Small businesses can cast a wider net, by managing their online footprint. The challenges, of course, include dealing with offer-seeking behaviour or customers who change loyalties when an attractive promotion gets over. In The Small Business Online Marketing Handbook: Converting Online Conversations To Offline Sales, Annie Tsai outlines some things small businesses need to keep in mind when devising their online strategy.

In the chapter “Online Offers That Convert Into Lasting Business", Tsai talks about how to design an online promotion to attract buyers who might become long-time customers. Edited excerpts:

Visual elements

The Small Business Online Marketing Handbook—Converting Online Conversation To Offline Sales: By Annie Tsai, Wiley, 182 pages, Rs 499
The Small Business Online Marketing Handbook—Converting Online Conversation To Offline Sales: By Annie Tsai, Wiley, 182 pages, Rs 499

For instance, one of Demandforce’s customers recently decided to run a new customer referral campaign that included a TV giveaway drawing at the end of a one-month period. The picture they used in the email marketing campaign, on the website, and on their Facebook page was of the employees holding up the TV in a box, smiling, and waving to readers inviting them to join in on the promotion.

This formula—mixing the people with the product and the experience—is a great combination for small businesses. Whereas people generally expect big brands to feature flashy ad spots and highly stylized designs, the public largely embraces small businesses when they focus heavily on putting the people and experiences before the brand. So take advantage of the fact that you are a small business, a brand of your own, and an active part of your community. Don’t be afraid to show that off in every aspect of your work, including promotions.

Another effective visual element that can be used in your offers is a button that indicates that your prospective customers can and should act right now. A frequent call to action for service-based business offers is to “request an appointment" or “request a quote." Especially through the email channel and on websites, placing the call-to-action button below the offer usually provides enough imagery to get your message across. The simplistic nature of keeping the imagery focused on a single call to action can be an appealing option for many small business owners. You benefit on a number of fronts—namely, by keeping design costs minimal by reusing the same easy-to-understand visual elements in one campaign after another. What’s even more important, though, is the fact that as your customers continue to receive offers from you through the various marketing channels, they are able to visually sense the similarities over time. They don’t have to think about what they need to do in order to redeem your offer.

Language of the sale

The words you choose to convey your message draw your prospective customers in, help them understand what’s most important to you and your business, or simply create a sense of urgency if that’s what you’re looking to do. Thanks to the added visibility of online directories, customer reviews, and syndicated offers in today’s Internet economy, your business must compete with other local businesses within a significantly larger geographic radius. There’s a positive element to this, of course: your business has the opportunity to capture customers within that same much larger pool. And because you’re starting with a bigger selection, it’s crucial to use the appropriate tools to stand out to the right potential customers. Depending on how you position yourself in the marketplace, you could very well draw the kinds of customers you don’t want—deep-discount seekers, overly unreasonable customers, unreliable customers, or those who have a tendency not to pay.

Once you’ve given some thought to how you want to position yourself in the marketplace and how your promotions impact the types of customers you’ll get, it’s time to start building your why story. Here are some tips:

uBe factual. Feel free to take creative liberty with adjectives and color, but never overexaggerate to the point that quality, quantity, value, or your business’s integrity come into question once a prospect becomes a buyer. Using numbers is often effective in communicating value—for instance, “94 percent of customers saw an immediate difference after the first session."

uLeverage someone else’s reputation. If a magazine has recently highlighted this product, use that to your advantage and word your offer around this. You may need to deal with copyright issues when repurposing material from other sources; however, it should be fairly easy to link to the magazine’s site. Frequently used phrases here are “As seen in Lucky magazine and on Reese Witherspoon" or “Rated a Best Buy by Consumer Reports."

u Use existing customer recommendations and testimonials. If you have a recent customer review that emphasizes how amazing this product is, turn that recommendation into a referral engine by pitching your offer as “customer approved" and share the customer’s story. You can go several directions here: including a customer video testimonial, before and after photos, a quotation from the customer’s review. All these are effective ways to draw new business from your current fans.

uBe as brief as possible. Try to get your pitch down to one sentence and under 10 words. Depending on the channel (such as with AdWords), you may even have as few as 25 characters in your heading to pitch your offer.

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