In times of tight cash, small business owners need to look in the nooks and crannies of the marketing toolbox to find innovative ways to reach potential customers. Try taking word-of-mouth marketing to the next level by identifying the “influencers” or “trendsetters” in your community who can spread the word for you.
Depending on the nature of your business, whether it is local, national, or international, you can make a list of potential influencers and then come up with ways to get their attention. At the national level, Oprah Winfrey is an influencer for new and nifty things as well as books. Starbucks has emerged as an influencer for music and drinks. At the local level, if you’re selling a new product or service for babies, influencers would be local pediatricians and staff at day care centers. Certain stores in a town have influence, whether they cater to the skateboard or golf crowd. Restaurants can do the same thing. If you have a winning lacrosse team at your local high school, it can be an influencer. Hairstylists and taxi drivers can be a marketer’s best friend because they talk to people all day.
People who are influencers, whether it be in a school, the workplace, your town, or the media, have become so intriguing that academics in sociology departments and business schools are studying them to learn from their behavior and the patterns they create. From social networks, Google searches, cell phone call information, and e-mail data, researchers can determine who is the most active and has the most connections, illuminate patterns, and identify influencers. Scientists are often looking at the models for pure research reasons, but marketers are paying top dollar for what they are learning. But you don’t have to have a Ph.D. to put this concept in motion for your business. Much of it is common sense combined with strategic thinking.
If your business is local, it’s likely your target influencers will have humble positions but everyone’s ear, such as the beloved handyman in town, or the woman who has owned the local diner for 30 years, or the guy who runs the local printing and mailbox shop.
Keep in mind that the person sending out the most e-mail is not always the person with the greatest influence. That person might just be an overcommunicator whose e-mail goes directly to the receiver’s delete box. And the person in charge does not necessarily have the most influence, whether it’s in the workplace or in a small town. The boss or mayor may have the stature and power but not the subtle influence. We all know the receptionist is often the person with the most information in the office. Ditto the soccer league coordinator who knows more about the kids and families from handling registration than does the president of the league.
Once you’ve identified your targets you need a plan of action.
Tapping the goodwill of influencers is usually a long-term endeavor, which requires ongoing relationship building, but you have to start somewhere. Send a plant, a pizza, or baked goods with a note introducing your business or rekindling an earlier relationship. Host a networking event for area businesses and make sure your influencers are at the top of the guest list. Approach them about doing some cross-promotion.
If the influencer is not a person but a group of people or an organization (such as the state championship sports team), get creative. If you are trying to get to the team’s fan base, ask if you can pass out water bottles with your company’s logo at a game or host a raffle with a big-ticket prize (e.g., cash or a computer) during halftime.
Before brainstorming ideas, spend some time online reading how marketers from Fortune 1000 companies have used the “influencer” strategy. One of the most talked about success stories is that of Toyota’s launch of the Scion. Targeting the 18- to 24-year-old market, with a nod toward men, the company eschewed traditional advertising and instead used alternative marketing, such as “street” marketing: bringing the cars to locations their target market frequented, such as urban basketball courts. You may not have the budget of the Fortune 1000 marketing departments, but you can think like them to get the job done.