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    Poolside Reading for Entrepreneurs: Develop Your Digital Marketing Skills this Summer

    By Adrienne Burke | Yahoo Small Business

    You might not want to think about your customers during your summer vacation, but providing a remarkable customer experience is becoming the top way businesses differentiate themselves from the competition, according to the authors of The Digital Marketer. For a small business owner, that two-week vacation might be the only time you have to brush up on the trend. Fortunately, their anecdotes, and insights make for pretty enjoyable beach reading.

    The new book, by marketing expert Larry Weber (founder of Weber Shandwick and CEO of Racepoint Global) and business writer and consultant Lisa Leslie Henderson, delivers “10 skills you must learn to stay relevant and customer-centric.” If you’re a small business owner trying to get a handle on how big data, digital loyalty programs, and predictive analytics could help you grow your customer base, this is a book that could help you make sense of it all. The authors promise you’ll learn “how to connect with today’s informed vocal customers by moving away from traditional producer-based strategies” to make your “marketing activities more personal and meaningful.”

    Forrester Research CEO George Colony explains in a foreword why that’s crucial: Business is entering “the age of the customer,” he says. Colony proposes that “the only way for companies to create a sustainable advantage in the future will be by constructing superior experiences that can win, retain, and serve the newly demanding customer.” Much of that experience, he says, “will rest on digital.”

    Weber, who started his marketing career 35 years ago, compares the transformation he has seen in the industry to the development of a new solar system in which “the customers would be the sun orbited by dozens of planets: Customer Experience, Content, Converged Media, Loyalty, Marketing Automation, Mobility, and so on.”

    As for those must-learn skills? The book outlines them in the first chapter and goes into detail in the next 270 pages. Here in a nutshell are all 10. To learn how to develop them, you’ll want to dig in to the book:

    1. Build a successful marketing career. Sure, this applies especially to marketers, but small business owners who are their own marketing department or solopreneurs who need to self-promote could benefit from this advice too. “Branding ourselves and being thoughtful about proactively managing our reputation and contributions to the field have become essential,” say Weber and Henderson.
    2. Design valuable customer experiences. Don’t worry: the authors say from the start that customer-centricity is not about "being all things to all people," "attempting to meet every need your constituents have," or "allowing your customers to haphazardly determine your strategy minute to minute." But they also point to research from Forrester that says only 8 percent of consumers think they’re getting great brand experiences. Weber and Henderson advise: “…the thoughtful design of individual customer experiences, and of how multiple touchpoints work together as a whole, is too vital to be left to chance.”
    3. Find actionable insights in big data and marketing analytics. The authors hold up Best Buy as a company realizing gains from big data: by using advanced customer analytics to target its email campaign, the company “doubled membership in its loyalty program in three months.” Big data might seem like the domain of big business, but small businesses are collecting clicks, emails, social followers, customer service calls, and other data too that, with savvy analytics, could help them develop a better view of customers.
    4. Employ entrepreneurial thinking for discernment and agility. You might think that as an entrepreneur, you’re doing this by default. But the authors explain that “entrepreneurial decision-making includes practices such as determining budgets by defining acceptable loses, pursuing multiple options simultaneously, and building purposeful partner networks.”
    5. Create a winning content experience strategy. It’s advice you’ve probably been hearing a lot of lately: advertising and PR is over; storytelling is the way to engage your customers. The authors present plenty of case studies to show you how.
    6. Engage customers via social communities. Again, not news to any business owner who keeps current, but do you understand how to behave in the various communities’ cultures?
    7. Maximize marketing impact with converged media. Sounds complicated, but here the authors simply urge you to combine your own content with that created by your customers and paid advertising to get the most bang for your buck. Some great case studies illustrate how it works.
    8. Drive sales with intelligent customer engagement platforms. The Amzaon CEO’s quote at the start of this chapter sums it up: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better,” Jeff Bezos says. If that’s not your approach, Weber and Henderson can teach you how to make it so.
    9. Build worthwhile loyalty and digital couponing programs. Learn how to take your loyalty program beyond that little keychain card, and why.
    10. Ignite customer-centricity across the organization. Here’s one challenge that should be easier for small businesses. If the giants like IDEO, HubSpot, and a major beverage manufacturer described by the authors can succeed in creating a customer-centric culture, you can too.

    Yahoo Small Business Services