It wasn't too long ago that marketing focused primarily on bringing in new customers. TV and radio commercials, print ads and even billboards were geared toward reaching the right demographics but didn't often target existing customers.
Customer retention was just as important then as it is today, but it was approached separately through customer service, product quality and maybe some direct mail or customer loyalty program. The key then, as now, was to form a lasting relationship with existing customers on a personal level, and that just wasn't possible via large-scale marketing media like TV.
Enter the Internet – and social media in particular.
Suddenly, marketers were able to target new leads and cultivate existing customers, all in one place. Digital marketing has the unique ability to reach both large, targeted audiences and specific individuals. That capability means that marketers can now approach customer retention as an integral part of their everyday marketing strategies, rather than a separate effort. And that's a very good thing: According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, acquiring new customers costs as much as seven times more than retaining existing ones.
Making meaningful connections with those existing customers is the key to winning their loyalty. To that end, here are 10 ways to use digital marketing to keep your existing customers coming back.
1. Email Newsletters
After you win over a new customer, your next goal is to become a fixture in their life. You want to be a constant presence, a household name, the first company they think of when they need your product or service. The best way to achieve that top-of-mind awareness is by sending them a regular email newsletter.
Whether or not they actually open and read it, the simple act of seeing your company's name in their inbox once a month will keep you in the forefront of their minds. And, if they do take the time to read it, so much the better. The more you can provide them with content they need and want, the more of a connection they will feel with your brand.
2. Customer Loyalty Rewards
Everyone enjoys feeling like a VIP. By sending existing customers special "exclusive" email deals, you can let them know how much you value them – and at the same time encourage them to make another purchase. When a customer feels his business is appreciated and rewarded, he will be that much more likely to continue the relationship.
3. Small Business and Social Media
Studies have found that simply being around someone often enough makes them much more likely to feel they have a bond with you. To take advantage of this idea, encourage your existing customers to connect with you on social media. Incentivize it, promote it, encourage it. If you are in their Facebook feed when they are having fun hanging out online, and in their Twitter feed when they are scanning for information they need, and on their Pinterest page when they are looking for inspiration, they'll soon feel a connection with you, whether they're actually interacting with your brand or not.
4. Build a Customer Community
What's better than creating a bond with an existing customer? Creating many bonds with an existing customer! Setting up your company's social media pages to be more about community than commercial provides customers with the opportunity to interact not only with your brand in a way that promotes a real connection, but also with other customers. When someone feels connected to others through your brand, their loyalty increases exponentially. As a bonus, so does their engagement, as they interact with other members of the community. Provide opportunities for them to share personal stories, pictures and even videos, and you'll have a group of super-engaged fans on your hands.
5. Social Customer Service
With the visibility and instant publicity social media provides, online customer service can make or break your relationships with existing customers. Put a team in place to handle any and all customer comments on social media, whether questions, complaints or thanks. Make sure they're quick and courteous, and go the extra mile for customers to show them how important they are to you. When other customers see how those with comments or questions are treated on social media, they'll feel reassured they will be treated the same way.
6. Leverage Small Business Influencers
You might think guest blogging and influencer marketing are only for reaching new audiences, but you'd be wrong. Just imagine this: You buy a new product. Then, a few weeks later, you see that your favorite blogger has also purchased the same product and loves it. Wouldn't that social proof – from an influencer you like and respect, no less – make you more likely to become a repeat customer?
Your customers will respond the same way. Reach out to influencers you know are popular with your customers, and ask them to review your products or services or allow you to write a guest blog post on their site. Showing current customers that they're not alone in appreciating your brand can go a long way towards solidifying their loyalty.
7. Small Business Market Leadership
There's a reason content marketing is the central focus of digital marketing these days. Becoming the industry resource, the website that everyone recommends, thinks of and refers to whenever they need any information on your industry, is the best way to draw a regular crowd of visitors to your site – and ensure that those who do business with you once, continue to do so. Once you're established as the industry leader, why would a customer leave to patronize a competitor?
So how do you become the go-to resource? By creating a steady stream of valuable content helpful to people looking for information about your industry. That means maintaining a blog, writing ebooks and white papers, producing videos, webinars, podcasts, SlideShares – and then sharing those resources via social media, email, influencer marketing and even paid ads. The more content you share, the more your expertise will shine through – and the more people will continue to do business with you as a matter of course.
8. Customer and Company Core Values
What's one of the things people enjoy most about social media? The fact that it allows them to project to all their friends the image of themselves they want to project. In other words, they are in control of what they post and like and share, and therefore, how their lives and values are perceived by others.
In order to tap into this, your company should align itself with the most closely held values of your customers. Sell children's products? Promote the beauty of motherhood in your marketing and support charities that help mothers in need. Offer all-natural cleaning services? Join the sustainable, organic movement and make your beliefs known to your customers. If your industry doesn't offer a clear-cut path to common values, find out what your customers support by asking them!
Once your company is known for espousing certain values, customers won't just stay fiercely loyal – they'll share their devotion on social media too, in order to show the world who they are, based on the companies and causes they support. It really works: A study done by the Corporate Executive Board found that 64% of consumers who said they had a strong relationship with a brand cited shared values as the main reason.
9. Personalized Communication
Which would you find more compelling: a generic email blast promoting a big sale on a product you're not really interested in, or a personalized email mentioning your last purchase from a company and recommending a similar product now on sale? Of course the customized email is more attractive, for more reasons than one.
By using tools that allow you to personalize emails in this way, or even just segmenting your email subscriber list by interest or demographics, you'll be appealing directly to each customer's actual interests, ensuring you stay relevant. Not only that, you'll be showing them you care enough to keep track of their interests and needs, creating a relationship of mutual value.
10. Ask your best customers to become brand ambassadors
Think about it. If someone from a company you love to buy from asked if you, as one of their best customers, would help promote the company on your blog, in social media or among your friends online, wouldn't you feel excited to be singled out in that way – and be willing to help? And wouldn't that pretty much ensure you'd stay loyal to that company for life?
That's how most other people would feel, too. That personal touch, coupled with an offer of some free samples of new products, for example, can inspire not only that one customer to remain loyal, but all their friends and connections as well.
So there you have it – 10 ways to use digital marketing to keep existing customers coming back. From email newsletters to influencer marketing and everything in between, marketing now has a dual purpose: to bring in new customers and retain existing ones. By implementing the above ideas, you'll be well on your way to creating meaningful relationships with your online audience that lead to loyal customers for life.
Founder and CEO of the award-winning Marketing Zen Group, an inte-grated online marketing and digital PR firm. She is also an international speaker, best-selling author, and a regular media correspondent. She was recently named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list of movers and shakers.