04 Oct Customer Engagement : Are You Speaking the Same Language?
Its no secret that people like to connect with their brands and purchases. Having a story that customers to share is all part of the delicate dance we do to increase brand loyalty and repeat purchases. For local and regional food brands, having a brand that consistently reaches andengages with your target customer is even more important than the big guys – you have no laurels on which to rest. You are an unknown quantity.
When thinking about how well, or not, food brands do connecting with their customer, I couldn’t help but recall the book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venusfrom the 1990s. Essentially, what you are putting out into the world may not be received as intended or even perceived by your ideal customer. Understanding who your customer is and whether your brand aligns with this person should be step one and two in the startup process. Unfortunately I see many brands skip over these crucial steps to get on to the business of making, packaging and selling a product. Knowing your brand and your target customer (yes, just one) is like a compass when you are out in the wilderness; it is provides your true north and helps you make decisions quickly. Take the time to complete a brand identity and a target customer exercise to then craft a consistent message, in tone, product, packaging, voice, word choice and images to put out into the world and connect with your customer.
Why is this so important to do now?
As fall takes hold and the holidays approach, there is more discussion in the CPG industry about e-commerce and the value of social media. SalesForce reported recently that holiday sales are set to grow by 13% this year and mobile devices pushing 68% of website visits. Instagram is predicted to be the largest growing social channel for driving ecommerce sales and is expected to grow in use by 51%.
If you don’t know your customer engagement strategy or it is hodge-podgy with no rhyme or reason, continue reading. Even if you think you have it all dialed in, there is always something to improve upon. My advice is presented with the food business in mind, but much of it can be applied to other types of food business. Let’s dig into these four topics:
- Social Media
- Email & Customer Complaints
- Face to Face
Use The Platforms Correctly
Instagram is image based and you can post multiple photos a day however, the recommended frequency for brands is 1-2 times/day.
Facebook should only be used once a day for posting. It is important to keep your feed fresh with new content, but don’t expect much customer engagement without putting some money behind a post. Facebook is also a great tool for events – see set-up for how to use events.
I am not a big fan of Twitter for brands personally, it is just not what the medium is designed for and to do it right takes time. Twitter is about conversing and sharing opinions on a wide range of topics. Brands don’t have an opinion on political issues or current events.
Pinterest is just starting to come on board as a place for brands to host a business page. The customer base who uses the medium are women in their 30s and 40s who often make buying decisions for their household. I love the comparison that Pinterest is her bedtime story as she looks up new recipes or fall decorating ideas This could be a great addition to your customer engagement strategy, but it is definitely a different kind of medium. Check out some of these business boards here and here for examples on how to use the platform.
For all the platforms here is my overacting message: keep your postings relevant to your product and your brand. This is not your personal page and don’t treat it like one. Follow other brands who you love to get ideas and make it your own using your brand’s authentic voice.
Social Media Basics
- Your logo should be your profile photo. Make sure it is sized appropriately and fits within the circle.
- Make your cover page an image of the product or a happy photo with people engaging with you or the product
- Set up alerts on your phone so that if you receive a message or are tagged in another post you can respond quickly, good or bad.
- Set up a shop on Facebook and use the products tool on Instagram (but don’t go too crazy with this because it does cover some of your photo and can feel too commercial if you do it too much).
- Add markets and events you are attending to your Facebook page. Do this by clicking on the event itself and then clicking on the three dot by “share” and then “add event to a page”. Once you do this, engage with the comments saying something like “looking forward this event!” and invite your friends through the event itself. The better attended the event is, the better everyone does.
- If you haven’t discovered Canva yet, I highly recommend getting familiar with it. This is often how you get text or borders on photos and they have a lot of other design tools and templates and a lot of it is free.
- A note about photos – don’t go crazy with filters. Look at your Instagram page as a cohesive unit on your mobile phone (remember, mobile will drive ecommerce this year). Is it all over the place with colors, looks, text or is a piece of art as a whole?
- If you do use Twitter, don’t just push a link from Instagram or a management tool like Hootsuite. It just shows up as a link and is very annoying to readers.
- Take the time to post original, native copy and photos from each platform. You can share a post easily from Instagram to Facebook (doesn’t work the other way around) by turning on Facebook sharing. Keep this in mind:
- If you post multiple times on Instagram only share ONE post to Facebook
- If you have tagged anyone (brands or people), go into Facebook and edit the tags so they align on each platform – this is how you get more people to find you, so don’t skip this
- Hashtags use is different for each platform.
- Go crazy with them on Instagram; you can have up to 30, but 91% of top brands use only seven, so try to focus on targeted hashtags (goes back to your target customer). They can be used both in your post copy and below as a way of describing or capturing a larger audience of searching.
- Facebook hashtags on the other hand are not that important and having too many hashtags can lower your engagement and the frequency your post is shown to your fans. The recommendation is no more than two hashtags.
- If you are going to share from Instagram to Facebook, while you are editing the tags, also narrow down the hashtags and only use the MOST important one(s).
Marketing and Sales Strategies on Social
- Create a content calendar for posting
- I use a google calendar (feel free to add this to your calendar) that has all of the national and fun holidays like “national coffee day” on it to use as a planning tool or you might want to use an excel-based tool.
- Ask for help with photos. Have a friend who likes to take photos?
- Give them some of your product and ask for some photos with them interacting with your product.
- Don’t be afraid to stage a holiday shoot now so you have some photo stock to use when the inspiration just isn’t there (or time).
- Determine a marketing budget that includes boosting certain posts or for creating ads. This could be on Instagram, Facebook or both. There are good ways to use your marketing dollar on social media, but if you aren’t sure how to do it, ask for help setting up targeted audiences and campaigns so that you don’t waste that $5 or $500.
- Giveaways – consider synergistic partnerships with other food brands or put together a great package on your own. This is a great way to cross-promote, gain new followers and engage with customers (who doesn’t love FREE stuff?). There are specific things you need to list in the contest rules, so get some help with this.
- Remember to stay consistent in your “voice” when posting or creating marketing content.
- If your brand is high end, don’t use low-brow humor, bad photography or pair up with dissimilar brand for a giveaway.
- If your brand is fun and playful targeted for kids don’t use stuffy language or be too serious. The caveat to this is if you are recognizing something serious like a natural disaster tone down the brand voice and keep it respectful and professional.
- Besides social media, your website is your primary vehicle to communicating with your existing and potential customers. Make sure it is working for you, not against you. Potential customers are making really snap judgements about whether your brand and their identity are a match.
- Make sure you have reviews or testimonials in a prominent place on the home page. The last decade of online shopping evolution has taught us that people really care about what other people think of the product and are making buying (or not buying) decisions based on relating themselves with one or more reviewers who represent “them”.
- E-commerce was discussed in my last post about getting ready for the holidays, so I won’t say too much about this, except get some great photos! We eat with our eyes and if your photos are blurry, shadowy, shiny or not colored well, it is a turnoff. You don’t necessarily need to hire a studio photographer, but you do need to get some good photos of your product both interacting with things (ie: jam on bread) and the product on its own.
- Is your shop button prominent and easy to find in multiple places?
- Remember the prediction about the holidays? 68% of online shopping will be done on mobile phones. Have you actually looked at your website on your mobile devices? Walk through it through the eyes of a visitor or better yet, ask someone else who will give honest answers walk through it as a potential customer.
- Do all of your links work
- Does your contact form work
- Does the site resize for different devices (tablet vs. phone)
- Is it easy to shop and checkout on a mobile device – if it isn’t customers quickly go somewhere else
- Do you have a blog or recipe area? You should. Update it. Again, add this as part of your content calendar and it helps build your SEO when you refresh your content with key words. Think through what words or phrases customers would use to find you when doing a search and then work those into your post.
- Do you have a pop-up to collect emails? You should. That said, it is very annoying when that is the first thing I get when I go to a site. Have your web designer change the settings to at least 30 seconds or to come up when a visitor is moving his or her mouse towards exiting the site.
- Do you have a Google business page? You can set one up pretty easily and helps with your SEO rankings.
Email & Customer Service
- The dreaded customer email. Wouldn’t it be great if most the emails we received were from raving fans about how much they loved our product and just wanted to say “hi”. Unfortunately, most emails are not praise, but complaints. There is an art and science to responding to an upset customer so, I’ll take the opportunity to go over some basic conflict resolution tips that can help whether the interaction is over social media, online reviews, email, phone or face to face.
- People want to be heard first and foremost. It could be completely their fault, but if they feel they have been wronged in some way the quickest way to diffuse the situation is to acknowledge how they feel and that you are listening to them. Don’t get defensive, don’t argue back, don’t try to talk them out of their perspective. Thank them for contacting you
- Once they feel heard, then you can go into problem solving mode. Again, this will go back to your brand to some extent’ want to be the kind of business do you want to be known for when something goes wrong. We all know of companies who have a promise to make it right no matter what (Whole Foods Market, LL Bean and Bed Bath and Beyond come to mind) and ones that have much stricter policies for returns.
- Think through your policies ahead of time and have them on your website if you want under FAQ. The perceived “riskiness” of your product may determine how much you spell it out for your customers.
- Since it costs 7 times as much to get a new customer as it is to keep one, consider if holding the line on a policy will get you the outcome you want. Of course, this will have to be weighed against the value of the order, etc.
- Respond appropriately. Whether it is a customer email, social media posting, website or google review, stay CALM. We live in a space where, true or not, people can stir up a lot of drama through social media and online press. There are horror stories of restaurant owners responding poorly to Yelp reviews and escalating things out of control. If you receive a poor review on Facebook, your website or Google, apologize for their experience and ask them to direct message you.
- Once off-line, always keep your tone professional and solution oriented. You never want anything in writing that could backfire on you.
- Do what you say you are going to do. If you are going to replace the product get it in the mail asap. If you are going to refund their money, don’t wait. I had a bad experience at a local restaurant a while back and when I spoke with the manager she said she was going to send me a gift card as an opportunity to give them another try in the future. She took my address and everything (not sure why she couldn’t just generate one there) and then I never got anything. I have not been back and I am not shy about telling others about my experience.
- Get a professional domain email. When you start sending out wholesale sheets to buyers or emails to a distribution list, it looks tacky to have a gmail.com account. Depending on your webhost you may be able to have multiple emails at no charge. I suggest having a “[email protected]” or “info” and your name or “[email protected]” at the very least. If you can set up more, do a [email protected] too for wholesales sale.
- Brand your email with a signature, an appropriately-sized logo, fonts and colors. This is all about visual brand identity and helping the customer associate your logo, font, colors, etc. with your product.
Face to Face
Some of this was discussed in the “Find Your Markets” tip in my last blog post about the holidays, but beyond your salesmanship and table display, consider that every interaction a potential customer has with you should be a good one whether at a market or at an in-store demo.
- If you are wearing a branded shirt or hat, which you should, and you are not at your booth or out in public and someone asks you a question use this an opportunity for a positive interaction. Assume that you are being watched by a potential or current customer at all time whether or not you are “working” and modify your behavior to match your brand.
- While at a market stay off your phone, stay at eye level (stools or standing) and offer a sample, information card, etc. that matches your branding.
- Smile and be engaged. Would you want to walk up to a booth with someone frowning or unengaged?
- Thank them whether they buy your product or not. This is a long game – just because they don’t buy now doesn’t mean they won’t.
- Use the opportunity of interaction to garner feedback – ask specific questions about what they like and don’t like about your product, the branding or anything else. Let them know you would love their help – people love to feel helpful.
- When they do buy, take the experience up a notch. Do you have a sample size of something you can throw in? A card for an online discount? A cool sticker? Take the opportunity to surprise and delight to seal the deal on a lasting relationship.
- And then there is the issue of employees. At some point every food producer I have spoken with expresses the desire to hire others to help with markets and in-store demos. Hiring the right people is crucial.
- As a coordinator of a local winter market I have seen how specific employees affect the sales of a brand. In some cases, although rare, an employee brings in higher sales than an owner, but generally speaking, when an owner is at the market their sales are always better.
- When employees are on-boarded, whether it is your neighbor’s teenage son, your best friend or someone you hire from Craigslist, it is so important that they are given the above bullet points as the standard of employment and that there be an incentive for sales.
- It may be that it would be better to not be at a market than have the wrong person representing your brand and leaving a negative impression on potential customers.
Now that you have a solid brand identity and know who your target customer is, go back and look at each of these areas in your business. Take a critical eye to your social media platforms, website, customer service process and your face-to-face interactions. This will help you rock the holidays!
If you are not feeling so sure about some or all of this – your brand, your customer or your customer engagement strategy – we would love to help! Drop us an email at [email protected] or visit our contact us page.