You've got yourself an established business and have enjoyed years, decades or more of a good reputation and a great product or service. That's awesome - a majority of startup businesses fail early on. The merits of a great product and service can get you far, especially as business is becoming less and less personal. But, when is the last time that you found the tie between your product and the people buying, or the people who would want to buy, your product?
When you’re elbows-deep in the day-to-day operations of running your company, it’s very easy to fall behind on the necessary self-evaluation and reflection. You’re damn good at making rotary telephone dials, probably the best there is, but you never stopped to see if the people buying your product are in line with the market and the general population. Heck, your website is receiving a good number of hits and you think things are humming along, but have you stopped to see who is talking about your product, and why? Maybe those people visiting your website are coming in from social media sites musing about how impossible it is that a company is still selling parts for rotary phones. Or even worse, maybe they’re all just robots crawling your site as it’s being used as a relay for spam.
Social media in the forms of sites like Reddit, Facebook, various blog sites, and more, are becoming the pulse of modern sentiment. You can read the paper and watch the news, but you’re still getting one viewpoint of the population. The internet can be a tool to boost your business, or directly harm it if you do it wrong, but either way, it can help you find out who your customers are, and what they’re saying about you.
A great example of customer ignorance, identification, and action can be found in Maker’s Mark Bourbon. In 2013, they made the decision to lower their alcohol content to respond to increased demand and an unprepared supply – basically stretching out their product by ‘watering it down.’ Some people in an office were charged with finding ways to stay on top of budget and production, and figured that their customers wouldn’t mind a slight change in the product if they made it clear that it really wasn’t a different product, and they were doing it to make sure the customers had enough.
The problem was they made the decision without really taking the pulse of their customer base. As soon as they made the announcement, social media went crazy. Maker’s Mark quickly went from a beloved brand to a hated brand. Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and more – the announcement and the company were blasted for being another in the long line of “corporations who strictly care about profit” and Maker’s Mark found themselves in an unexpected position. Their brand was on the verge of suffering damage that they may not have been able to recover from if they didn’t take action.
And they did. Maker’s Mark quickly announced that due to the public outcry, they weren’t going going to lower the alcohol content. The company went from a popular brand, to a hated brand, and then to an even more loved brand by listening to their customers. Their customers, upon the news of the reversal, felt listened to and respected, and the public outcry changed to public praise. We don’t have the data on the bottom-line of these shenanigans, but I feel confident in assuming that they’re doing fairly well (and likely raised the price of the product with no notice).
When you’re looking into who your customers are as well as how they feel, social media is a great source, but not the only one. From the essentials to checking your own financials – how has demand shifted over the years, and how have you responded to it – to market changes, target demographics and more, there are many basics that we forget to keep an eye on after our initial establishment of the business.
Imagine you own a coffee shop in, say, the Natomas area of Sacramento. When you opened, the business was booming and always full of 40-something year old business people who stopped by on their way to work. You have great reviews online and other than the general ebbs and flows financially, things seem to be status quo. But have you noticed the demographic shift? With the down-turn of the economy beginning a few years back, the market went through a major transition. The community is now full of a different age-bracket – younger people who bought houses at a huge discount, or lower-income apartment complexes that were once home to downtown commuters. And of course, don’t forget the upcoming market shift when the Kings’ arena closes down. How have you changed your business to cater to these new customers, and how have you prepared for upcoming changes?
If you run an online business, have you taken a look at your traffic beyond just the numbers? We recently evaluated a website where our client was under the impression that their traffic was good, but after digging deeper, we found out that over 70% of daily visits were robots and crawlers! That’s 70% of website visits that have 0% chance of converting to a lead or sale. Look at who is visiting your site, where they are coming from, and how they interact on a page-by-page basis. You can make some sound judgements on what you need to do by looking into your numbers a little more deeply.
If you’re looking at your business from a bird’s eye view, you can miss a lot of the little details that have significant effects on your current and future stability. Take the time, maybe once every year, to do a full customer evaluation. Find out who they are, what they’re saying, where they’re going, and what they want. If you stay on top of this, you’ll find yourself in a much better position to respond when things change.