Saturday, July 7, 2012

How Social Media Can Work in the Brick and Mortar World

The first post on this blog starts, as it should, from the beginning. To make sure we're all talking about the same thing, I provide a short overview of the terminology we're using. Here are a few highlights relevant to today's post:

Social Media is the media you use to communicate with people. It does not mean "online" or "Facebook." Any medium you use to communicate - to be social - is social media. Twitter is a form of social media. So is a forum or discussion group. So is a cocktail party.

Social Media Marketing is using social media to communicate the value of your products and services. If you are good at your business, you do this every time you talk to a customer. If you have a Fan page on Facebook, or a website with updates and promotions, you are also doing this. 

As I will say over and over here - the medium is not the message. It is merely a medium. If you can think of "talking to people" as a kind of medium - that's Social Media. You communicate something to them (wherever, however) and, if you do your job well, they communicate it to other people. The medium is "being social." 

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Local businesses are having a hard time of it these days. They are being squeezed by the convenience (and, in some cases, the lack of sales tax) of online sites and the cost of doing business in brick and mortar world. I sympathize with local businesses, because physical real estate and overhead do make costs much higher upfront. Knowing this I will often go to a local business to get an item that I know I could get a little cheaper in a big box store, just to support the business and the town. However, I'm seeing a real gap in local businesses these days and it's not just in pricing. Return policies, greetings, pricing and communications skills all seem to be taking a hit.

I walked into a store recently, and saw *exactly* the item I was looking for. The price seemed competitive, so I asked if the price included a critical part (something without which the item was useless.) The person behind the counter came over, looked at the tag and said, "No." Then he started to add up the costs of the all the pieces that I would have to pay for. The total wasn't cheap, but it wasn't massively out of line with what I had seen for that item elsewhere. I thanked him, said it was a little expensive,  but that the piecemeal pricing was very offputting and walked out the door, wondering why he wasn't asking me what I needed the item for, how much his competitors were charging and most importantly...what he could do to make that sale?

Social Media is talking with people, Social Media Marketing is communicating the value of your goods and services. That store owner could have used Social Media to fill my immediate needs and make that sale by doing any one of the following:

Ask a Question

Had he stopped me with "What are planning on using this for?" as a lead-in to a discussion of the superior quality and longer life of this item as opposed to some other brand, he would have stopped me from leaving the store. Being interested in why I needed it, and how I would use it, could end up making that sale.

Tell a Story

Surely someone else has bought that item, why not tell me about that person, and how it suited them. Don't offhandedly say "well, pros like it," because that doesn't mean anything to me, but a hearty tale of stability, flexibility for multiple situations and long life could have made that cost seem less of an obstacle.

Be the Expert

When I go to a local business, I expect that you know every single item like the back of your hand. If I want confused stares and shrugs, I'll go to big box stores. I came to this store because they specialize in this field - I expect to get expert advice. If the best you can do is quote a price and watch me walk out the door, you've lost your chance to be seen as a resource.

Make a Deal 

This is a classic fall-back technique. Throw in a lower-priced, but necessary item, if I buy the rest of the kit. It's low cost for you and I'll need to replace that part anyway, eventually, so if I've bought the rest of the set-up, you can be pretty sure I'll come back here to get the replacement.

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A good Yelp review is nice and might get someone in the door, but best practices when you speak with every customer will stop them from walking out again and keep them coming back.

Online or offline, brush up your Social Media and make those sales.
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