like Groupon caused the daily deal to explode in popularity a few years ago. As the economy has recovered, and buyers have started spending again, however, the novelty has worn off. Buyers aren’t near as interested in daily deals, and the vendors hawking them aren’t turning a profit. Don’t fall prey to the mistakes of others—instead, use tried and true marketing efforts to grow your bottom line.