marketing to your customersWhether your business is a sole proprietorship, a micro startup or a small established enterprise cruising along with steady but small growth, connecting with customers on a personal level can elevate the perception of your company over your competition. In fact, a 2011 Harris Interactive Survey commissioned by a subsidiary of Oracle found 86 percent of consumers will pay more for a better customer experience, and 73 percent say friendly employees or customer service representatives were the reason they committed to a brand.

To ensure these positive experiences continue to translate into increased sales, you need a marketing strategy that can sustain increasing goodwill. Even if your sales have soared over the past year, freshening your marketing approach can solidify your company’s relationship with customers. Enhancing customer relationships can be accomplished with six straightforward steps.

1. Send traditional greeting cards. Simple, familiar gestures pack a lot of meaning in a memorable way. Consider sending photo Christmas cards to your customers with a picture of your staff to express how grateful you are for their business.

2. Provide unparalleled customer support., the Nevada-based online shoe and clothing site, has become one of the most successful companies in the country largely because of its extreme commitment to customer service. Customer engagement also can include live chat capability, a “stellar FAQ page” on your website, newsletters and social media posts.

Give back to customers, and get them to talk about you

3. Reward loyal customers. Implement loyalty reward programs, so you’re likelier to retain customers. A survey conducted in January 2012, by ACI Worldwide, a leading international provider of payment systems, found 71 percent of consumers believe vendor loyalty programs deliver benefits that are important to them. The survey determined 84 percent of Americans are members of at least one retail loyalty program.

4. Ask your customers to become brand evangelists. Seek out individuals or organizations in your customer base willing to advocate on your behalf. Ask customers for written or video testimonials, or permission to use them as references. Consider hiring them as brand advocates to share information with their online and face-to-face networks. Product reviews generated by end users are an important part of many companies’ websites.

The power of the word

5. Create unforgettable customer-focused content on your website. A successful content approach starts with a uniquely qualified writing staff. These experienced, talented writers will focus on the needs of your customers, based on information that ideally comes from a concise customer survey.

6. Use email communication as part of a marketing program. Study the data for your current customers, and identify three or more customer segments, suggests TopRank blog. One segment may be those who almost always visit only one section of your website. Another may be those who respond to an email or snail mail direct marketing piece within 48 hours of when it’s likely been received. Create a personalized email campaign for each customer segment with differentiated content based on their preferences. The subject line—“Take a look at our new line of scented candles,” or “This opportunity available only until Thursday”—and calls to action within the email should be based on the preferences and buying habits of that customer segment.

In addition to customized emails, all of your customers should receive a regularly distributed brief email newsletter showcasing what’s new for customers in the past 30 days.

Author: Chris London is the art director for Pixel Productions Inc., specializing in strategic kickstarter marketing programs to launch successful websites.