This is my first actual blog post! I’d like to share with you some insight I learned from an article I recently read in my web business class. I’ll take what I learned and compare it with a new business in my community. Maybe it’ll help you think a bit about your own business web strategy.
As a student, when I tell people I am majoring in marketing, I often get blank stares followed with questions about where I’m headed after I graduate. “Are you thinking of sales?” “So you want to make TV advertisements!” I then have to chuckle and say “Yes and No.” Marketing is a very broad major and you can do many things – sales, retail, research, advertising, digital, product development, etc. In the end, marketers are in the business of people and experiences. Whether it’s the 1 minute infomercial or a year-long photo competition, the second you step into any retail store or the survey you received in the mail- the end goal isn’t to create a onetime sale, it’s to develop a long-term trust and working relationship between your brand and your customers. For this reason, it’s important that you and your company “own” a portion of your online existence with your customers.
So: Do you “OWN” or “RENT” your brand existence?
I recently read an article by Avinash Kaushik that presented this concept of “owning” or “renting” an audience for online brands and digital marketing. If you haven’t read it, I recommend checking it out and assessing your own online presence. [Is Your Brand Magnificent at Digital Marketing? A Diagnostic Framework]
Here’s a quick summary:
Look at your company, you either have an “own” or “rent” existence (hopefully both) online.
RENT: Meet Customers on a Platform They Feel Comfortable Using
If you have a “rent” existence, then you are engaging with your audience on a platform under restrictions set by the platform owners. For example, let’s look at Fin and Feather H2O – a new water recreation rental facility in Iowa City. Fin has a rent existence on Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and Square. Renting allows you to create the relationship with your customer on a platform that they have already been using and feel comfortable in adapting. You can see Fin building that relationship on Facebook by adding value to the audience’s life through answering questions, sending out reminders, thanking customers and posting updates that receive feedback such as likes or comments. When renting an audience through another platform, make sure to engage the customer with value-adding posts, and not simply “shouting” or advertising your products or services. Fin’s customers are receptive because Fin makes them a part of the conversation. However, keep in mind that when renting, your content, behaviors, any analytic you do – basically everything that you do is within the confines set by platform owners and all of your information collected is accessible by Facebook, Foursquare, etc.
OWN: Personalize the Experience Based on Needs of Your Customers
For most companies, “owning” your existence is having a company website where you have complete control over the restrictions set for customer engagement. You own the content and can be as creative as you like with the designs or tools available on your site. If we look at Fin, there does not seem to be a company website listed on Google’s organic search. Fin cannot offer reservations through Facebook or Foursquare. It does collect emails through a Facebook extension and in a sense, can own a small part of its online existence; however, it is still very limited with what it can actually offer to customers. By having an “owning” existence, Fin (and you) can plan for a cluster of macro and micro outcomes – developing a personalized relationship with customers – (a global maxima outlook) rather than only one outcome – instant one-time sale – (a local maxima outlook). Fin has a start but it definitely needs a website or to own some sort of platform where customers can engage with the company or with each other. A blog to teach customers about recreational activities, or to encourage customers to interact with one another on specific topics to meet new people and have fun in the outdoors could help customers develop new interests, passions and stay for the long-term. This form of public interaction can also help the company to gather new ideas for events or programs that are of interest to their customers. It builds a channel of 2-way and even 3-way communication between the company, customers and between customers.
By owning your existence, you are able to build a community in the way that best suits your customers needs. Another example of owning your online existence to your greatest advantage would be to design your site in a way that aligns with a mobile strategy. For example, if Fin had a mobile existence, it could engage customers by creating avenues where pictures or videos of their experiences using Fin equipment in their outdoor adventures could be documented, shared and promoted. A mobile strategy presents the opportunity to allow customers to engage with your brand at any given moment, allows for opportunities where you can make your customers feel appreciated by interacting with them directly and provides for social proof that customers are enjoying the experience with your company.
Take a look at your online existence. Do an organic search by searching your company name on Google, Yahoo or Bing. What shows up? Are you making the best use of your online existence? Are you satisfied with just renting? For a newer company such as Fin & Feather H2O, renting is a great way to build the community through platforms that users are used to. However, you’ll eventually want to expand your reach and personalize the experience with your customers. When you come to that decision, you must make the decision to be active and own your existence.