What Started the Conversation?

What starts the conversation between you and your customer? Courtesy of Susan NYC.

There is an interesting discussion happening in the measurement and analytics world today.

Executives, at least some executives, are trying to figure out the important metrics for their individual companies. Today, measurement is difficult. We’re all focusing on how we get new customers. We look at the sources and search for models that will lead to low cost acquisition because we know that low cost new customer acquisition will lead to business growth.

In the past this was a little easier. I’m not saying it was easy by any stretch, but it was a little less complicated (and more complicated in some ways).

My background is in the direct catalog marketing world. For five years I spent my professional time figuring out how to find new customers for catalog businesses. There were difficult aspects of the business but basically it was understood that if you sent a catalog to a new person there was a high chance that they had never heard of your brand before.

There are exceptions like how many times you would rent and mail a particular list. It might be a few times of mailing that catalog to someone before they would become a new customer. We typically tracked the success based on the first response, though. The catalog was credited with the discovery and the sale.

Today, things are different.

In the online world we track the last touchpoint in the acquisition of the customer. Google is a big winner in this scenario. They know that people often search for things when they’re ready to make a purchase. Google is turning this tendency into big advertising dollars on their search results pages. There is a slow, and sometimes not so slow, creep of more paid results on the results pages for various searches. On some popular search phrase results pages you won’t even see a natural result above the fold.

Google is smart. They are taking advantage of how businesses give credit for new customers. Even when a person searches for a brand name or a brand term Google is getting its users to click on paid ads the majority of the time. That’s big money for Google and in reality the company isn’t even the one that started the conversation between business and customer.

And that’s the interesting question.

Who, or better yet, what started the conversation between your company and your customer?

Blogging Starts the Conversation

Sometimes the idea of branding gets a bad rap. I’m not sure I’m even sold on the concept of investing in marketing that is referred to as branding, but I think what I’m more hesitant about is the fact that most branding is typically interruptive. TV, radio, print and Web advertising all interrupt people when they really aren’t in the mood to be interrupted.

Now, this must work because if it didn’t there wouldn’t be millions and billions spent on advertising every year by smart and successful companies.

For small businesses, though, I think the better option for conversation starting with customers is blogging.

The reason I like blogging is because it gives businesses the opportunity to start a conversation with a new customer when the customer is actually interested in finding a solution or finding something that will make their lives better.

The biggest ways customers look for solutions is with Google and by asking friends (or looking at what friends and experts recommend).

I saw an example yesterday. My girlfriend was looking to take winter coats in (including mine) to the dry cleaners. We just moved this spring and we had no idea if there was a dry cleaners close to our new place.

First, she and I searched Google for a dry cleaners. A few options came up, but we couldn’t decide on a good one. There was nothing in the results that was convincing other than names and locations.

Second, she asked her Facebook friends for recommendations and got one.

Guess where our coats are right now?

That’s right. Our coats are at the cleaners recommended by the friend.

But before my girlfriend actually took the coats in she called the cleaners to learn a couple details like price and schedule. She googled the brand name to get the phone number.

A sale was made.

In the measuring world the question is who would get paid for driving the sale?

Maybe it’s just given up to word of mouth, which it was. Maybe Google even snagged a few pennies for providing a phone number in a paid ad.

But really the conversation started with searching and sharing.

How is your business starting the conversation?

You have three options.

First, you can use branding tactics. We discussed interruption and how it can still work.

Second, you can do something like blog. This strategy gives people something to find when they search and something to share when they are asked to give a referral.

Third, you can rely on current customers to give your referrals.

If you’re looking for new business in today’s world it might be best in the long run to focus on the blogging. Word of mouth will happen naturally if you’re a good company.

Branding is expensive and interruptive.

Blogging puts you in front of customers when they are searching for and asking for solutions.

What’s your decision?

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