Retailers did everything possible to attract buyers over the holidays. From educational sessions to discounts and coupons, and special offers, retailers used their ingenuity and marketing smarts to make the best of a dismal season.
Nonetheless, numbers were down and every indicator pointed toward an even gloomier 2009. Perhaps the very profile of the retail environment has shifted as consumers settle in for what may be a protracted economic change.
Here are some smart, manageable tips on how to survive through the second half of the 2009 buying season and keep your business on track.
Don't Take Your Foot off the Gas
Remember those longs days and nights last November and December while you did everything possible to make your business a success? Now is no time for a vacation.
No matter how tired you are or how discouraged you might feel, it's time to keep your chin up and continue marketing to your customers. A reduction in marketing efforts is not an option. Marketing keeps you in front of current customers, enlightens prospects, and positions you well for when the economy recovers. Those who stop marketing often find themselves losing precious momentum and having to make up ground in the long run.
Need help? Tap into local support outlets, work with your regional Small Business Development Center or business organization, and commiserate with other retailers.
Make Every Customer a Repeat Customer
You forged new relationships over the holiday season and strengthened old ones. Now is the time to take better advantage of those relationships and transform onetime buyers into frequent customers.
Though statistics vary by type of business, product, and service, it's clear that it costs more to acquire a customer than to retain an existing one. Whether asking customers to sign up for your newsletters, encouraging them to download your community toolbar, or offering frequent-user discount cards, you have ways to re-engage buyers.
Remember, a solid, loyal customer base can carry you through even the toughest times. How do you do it? Continue to use applications and methods for collecting and evaluating, and making decisions about, customer and product data. Carefully review your usage numbers each month and how they translate into sales.
Intuition Is Not Enough
Customers make or break your business. You must cater to your clientele, and that means knowing what they want.
Do they want to see more educational sessions? Do they want more discounts? How effective are your marketing efforts and what sort of returns are they generating? Use your toolbar and newsletter to distribute an open-ended customer survey. Actually read customer feedback and make adjustments accordingly, so customers can see you're making real changes based on that feedback. But make sure you track the effectiveness of those changes in your marketing strategies monthly.
Here are a few tips: Change your campaign copy if it isn't generating results, swap out elements of your toolbar if they aren't being used, and continue to test and be ready to adapt.
Stop any spending that isn't directly resulting in customer acquisition or sales. Your dollars are tighter than ever, so managing them is critical. Examine your marketing mix and invest wisely. You might not need the latest, sleekest hardware, but you certainly need a smart, well-designed website and Web 2.0 applications like gadgets and toolbars to extend the value of that site. There are plenty of free and low-cost communications channels that have significant return on investment (ROI).
And keep using those tools that work. Set a goal on reviewing one new free tool for small businesses that is hot or new. Consider how best to apply that tool for operations, marketing, sales, accounting, etc. (and when not to). Not every business needs a Facebook page, for instance, but some could benefit from it. Talk to your customers about what resonates with them and where they are now, and make decisions from there.
Think Thematically and Theatrically
Retailers are great at this: They find a seasonal hook and exploit it—pulling together displays, product offerings, and so on—so that entire campaigns are tied together.
However, this approach shouldn't stop at product marketing. Your marketing communications should reflect the same cohesive thinking. Timing each communications piece—press announcements, online ad campaigns, toolbar changes, desktop alerts, blog posts—to work in concert with the overall campaign can increase the effectiveness of your efforts and your overall brand resonance. You want to surround your customers with the right message, both online and offline.
It isn't enough to do this just once a year or periodically. It should become part of the way you conduct business. When is the right time? Plan ahead! For instance, six months before back-to-school season starts, you should already have your plans in place.
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Today's customers are different from those you encountered even a year ago. They expect more of everything—more information, more choices, and more convenience.
The energy, enthusiasm, and effort you put into your holiday campaigns can continue to pay dividends this year if you continue to face each day with the same vigor and determination you displayed over the holidays.