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March 25, 2009

Does Your Marketing Match Your Customers’ New Behavior?

Many small businesses today have seen their target audience’s behavior shift toward using the web for communicating (email), getting news (web), communicating with each other (social networking), and performing pre-shopping research (Google). You may be tempted to think that if potential customers want information about your products and services, they will call your company and ask to speak with a sales rep. But that’s not the case anymore – instead, they will probably go to the web and either do a Google search, or go directly to your web site to find the information they need before making a purchase.

Today’s consumers rely on the web like never before, which means your business must adjust to that reality and meet your customers where they are already looking for you – on the web and in the search engines. Here are five tips you can use to make sure your marketing strategies line up more closely with your customers’ current expectations and behavior:

  • Get your web site right.
    You’ve probably already heard that it takes a visitor all of 4 seconds to decide if your web site is worth their time or not. This means that the first impression of your web site instantly conveys information about the quality of your business and its value to visitors – all in 4 seconds. Make sure your site is an accurate representation of your business and has an attractive, updated design, lots of quality content, a clear, consistent navigation system, and at least some interactive features (like blogs, event calendars, video, etc.) to show that your business is relevant and understands what today’s users need and expect from a web site. If your web site is old, outdated, or amateurish, then guess what visitors will remember about your business?  Make sure you invest in a web site that gives visitors the right message about your business and meets today’s user expectations.
  • Show up in the search engines.
    Nearly 80% of consumers use search engines to find information before they make a purchase (online or off-line). Showing up in the search results can give your business a steady supply of new prospects and potential customers who are often pre-qualified and ready to buy. Good search engine rankings also contribute to higher visibility for your business, since showing up at the top gives your business added exposure every time someone searches for your keywords.  Make sure your web pages have correct meta data (titles, descriptions, etc.), and your keywords are used strategically in the text on your page as well.  Also, inbound links are crucial to good search engine rankings (especially in Google), so take advantage of link building strategies like press releases, article syndication, and listings on other web sites in your industry.
  • Use email campaigns and e-newsletters to communicate regularly with customers.
    In order to stay fresh in your customers’ minds, you need to regularly remind them about your business. By using email campaigns and e-newsletters, you can communicate with your customers regularly with any number of marketing messages, special offers, or new information that helps build loyalty and improve customer retention rates. In the case of e-newsletters, you can also re-purpose the articles and add them to your web site as new content, which gives both visitors and search engines a reason to keep coming back to your site.
  • Provide customers with ways to interact with you online (blogs, surveys, video, etc.).
    No longer is it enough to have a “brochure-ware” web site where the information is all one-way, like reading a brochure. If you want your message to resonate with your customers, you need to offer them ways to interact with your business online. One of the easiest ways to do this is with a company blog, since it gives users a way to become part of the ongoing conversation about your business and gives them more power over their experience. Other interactive features like surveys, online videos, and podcasts can help position your business as a trusted resource for customers, helping to build trust and customer loyalty for your business and your brand.
  • Keep it going – add new content, build inbound links, and monitor progress.
    Of course, after investing so much time, energy, and marketing budget into matching your customers’ expectations and behavior, you will need to put a plan in place to keep everything going. Make sure you have set aside staff (or your own time) to keep your blog updated, and add new, useful content to your web site as often as you can. Set up an e-newsletter schedule that customers can depend on, and take advantage of low-cost email marketing campaigns to send out special discounts or coupons directly to your customers’ inboxes. Track and monitor your positions in the search engines every month, and make any necessary adjustments if you see your results slip.

It may take some new thinking to make your marketing plan match your customers’ changing behavior, but the results can be well worth the effort. Once you understand how your customers are using the web and what they expect today, you can implement the marketing strategies that will help you reach them more effectively and communicate better with them. Matching your marketing efforts with customer behavior can ultimately help you improve your marketing results, deliver your message more effectively, and spend marketing dollars on the initiatives that work the best.

Lauren Hobson, President of Five Sparrows, LLC, has more than 16 years of experience in small business technology writing, marketing, and web site design and development. Five Sparrows provides professional web site and marketing services to small businesses and non-profit organizations, giving them access to high-quality services at affordable prices. To read articles or subscribe to Biz Talk, please visit