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Marketing with Zero Budget

By Mark Wardell @MarkWardell |

When budgets get tight, marketing is often the first thing to go. In the current economic climate, this is truer than ever. But if you're feeling this pain, I have good news: Your most successful marketing strategy doesn't need to cost a penny.

I'm talking about referrals, of course. Referrals from satisfied customers are your best source for new business. Most business owners already know this, but some companies seem to get more than their fair share of referrals, while others struggle to get any at all. Once you understand how referrals are generated, however, the reason becomes clear.

Generating referral business isn't as difficult as you might think. To get your customers to regularly tell the world how great your company is, you really just need to do one thing: Give them an experience worth talking about.

People love to talk to one another about their experiences, but they don't talk about all their experiences. Generally, they only talk about the ones that stand out in their minds that were exceptional, good or bad. So the trick with referral marketing is to give your customers such a great buying experience that they feel compelled to tell someone about it. When customers leave your business with a story to tell their friends about the "great service", "wonderful products" or "excellent deals", people will want to see what they're talking about. It's not much more complicated than that. But a little strategy is important.

Take a second to contemplate branding

Behind consistently great customer experiences lies a strong brand identity. I'm not just talking about your logo or colours - I'm talking about the whole package of how your customers experience doing business with you. This includes everything from the way your business (or website) looks to the way your employees behave. It's what sets you apart from your competitors.

Every time your customers interact with your business, they have a brand experience that causes them to form an opinion of your enterprise. For example, if your salespeople are noticeably attentive to your customers, they may conclude that yours is a highly customer-service-oriented business. I call these interactions "customer contact points." As the owner, you must develop a clear understanding of how to control these customer contact points in a way that gives customers stories to share with their friends.

One company that's particularly skilled at this is Rackspace, a Texas-based web hosting company. Each time a client calls for support, Rackspace sends a follow-up e-mail summing up the main points of their discussion. It's a little thing that goes a long way towards supporting their brand promise of "Fanatical Support®". I know this because it was told to me by one of their customers.

Train your staff and lead by example

A satisfied client is great, but it is not enough. You want referrals from satisfied clients, which is why it's essential that you train your employees over and over and over again with an emphasis on great service.

Lead by example in this area. Show your staff what it looks like to go above and beyond.

Remember, your customers are not just buying your products or services; they are participating in an experience that you want them to talk about. Lasting success comes only when your customers have that same great first experience each and every time they do business with you. In other words, every time your customers do business with you, give them a compelling reason to do it again. This is how successful businesses forge lasting customer relationships.

By focusing on the quality of your customers' buying experiences, you will find that even with a limited budget, you can generate a significant about of referral business. Done properly, customers new and old will keep coming back for more.

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