Approaching Social Influencers

As I shared with you in a recent article, I have learned that social influencers rule the world . . . or at least the small piece of the world in which they reign (read that story here).  My goal now is to harness this great power – for the benefit of my small business as well as yours.

Replicating Success

My direct experience with social influencers was limited to one feature in which I had no impact on the course of events. (In other words, I had absolutely nothing to do with the success I reaped.) 

A social influencer made a video showing her followers how to create and package vanilla extract (using my label template) as a suggested Christmas gift (watch the full video here). 

However, my logic in formulating an approach to being featured by another social influencer is to try to repeat (as closely as possible) this past success.  I have a play book so to speak, but I need to do all the work this time to get the players in place. . . .

STEP ONE : Make sure your product or service is set up for affiliate marketing.

Since paid placements with social influencers can get pretty pricey, my route of choice is affiliate marketing, in which “an online retailer pays commission to an external website for traffic or sales generated from its referrals” (Oxford Languages).  Make sure whatever venue you use for sales supports affiliate marketing.  All of the big ones (like Amazon, Walmart, Etsy) do.  If you sell your products or services through your own channel and don’t already have an automated commission structure in place, you may want to consider utilizing a popular third-party for that purpose.  (The reason the third-party should be a popular one becomes clear in step four.)

STEP TWO : Decide on the right product or service for the time period.

Given our current, heightened focus on hygiene (which I think will last for years to come), I’m thinking DIY hand soap might be an equally popular Christmas gift for neighbors, teachers, mail carriers, etc. 

Always think about holidays.  Of course, Christmas is an obvious one (and you can’t start your planning too early), but lots of other holidays have great potential.  Last week’s Super Bowl Sunday (whether people are quarantining or not) increased sales for many different types of businesses, and this week’s Valentine’s Day is another cause for lots and lots of cha chings.

Relating your product or service to current events is another boon. 

STEP THREE : Seek out a social influencer who is a good fit for your product or service.

A social influencer typically has a brand all of their own, and you want to be sure your two brands are a good match for one another.  For instance, my son’s favorite social influencer plays Roblox on YouTube.  I have an in-depth knowledge of this individual (having overheard many hours of his videos, getting to know him and his favorite games), which is a great bonus, but he unfortunately would not be a good fit for my hand soap labels.  Don’t get me wrong; he’s a resourceful guy, and I’m sure he could make it work, but I’m also sure he gets heaps of partnership offers and would be apt to pick a more ideal choice.

I focused my search by narrowing in on the related item.  I searched google for “diy hand soap recipe” and found a number of influencers who had posted one.  I looked for one that had a good following and had posted the story a while ago . . . and, therefore, could justify re-posting the story in the fall with a Christmas tilt.  

STEP FOUR : Make sure they’ve used affiliate links for your platform before.

Since you’re approaching a quasi-celebrity, you want your proposal to be as easy for them as possible.  Therefore, scan through their previous posts, videos, etc.  Do they ever include affiliate links?  If not, they’re probably not going to start doing so for you.  If they do, what types of sites do they promote?  Have they worked with your third-party before?  If so, you have a much greater likelihood they’ll consider your product or service.

STEP FIVE : Temper your expectations based on the individual’s following.

The problem with the truly famous social influencers is that they are most likely not going to respond to unsolicited proposals.  They already get a ton from big brands, so your average small business isn’t going to be able to influence them.  However, the possibility always exists that you will just happen to be suggesting a product that they were planning to promote in the near future.  Kismet.  Probably not . . . but never entirely dismiss good old fashioned luck working in your favor.  If you’re dying to work with a certain famous someone, give it a go; just don’t get your hopes up. 

(Source: https://www.businessinsider.com/influencer-marketing-report)

If you can get a macro or mega influencer to include your affiliate link, you’ve hit the jackpot . . . though your likelihood of doing so could be just as slim unfortunately.

The mid-tier is your sweet spot.  You want the person to have enough followers that your product or service will have a substantial audience but not so many that they’re completely inundated with requests just like yours.

I certainly wouldn’t disregard micro or nano influencers, but you’ll need to focus on quantity in order to get a similar bang for your buck (in this situation, your effort being your “buck”).

STEP SIX : Spend some time getting to know your chosen influencer.

Once you’ve set your sights on your target (or targets), it’s time to become his or her biggest fan.  Get to know the influencer better.  I wouldn’t just recommend spending a concentrated period scanning previous posts, though that is a good idea, too.  You need to become a follower and immerse yourself in their world for a period of time.

STEP SEVEN : Plan how you will send your pitch.

Instagram messages are the worst as they limit your number of characters per message and automatically insert pictures for any links.  Facebook messages and e-mail are good.  You also want to be sure you’re using a venue in which your message will actually be received. 

STEP EIGHT : Create your pitch.

You have your strategy and you personally (kinda) know your social influencer(s) of choice.  Now the time has come to draft your case.  

  1. Introduce yourself.
  2. Give a specific and thoughtful compliment – what exactly do you love about their personality, blog posts, videos, etc.?  (Bonus if you can tell them that you’ve actually purchased something based on their recommendation.)
  3. Introduce your business and your product or service and explain why you think it’s a match for this individual. 
  4. Include pictures – two should do the trick; maybe a high-quality close-up photo as well as another of your product or service in use.
  5. Describe any tie-ins to an upcoming holiday or current events.
  6. Highlight the benefits for them.  You can include the affiliate commission rate and any sales expectations (based on how well the product has does in similar or even very different promotions).
  7. Give you and your product credibility – include company AND product ratings.
  8. Offer a coupon code or some type of discount specifically for this influencer, if possible.
  9. Make yourself available for follow-up questions.
  10. Thank them for their consideration.

In the near future, I’ll be putting together a couple proposals so you can see a few real-life examples in action.  Stay tuned!

Customer Service During Crises

Photo by picjumbo.com from Pexels

People are feeling overextended, underprepared, angry, sad, stressed, and scared.  Your customers, your staff (if you have one), you, and I are all likely experiencing some sense of these heightened emotions.  The extent to which these feelings exist in each person vary greatly as do their specific circumstances.  Generally speaking though, our “fight or flight” survival instincts (the body’s natural response to stressful stimuli) are lingering closer to the surface than usual. 

During times of crisis, you see evidence of this all around you:  the individual yelling at the cashier for the store’s “1 per person” limit; the beeping and yelling over that sought-after parking spot; and even an increased number of heated social media discussions that seem to have the voltage turned up a bit.  The beneficiaries of my stress . . . ?  These days, I find myself triggered by my children’s complaints of boredom (I suddenly channel my grandmother: “Be thankful you’ve got nothing to do, or I’ll give you something to do!”).  And God bless the telemarketer that calls my phone this month.

So what does all this have to do with your business’s customer service?  Chances are, your customers will have less patience than usual.  The person (or people) who works with your customers (even if that person is you) will probably have less patience than usual.  “The perfect storm.”  Unfortunately, any intense interactions will likely not be forgotten once the storm has calmed.  As illustrated by the info-graphic below, a disgruntled customer will process their feelings in one (or more) of a number of predictable and unfortunate ways. 

(Not topping the list of “What Happens After Poor Customer Experience”:
Customer will acknowledge that everyone is under a lot of stress and give the company the benefit of the doubt.)

How can we prevent ourselves from alienating customers during hard times?  Recognition is an extremely important first step.  One parenting mantra often repeated is, “Your child isn’t giving you a hard time; your child is having a hard time.”  This twist on perspective can easily apply to individuals of all ages who are having a hard time.  Before answering a phone call or responding to an email, take a moment to remember all the potential scenarios that people (including you) are dealing with right now:  serious health issues among family or close friends, loss of income and trouble paying bills, homeschooling children – in many cases – while working from home, etc.  Acknowledge all the weight that you and everyone else is carrying around.  Taking that moment will make a world of difference, I promise.

Going one step further, you may even want to solidify some more relaxed (short-term) customer service policies.  Formalizing a revised posture is particularly beneficial if you have employees that will be working with your customers during this time.  Having finite rules (that have been relaxed) will help your staff navigate this confusing landscape.

Good luck.  Stay safe.

If you have any questions or comments on this topic, we’d love to hear from you.  Scroll down to the comments section at the bottom of this page. 

Branding Through Customer Service

Special Note:
Brand Building for Small Business has been identified by Feedspot (www.Feedspot.com) as one of the Top 100 Branding Blogs. Feedspot provides “the most comprehensive list of branding blogs on the Internet” so we are pleased to be part of that group.  To learn more, visit https://blog.feedspot.com/branding_blogs/.

Most business owners appreciate the importance of customer service, but far fewer recognize the connection between the service they provide and the brand they represent.  Your customers’ experience with your business should reflect and reinforce your brand (or the personality of your company). 

Let’s look at two extreme examples. 

Amazon

amazon-vision-statement-mission-statement

Amazon’s customer-centric focus is a part of their mission and vision statements.  They are known for free two-day shipping (now with same-day options sometimes available), one-click purchases, and their virtual assistant (i.e., Alexa; lovingly known as Lexie in our house . . . or dumba@#$!, depending on the day and how well she’s performing her virtual assistance role). 

While having to wait ten minutes to speak to another company’s customer service representative may be annoying, most people probably wouldn’t be surprised.  However, we have different expectations for Amazon.  We expect to communicate with someone right away when we have an issue, and we expect that individual to capably handle the problem . . . and that’s only for those situations in which we can’t fix the issue ourselves (for example, “returning” a product without ever even interacting with customer service).  Quick, tech-savvy, and capable are qualities associated with Amazon’s brand, so we expect their approach to customer service to embody those same characteristics. 

Amazon also uses service interactions as opportunities to reinforce their brand.  They thank you for shopping with Amazon over the phone or via chat.  Afterwards, you’ll receive an email message from customer service, asking for feedback on your experience.  In that email, you’ll see the company logo, an email layout consistent with the company’s style, and a reference to the company building “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.” 

Amazon’s brand is reflected and reinforced throughout the customer service experience.

On the flip side, sometimes customer service that isn’t customer focused or service focused is actually an important part of the brand, too.

Ferrari

This company’s product is associated with luxury, quality, and exclusivity.  For the most elusive Ferraris with very limited production, you don’t simply order one from the new flashy and convenient car vending machines.  You don’t simply order one at all.  You “request” to order one, and those requests are not fulfilled in the traditionally expected “first-come, first-serve” manner.  If you have money, fame, and an existing collection of Ferraris, you will probably make the cut; no guarantees though. 

Robert Herjavec, the businessman turned celebrity on ABC’s Shark Tank, spoke about ordering a Ferrari in Wired magazine, “The funny thing is, you never really know if you’re getting one until you’re actually getting one.”

(Note that most of the cost is required in advance of being guaranteed your requested Ferrari!)

“. . . You wait for a while, then you kind of get a date range, then you get a closer date, then you get the actual date. Then it’s definitely Christmas,” said Herjavec.

If you happen to request a paint color for your new car that Ferrari deems to be in poor taste, you can be denied said paint color. 

So, you make an order (with payment) without guarantee of getting the product, you wait an extraordinarily long time IF you are given the privilege of being promised the product, and customization choices aren’t always yours to make.  All of these customer service attributes reflect the exclusivity that is Ferrari’s brand and actually add to the allure of their products.

While I am not quite Ferrari’s target demographic and haven’t been involved in this process, I would expect that their brand is reinforced at each stage of the way – indirectly and directly portraying the characteristics that define them (luxury, quality, and exclusivity), including visual brand components as well whenever possible (for example, the prancing horse).

Customer Service Characteristics that Represent Your Brand

While the two brand examples highlighted are extreme ones, all aspects of your customer service do communicate qualities about your business.  Below is a list of some different customer service opportunities to consider.  The way your company handles each of these items contributes to a brand experience . . . one that hopefully reflects your perception of your brand. 

-The amount of time taken to answer phone calls/emails

-The way customers and potential customers are addressed in person as well as via phone/email

-The extent of information available to potential customers

-The level of assistance provided to a customer when experiencing an issue

-The way customer input and suggestions are handled

-The background information included with a product or service

-The amount of detail provided with any instructions included with a product or service

-The inclusion of contact information in promotional materials and product documentation

-The extent of customer follow-up provided post-purchase

-The inclusion of your logo and tag line in all possible service interactions (e-mail, letters, etc.) and documents

-The adherence to your company’s style guide in all possible service interactions (e-mail, letters, etc.) and documents (If you haven’t developed a style guide for your business yet, read The Role of a Brand Style Guide.)

If upon looking at this list, you feel like your customer service experience is fully in synch with your brand, pat yourself on the back!  That is no small feat! 

Want an even stronger evaluation?  Ask a few of your customers to do the same review on your behalf. 

If one or more attributes could use some tweaking to either better represent your company or to better take advantage of the branding opportunities that exist, you’re not alone.  The good news is that you can make important changes over time that can have a big impact on your business and your brand.

If you’d like to read more about this concept, check out “Sticky Branding” by Jeremy Miller; Principle 5: Total Customer Experience at Strategies with a Kick.”