By Nancy Drexler
Our marketing plans for the next decade will be vastly different from the past decade for a number of reasons, but the economy isn't one of them. It is, instead, virtually everything else: our industry, our product offerings, our customers and our media are changing right before our eyes.
Selling payments is no longer an exciting, new opportunity to help merchants grow business. It is a highly competitive battle to persuade unhappy merchants that your ability to deliver this necessary commodity is cheaper, faster or better than the numerous others knocking on their doors. It is a race to see who will find the hottest new product, who can capitalize on a productive vertical market and who will make best use of the next Web marketing development.
Success going forward will require selling new products and services to narrow audiences through developing media channels. It will require creating an identity that is better or different from the competition's and communicating that effectively to a variety of markets.
To compete in the next decade, sales offices need to decide now who and what they are going to be. That decision should be based on an assessment of these issues:
If you think, for instance, that merchants will jump on the opportunity to contribute part of their processing fees to charity, start today to identify processors or charities that can make that happen, and develop unique ways to deliver the message to prospects.
Or if you think the ISO model is too costly and you need your own sales channels, start working to understand what these channels might be and how your brand can own at least one of them.
Then look at your competitors' Web sites. If they are offering something today, it is probably too late for you to effectively jump on board. Get ahead of the curve.
It's a little too late to capitalize on pay-per-click. Before most of us knew what it meant, a few savvy business leaders took the time to understand it, see its value and invest in it. To compete with them today would require a financial commitment most of us cannot afford; it probably wouldn't be cost-effective anyway.
Nevertheless, technology is changing by the nanosecond, with a tremendous impact on the way we learn, make purchases and communicate. Each change represents an opportunity to impact a market in a new and different way.
With blogs, social networking sites, wikis and e-zines, the new media have changed the way we communicate with our customers. Marketing used to be about confronting prospects with messages designed to catch their attention and motivate them to feel, think or act in a certain way.
Whether they were telemarketing calls, direct mail pieces, or salespeople knocking on doors, marketing messages were one-way interruptions; we stopped prospects from doing something to tell them what we wanted them to know.
The Internet has changed all that. We no longer interrupt, and our communications are no longer one-way. We can talk to mass audiences while people are looking for the information we have. And they can talk back. This kind of two-way conversation lets our customers take part in defining our products, services and brands.
That's huge. You can reach masses of people and initiate conversations with them wherever they are. You can target those who work in certain industries, live in certain communities or support certain kinds of philosophies.
And by participating in two-way conversations, you can replace or supplement traditional (and expensive) market research, beta testing, forecasting and branding.
You can ask merchants what they want in a credit card processor, what they would be comfortable paying, or what equipment features they like and dislike. You can test a new product concept without investing a dime or put forth an idea and let the marketplace perfect it. You can open doors, close sales and even service customers with an immediacy and responsiveness that did not exist before.
The interactive nature of this communication is what has led to the term "social media." From Facebook to LinkedIn to Twitter, your customers tell you how they feel about your products and services.
By listening and responding to what they need, think and feel, you can build products and services that respond to their needs. You can then use social media to indicate how responsive you've been and thus boost loyalty and retention - one of the most important components of marketing today.
Clearly, this is much simpler to do in the consumer products arena than it is in payment processing. It's hard to imagine business owners visiting a SignaPay Facebook fan page the way they would a page for Bruce Springsteen or Bloomingdales or the Dallas Cowboys.
Nevertheless, people do business with people they know and trust, and the social media let you create your personality, communicate to mass audiences, and learn from these audiences what you could do differently or better.
So learn to operate in this environment. Today, information and opinions about your products and services will proliferate with or without attempts on your part to control the source and flow of information. Take as much control as you can.
Do you need a Facebook fan page? Do masses of people want to comment on your products and services? Perhaps not yet, but if your merchant base is large enough, at some point they will. And you will want them to do so in a forum you can control and address.
Just be smart about it. Social media ardently discourage selling. Use them instead to learn what your customers want, what your competitors are offering and what the market can bear. Participate in online conversations to deliver quality customer support and service, and fold that into your brand.
Use Facebook groups, LinkedIn and a variety of other social media to join affinity groups, conduct research or promote your point of difference. Slowly but surely, you will build a reputation and relationships. And these will lead to greater exposure - and profits.
Remember, social media require constant attention and nurturing. The more you participate, the more you will benefit. Freshness and message turnover are key.
If you use social media to generate knowledge and awareness, you still need to turn enthusiasm into interest and interest into business. You need to build a prospect database and, eventually, you need to close a sale.
This is why you have a Web site. It is the place you direct traffic to. It is the place that delivers on the promise, reinforces the message and converts interest to action. However, one Web site is no longer enough.
Visitors to your site are looking for answers to questions or solutions to problems. And you have about five seconds to give them what they want. To make that work, create a distinct Web site for each specific audience or each specific benefit.
For instance, your message to restaurant merchants is vastly different from your message to ISO and MLS prospects. The former need to see quickly that you work with their existing POS systems; that you represent similar restaurants; and that your products, pricing and service are stellar. Then they need to be moved easily and swiftly closer to a sale. They need to see, on your site, who to contact and how, what the process is and, ideally, that you have local representation.
Sales agents want to know that your priority is to provide them the products, services and support that can make them money.
How could you possibly meet the needs of both markets in five seconds? You can't.
It's neither difficult nor expensive to create a handful of Web sites (or landing pages with unique URLs) tailored to unique markets or solutions. Micro sites that target specific vertical markets with a unique set of services and solutions might help you develop brands that build industry ownership.
Here is your opportunity to create new brand images and messages that focus not on payment solutions, but on bigger, broader, seamless solutions that serve broader industry needs. It is, perhaps, time to take advantage of this opportunity to be all things to all people, one niche at a time.
Similarly, a site dedicated to recruiting sales agents will focus on communicating a personality and developing a reputation, while a site that capitalizes on e-commerce opportunities will focus on selling products and driving customers to a checkout page.
You can do it all with one Web site. But you can't do it well. And in the next decade, you'll need to do it well.
Virtually anything you can do with a computer you can now do with a cell phone. As more and more consumers rely on mobile phones, mobile marketing is becoming an increasingly necessary tool for retail and restaurant businesses to build brand, drive loyalty and convert browsers to buyers.
Today's consumers embrace timely, accurate, helpful information. This is especially true of those who are not office-based but who communicate more often on the go.
To meet this need, we can build mobile text lists similar to e-mail lists and use them to announce new products, sales or specials.
Start a mobile coupon campaign: via text messaging, the coupon will remain on customers' phones and be with them whenever the need arises. Use text to report office closings or product updates. Text messaging can also be used to poll customers about their experiences doing business with you - invaluable research you should use.
The payments industry is going mobile. Now is the time to educate yourself, test ideas and be prepared to capitalize on this evolving opportunity.
The new media aren't replacing tried and true methods of marketing such as advertising and direct mail. In many cases, the new media are enhancing the effectiveness of traditional media. The buzzword now is integration. Successful marketers are drilling deep, creating single messages to single audiences and then communicating them across multiple media channels.
A new product, or even new product feature, can be announced on social media and on your Web site, and supported by an e-mail campaign, a personalized direct mail campaign and an ad in a vertical industry publication. All these efforts should be used together to drive recipients to a Web site or landing page that immediately communicates the benefit of the offering and provides a simple path to getting on board.
The more specific the offer, more targeted the audience and more personal the communication, the more substantial the results.
Marketing doesn't change overnight; it evolves over time. One wonderful benefit of today's marketing is the ease with which it can be measured. Savvy marketers use this data to constantly tweak and improve the effectiveness of their messages and delivery channels.
The tenets of good marketing haven't changed. Marketing gurus can create myriad enticing messages, but the most important contribution to marketing success ultimately falls on the shoulders of corporate management. If the products and services aren't there to promote, or if they don't live up to the marketing promise, everything fails.
Despite the media revolution, marketing now and in the future still depends on training and retraining your staff to make the customer the hero, keeping the message consistent and valuing loyalty as your top priority.
Nancy Drexler is the Vice President, Marketing for SignaPay Ltd., an ISO headquartered in Dallas. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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