The Power of Social Media to Increase Back-end Sales

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 edition of the Marketing GPS Newsletter.

In the July issue of Marketing GPS, I wrote about “Six Essentials for Local Online Marketing.” Today I’d like to expand on the fifth essential, which is the need to establish a relationship with prospects and customers.

Direct Marketing: The One-Way Street

In the heyday of direct marketing, it was said that “the money is in the list” – the mailing list. Marketers would (and still do) spend significant sums in mailing prospects repeatedly, striving to make that initial sale that would transform a prospect into a customer. Direct marketing guys knew that once the first sale was completed, odds were high that the new customer would respond favorably to repeat offers, providing a “back-end” revenue stream for one or more years.

During the 1990s, direct marketers discovered the power of email. This new, lower-cost channel not only enabled them to reach prospects more quickly and efficiently, but yielded a much higher success rate. Additionally, the ability to track and measure everything surrounding an email campaign – from open rates to the impact of various subject lines and links – allowed marketers to turn email marketing into a profitable science.

Good for them, but what about for consumers – or regular folks, as I prefer to think of us? Even with the easy reply capability of email, the marketing conversation remained very one-sided: a “push” from the marketer, who remained firmly in control of marketing messages. It was still very difficult for a two-way relationship to develop or thrive.

Social Marketing: Opening Up to Two-Way Traffic

As we all know, the advent of social media changed all of this. Even as the 1990s drew to a close, regular folks were already beginning to find their online voice and speak out about products and brands on online forums and blogs. While the experience has been shocking and difficult for some organizations, it’s turned out to be a very good thing for both companies and their customers. Savvy consumers are now comfortable speaking their minds about this or that company or product, and – somewhat surprisingly – are experiencing greater customer satisfaction when companies respect and respond to their opinions, questions and complaints. Companies, in turn, are rewarded with greater loyalty when they engage the consumer through these new platforms.

Old Spice GuyWith readily available management tools, it’s fairly easy to manage the increased customer interaction that both email and social-media generate. You can broadcast marketing messages, sharing free and useful information people have come to expect online. You can observe responses – individually or in the aggregate – and reply quickly (to one or all) of your friends/followers/subscribers (remember the personal Old Spice Guy replies on YouTube and Twitter?) Your tone is more personal, more casual than ever before.

And, not surprisingly when you think about it, this rapid-turnaround, more-casual relationship is appreciated by your customers. They like having your attention and knowing you respect them. They like you sharing helpful and even fun information with them. They especially appreciate you not trying to sell them in every marketing message. And they show appreciation for creative content by sharing that content – and the social media accounts of their good brand experiences – with their online community. As this interactive process continues, something resembling a real, human relationship begins to develop. Today, this relationship is the key to establishing a profitable back-end.

california tortilla facebook pageCalTort: A Great Example of Navigating the New Two-Way Traffic

California Tortilla is a great example of this process in action. The Maryland-based burrito chain was already famous among customers for the “spunky” quality of its cashiers, in-store Taco Talk newsletters and emails written by co-owner Pam Felix, plus humorous promotions and free-burrito days. CalTort, as it’s known by the cool kids, easily migrated their spunkiness onto Facebook and Twitter, which seemed custom-made for the irreverent CalTort tone.

The CalTort Facebook page, with over 18,000 “likes,” has a strong core community who post regularly on the page with compliments and questions that often receive CalTort replies. CalTort also allows customers to post and tag photos. One photo showing an empty plate and tagged with the line, “It’s proof they have the best taco salad around! YUMMMmmmmmm!” is probably a better promo than a professionally produced photograph of the full uneaten taco salad. And CalTort didn’t have to pay a photographer – they just had to invest a bit of time in creating a welcoming presence on Facebook. Their Facebook community of dedicated aficionados obviously comprises a profitable back-end “list” for the company, and their affection for the brand is obvious.

The fun and friendly atmosphere CalTort’s owners create and nurture as the corporate culture obviously resonates with customers, both in the franchises and online. Having quality food and good service doesn’t hurt, either. But the company’s acceptance – even celebration – of its customers as more than just a means to a profit is noticed and returned by its customers.

With social media now available to allow full, two-way communication between company and customers, each appears to be thriving on the new relationship. Customers enjoy their experience with the CalTort brand more fully than ever before, and CalTort counts on its customers to respond to posts and tweets, generate their own content for the CalTort platforms, and share comments, photos and promo links with their friends. For CalTort, empowering customers has “set them free” to reward the company with even more return visits and sales.

Michael is responsible for client SEO work, reporting, FB ads, and web hosting. Prior to joining NSI Partners, Michael received his Bachelor of Science in Business Management Information Systems from Liberty University, and worked at the school’s Network Operations Center. Michael resides in Lynchburg, VA, with his wife, Megan. His hobbies include gaming, watching Atlanta Falcons football, and reading.

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