By Alex Kane | Jul 27, 2011
OK, I am a self-professed geek. I love gadgets, the Internet and the use of technology to make our lives easier. At the same time, I always like to provide myself with a challenge of ensuring that new technology has a valid and proven benefit and that it’s not just technology for technology’s sake. It has to have a tangible benefit to my life without being burdensome. To me, this “reality check” is needed to validate the benefit.
It is with this exercise that I am examining the very popular social media, which has been generating a lot of buzz in the media. Here, I will present several examples of applying the underlying concept of the social marketing phenomenon in real life applications.
One of the strongest benefits of social media is making a connection with people. Facebook and Twitter allow the user to communicate with a large number of people who have “signed up” to participate and receive the media stream into their virtual lives. This concept of having to actively agree to receive this information is what I call “pull marketing.” In order to get access to an audience, that audience has to agree to be a part of this system. That’s ultimately the huge challenge with this type of marketing.
This being new technology, there is a certain level of adoption that is constantly growing. I have to keep in mind that not everyone is as geeky as me. Not everyone has a smart phone (although this is quickly changing). As a business executive, I commonly use this technology on a daily basis for the specific task of business communication. As a casual consumer, however, I use the technology, especially social media, to be connected to my friends and family, and to find out how to spend my free time to increase these social contacts. Those are the strongest benefits to social media, hence the self-describing name.
However, for a business owner, I recognize the benefit of tapping into new advertising ideas. Is there a way to merge the core of social marketing into the real world? I think we can do this if we step back and look at the ways to increase our social connection to consumers.
Is social media the only – and most effective – way of connecting to people?
The local coin laundry can be perceived as a service that is offered to the community in which it is located. Ultimately, it is providing a physical location within the community where people can gather to gain access to equipment that helps them to perform a basic human need – to provide clean clothing. Many aspects of a good coin laundry include amenities to make this experience more comfortable. A clean atmosphere, comfortable seating and some sort of entertainment are among these items.
Can we expand the development of a comfortable location for other purposes? Is there a way that we can get people to congregate at our laundry for a more social purpose? A “Single Parents Night” at your store could offer a free single load of laundry to single parents while simultaneously offering a social connecting point in the community. To potentially expand on this idea, there is a website called Meetup.com (http://www.meetup.com) that could provide ideas on all kinds of groups that connect with regular meetings.
Also, perhaps a special customer appreciation day could be organized to provide a social meeting atmosphere. It would be very easy (and relatively inexpensive) to set up a grill in your parking lot and provide free hot dogs and snacks to your patrons. Is there an acoustic musical act that is looking for exposure in your area? If your location is visible and accessible (and I hope it is!), passersby could easily see this event and stop by to get to know your laundry.
Although social media outlets provide a way to reach out to new customers, the primary use is to communicate with customers who have already signed up to “like” or “follow” you. In most cases, these are existing customers. And not all of your customers are following your posts on the Internet. Perhaps a better way to communicate with people who are in your store as customers is to post information within the store itself. By displaying signage in your store explaining different aspects in which you connect with the community, you have the potential to communicate with 100 percent of your current patrons!
At the recent Clean Show in Las Vegas, the Coin Laundry Association sponsored a session in which laundry owners discussed their marketing efforts, “Upfront and Online: Leading Store Owners Discuss e-Marketing.” In this session, Texas coin laundry owner Louise Messano explained how she used social media to keep in touch with her customers. When the area suffered a fire in their community, Louise organized a clothing donation campaign. To me, this is an excellent idea than transcends social media and extends into real life. The announcement on social media sites is not the main point here, only a small vehicle of promotion of this campaign. The important fact is that Louise connected to her community and worked with her patrons to supply help. A campaign like this could easily be promoted to the people that are in your store everyday with signage within the store itself. There is no doubt that social media is a good way to promote your message and marketing, but the important thing is to actually do something to connect with the customers.
What other success stories are out there in the social media phenomenon? I am wondering if, at the heart of every social media success story, there is a real life social event that is the bigger connection between the successful laundry owner and their everyday customers. The beauty of the Internet is that these ideas are now out there in plain view for all to see. As a business owner, you have the advantage of finding those campaigns and making them reality in your own store.
Social media and Internet marketing are new ways to reach out to your customers, and I am by no means suggesting that you don’t try to leverage this new technology. If you are adding this type of marketing to your business, you are no doubt ahead of the curve and on the bleeding edge of your marketing efforts. It can be done for little or no cost, only your time. Keep doing it and I am sure you will reap the benefits.
However, don’t get trapped in the media buzzwords and lose track of what is happening in your “bricks and mortar” business. Make sure that your marketing efforts include a social connection to your customers in the real world for maximum benefits.