By Martin Lieberman
Managing Editor at Constant Contact
You need to get to know your customers and keep marketing to them in these tough financial times. But it’s not enough to simply promote your business or organization. You need to have a communications plan.
A smart communications plan is an easy way to strengthen your relationship with your customers. By providing them with useful and honest information on a regular basis, you engage them in an ongoing conversation that transforms your organization from “just another company” into a trusted partner in their daily lives.
Good communication also fosters loyalty, an essential trait in a down economy. If customers feel you have something valuable to offer, they will be more likely to pass on your information, refer others to you, and turn to you for advice.
In order to develop a successful communications plan, you must carefully consider your company’s message, the best medium in which to communicate it, and the best methods to get — and keep — your customers engaged.
First, examine your group’s goals and use them to determine what your organization’s message should be. This message should always support your organization’s objectives — even if that’s not immediately clear to your audience — but doesn’t need to overtly state your goals.
Remember: the better you can position yourself in tough times, and understand your customers’ concerns, the more likely those customers will want to work with you or patronize your business.
For example, nonprofits may want to encourage people to donate to their cause and retailers might want to drive traffic to their location, but saying “Please donate today,” or “Come on down!” can be a turn off.
Instead, leverage your expertise and impact your audience with exclusive information that they can only get from you. For example, you can share a story about how previous donations have positively impacted those in need or suggest ways that people can donate their time instead of their money. A retail business can provide style tips or inform its customers about an exclusive in-store event.
Another great hook is your tone and word choice. Craft communications in a voice that reflects the identity of your organization, but don’t be afraid to entertain while you inform. By sprinkling in concrete details, you transport your readers and engage them more fully. And by entertaining your customers while informing them, you’re showing that you care about them, and not just their patronage.
Whether it’s a direct mail piece or an email newsletter, the medium you use to reach your customers plays an important role in how they receive your message. Select the mode of communication that best matches the objective of your communication.
For example, newsletters work great to educate your customers about issues that you both care about. Sent at a consistent, regular interval, these communications can become sought-after outlets and drive your customers not only to their mailboxes, but to your store or website. They also tell your customers that although times may be tough, you are still there for them.
Promotional messages, like sale notifications or invitations to an event, should not have the same frequency as newsletters. It’s okay to include promotional information in newsletters — but beware: promoting goods and services too heavily may lessen the value of an information-rich newsletter and could erode your credibility as a trusted partner.
Surveys and other interactive communications are another great way to stay in touch with your customers. Send these out to get feedback from your customers after an event or after a customer has made a purchase. Some of the best communications are two-way discussions, because they help your customers feel like they are a part of your team.
Sometimes it’s not what you say, but rather how you say it, that counts most. For example, well-written content with graphic design that matches your readers’ interests will be more relevant with eye-catching design and photography. This will improve the likelihood that your communication will be forwarded on to someone else, rather than simply tossed in the trash. Thoughtful, eye-popping newsletters are more likely to be shared with friends.
And finally, keep your message on schedule. After a while, your customers will look forward to your next communication, so create a calendar to support your content strategy. This will help you manage the frequency of your communications and help you stick to your plan.