Cultivating Customers

Combining creative marketing with the right incentives can help grow your customer base and build traffic in your store.
by : 

Sirona Knight

March 1, 2012

Walk through the door of many independent stores in the U.S., and you might hear a bell jingling, indicating a customer has arrived. That’s the sound of opportunity, the sound of increased sales. And, if you’re a store owner, your fondest wish is to hear that bell ringing more often, to see more smiling faces arriving in your shop to browse and buy.

With boosting customer traffic as the goal, you have many options, but they all fall into a couple of categories: Grow your customer base by attracting as many new people as possible, and increase the frequency of your customers’ visits to your store. The first involves marketing, the second requires incentives.

What’s the payoff? Consider this: Let’s say your average sale per transaction is $15. If every day you had one new customer come in to shop and one extra visit from an established customer, that’s an additional $30 in revenue. Add it up over a year, and you would have nearly $11,000 more in sales annually. That’s no small change, and no small incentive.

Building buzz to build your customer base

Successfully marketing your retail business on a budget can be a challenge, but certainly not an insurmountable one. Creative approaches, such as “guerrilla marketing,” offer inexpensive ways for small business owners to market their products and services. In addition, you can tap into the power of social networking with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as a cost-effective method for connecting with customers and advertising your business. Social networking can be a powerful leveling factor for small businesses competing against the large marketing budgets of multi-million-dollar corporations.

By using the traditional approach of word-of-mouth in conjunction with the new technology of social networking on the internet, you can better secure your niche within the ever-changing retail marketplace. The key concept is to be adaptable and use whatever technology is available to make your task easier. In this context, technology becomes a proactive marketing tool that can be less costly and more effective than traditional types of advertising.

Corporate marketing involves large budgets that rely on bombarding the buying public with media ads meant to create brand recognition through constant repetition. In contrast, guerrilla marketing (first described by Jay Conrad Levinson in his ground-breaking book of the same name) is an unconventional and economical approach for promoting your business. Often revolving around a system of promotions, guerrilla marketing is fueled by your time, energy, and imagination rather than large sums of cash.

The idea is to create thought-provoking concepts that generate a buzz about your business. These concepts can come in the form of public events, street giveaways, and in-store promotions of your products and services. To generate interest and attendance, you can promote and draw attention to these marketing events through blogs and social networking websites.

Events equal excitement

Having live music, guest speakers, author and artist appearances, holiday celebrations, and workshops connected to your business are all ways to create an in-store marketing experience that entices visits from both regular and new customers. Go to the next level and create a social event that people want to attend and the local media wants to cover.

Throw a gala celebration where everyone is invited. Whether a birthday, anniversary, or holiday, everyone loves a party; people are happily celebrating the good things in life, and troubles are left behind for an hour or two. Can’t think of a reason or occasion? Start with the calendar; let any holiday, your store’s anniversary, even your own birthday serve as inspiration. Host a Mother’s Day afternoon tea party, a themed Halloween costume party, or an anniversary party in which local restaurants serve samples of their best dishes in exchange for cross-promotion.

Hold a contest and give away a free product or service as the prize. You can have several winners and gain free press by publishing the names of the winners. Make the prize something people really want so you can build up the contest interest and publicity.

And, don’t forget to make your store an inviting place to be: Put together store displays that engage the senses by using color, scent, and sound in ways that provide your customers with a pleasant and appealing shopping experience.

What you need to do is to create a sense of excitement in marketing your store so it stands apart from your competition. Your products and services must become an indispensable part of your customers’ lives so they become repeat customers, which are the backbone of your business.

Stay strong by staying visible

Commit to making your business more visible to current and potential customers. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t happen by accident. It requires an investment of time, energy, and consistent effort, but you’ll be surprised how effective it can be in keeping your store high on the “must-shop” list for more people than you thought possible. Start with the simple things you know you should be doing but may struggle to find time for, then add some clever, low-cost strategies to help spread the word even further.

Cultivate an email list of your customers and people you meet so you can give them regular updates on store events and product specials—make it more than marketing hype, because people are being besieged with this type of spam. Make it more newsworthy and inherently valuable to your customers. Make it something they look forward to reading, something personal and exciting, rather than just another annoyance that has to be deleted and blocked.

Set up a website and Facebook and Twitter pages that grab people’s attention while giving information on your products, services, and upcoming events. Be inventive and create a site that engages people on different levels they find interesting. Overt commercialism is considered spam, but on the other hand, you could give daily updates that are both topical and humorous, which people enjoy reading.

Create a blog that you update at least once a week—preferably more often. Give personal insights into your store’s products and services, and keep it relevant. In other words, write about your products, your business, your experiences with customers, and the like. You can also guest blog on other sites that relate to your area of interest and expertise.

Take a stack of your business cards to the local library and place them in the books that relate to your business. Also, place your business card on any bulletin boards around your community, particularly in places that offer products and services complementary to those of your business.

Print up calendars with your logo that can be given away to your customers. You can highlight different products and services each month as well as promote your store events. Along with calendars, you can have your logo printed on tote bags, pens, T-shirts, coffee mugs, wristbands, and bookmarks. Some of these items, such as T-shirts and coffee mugs, can be sold and used as the prizes for contests rather than given away as freebies.

Word of mouth is the way to go

The most cost-effective way to promote your business is through word-of-mouth (WOM) advertising. Essentially, word-of-mouth advertising is a form of promotion that involves satisfied customers telling people how much they love your business, product, or service. It’s one of the more compelling forms of advertising because it is one person telling another about a good buying or service experience. Often the people know each other, which gives the information even more credibility.

As one person tells another, and then those people tell others, the numbers expand exponentially until it reaches hundreds and maybe even thousands of potential customers. The way it spreads from one to another is likened to a virus spreading through the population. Because of this, it is also referred to as viral marketing or viral advertising.

The important ingredient that drives WOM forward to other people is that each person who does business with your company should have a positive and rewarding customer experience. This is how you grow your word-of-mouth advertising until it begins to resemble a marketing avalanche that continues to gain momentum.

Some of the ways you can generate word-of-mouth advertising for your business include:

  • With each product or service you sell, include a small gift and word-of-mouth tool
  • Include coupons on the receipt that customers can collect in order to get free items, such as small smudge sticks, scented oils, or discounts on your products and services
  • Give your regular customers special attention and privileges that let them know how much you appreciate their business. Be sure to jot down simple notes about your steady customers so you can give them more personal attention when you interact.

Ramp up repeat visits with rewards

One of the most successful ways to keep your existing customers coming back for your products and services is to implement a customer reward program, which gives your customers extra benefits for regularly shopping at your store and/or purchasing your services. The idea is to give your customers an extra-special reason for continuing to do business with you.

As the economy continues to show signs of uncertainty, the best way you can reward your customers is by giving them discounts determined by how much they spend and how regularly they purchase your products and services. Ways to make your customer rewards program more effective include:

  • Make it easy to sign up
  • Reward your regular customers with giveaways and discounts
  • Create special events such as product previews where your customers get special attention

All of these ideas, from guerrilla marketing to word-of-mouth advertising and customer reward programs, are successful, budget-friendly ways to market your business and cultivate your customer base. Customers are the life-blood of any business, and how well you expand your customer base is often the determining factor between success and failure. Every time you interact with one of your customers, make them feel like they are the most important person at that moment and you greatly value their business. Treating everyone with respect and dignity creates a sense of goodwill and positivity in your customers’ minds—and there’s no better form of marketing than that.

Guerilla Marketing Guidelines

Some key guerrilla marketing concepts to keep in mind as you develop your traffic-boosting plan are:

  • Make every effort to promote and deliver the highest standard of excellence in your products and services as possible
  • Select marketing strategies that engage the body, mind, and spirit of your customers
  • Put people before profit and show that you care about your customers
  • Give your marketing style a personal and original feel that sets it apart from the corporate marketers who dominate the media
  • Create exciting events that reach beyond marketing into things that are fascinating, musical, social, and life-changing

Sirona Knight ( is the popular author of numerous books, including her new e-book, Enchantress Awaken! Illustration: Jessica Snow