Monday, May 14, 2012

Make Your Customers Work for You (For Free!)

All marketing mangers working in a retail environment know the importance of their customers; after all without them there is no business. But now, through the advent of social media, it’s possible to leverage these customers even more, and get them to want to work for you—for free.

Social communities are popping up all over the web, and it’s easy for department stores to see why and be encouraged to get onboard. Social communities draw valuable insights and information from customers. In the competitive department store environment, forming a social community is the best way to distinguish your store for the competition. While communities aren’t always appropriate for certain types of businesses, they are a wonderful resource for any business that ignites passion. And as the old saying goes, fashion is passion.
A fashion community can take on a variety of different forms, from news and resources, to a Pinterest type community where members can share fashion ideas and make look-books. It’s up to the retailer to figure out what is the best format, but the possibilities are endless and exciting. 
So how do you get started?
1.     Before launching the community its important to monitor your target market and listen to what they’re already talking about online. This can help you create buzz worthy topics by building off of their interests. Radian6 and Netbase are both wonderful tools for social media monitoring.
2.     Have a big event to let people know that the community exists. Suggestions include a webinar, an online deal or discount for those who join, or an online chat with a famous designer. And don’t forget to promote it in your stores!
3.     It is important that the community host allows the conversation to flow freely. Initially, your store will have to have to facilitate the discussion but then it’s important to allow the community members take over. This community will obviously be fashion related, so listen carefully to what they’re saying. These insights can help determine what customers want to see in your store, what they will be buying, and how much of it.
4.     Keep it sustainable. The community has to be long lasting, so it’s important to set up the community to be an ongoing resource for your customers. Shopping itself is a continuous social activity between women, so the community can easily be too. It is important to remember to keep the information timely and relevant to your brand.

In addition to seeing an increase in sales, you can check the ROI of your community. All you have to do is password protect the community site, and compare the names against your current database. If customers are purchasing from your website for the first time but are community members, its likely that the community is driving the sale.

Communities are a great way to connect with your customers and are the future of marketing. They are full of a wealth of consumer insights and information that would be nearly impossible to get any other way. Getting started early will not only be great for the store you work for, but will set you apart as a marketer too.

Alison Solway is a graduate student at Northwestern University studying Integrated Marketing and Communications, and specializing in public relations, communications, shopper marketing, and direct and interactive marketing. Alison will be graduating in December 2012 and can be reached on her twitter handle at @alisolway.

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