online marketing

By Rieva Lesonsky

Have you ever had an experience that made you question your reality? I had two of them last week.

First, I was in line at a major department store when a customer ahead of me asked if she could buy the store’s catalog. The young salesgirl politely told her they hadn’t had a catalog for years because everything was now on the website. The customer eagerly asked, “What’s the number to call the website?” The salesgirl, who admirably refrained from laughing, explained that the shopper could go to the URL (she carefully spelled it out) and shop. However, both she and I could tell that the customer had no idea what she was talking about.

Then, while talking to an older relative (who shall remain nameless), I casually mentioned I was going to Google something. He admitted that he didn’t know what that meant or how to do it. This is someone who checks email daily, regularly surfs the Web and has a Facebook account that he actually uses—but he had no idea how to use Google.

I share these examples not to show that I’m somehow surrounded by people from the Stone Age, but to caution you to examine your worldview from time to time. In my world of business bloggers and social media mavens, I assume everyone is Skyping, Vining and buying stuff from their mobile phones while simultaneously Instagramming and Foursquaring it.

In reality, there’s a whole world of people who don’t know how to Google, aren’t sure what a blog is and have never shopped online. Some of them could be your prospective customers. What does that mean to you?

First, it’s not an excuse for ignoring the Internet or saying your business doesn’t need a website. Every small business needs at least a basic website today—unless perhaps you run an Amish typewriter repair company. But it does mean that online marketing isn’t the be-all and end-all of your marketing outreach. Remember to:

  1. Offer shoppers a wide variety of options for how they can buy. Even if you’re an ecommerce entrepreneur, some people might feel more comfortable calling you on the phone to place an order, or even printing out an order form and mailing it in. By providing those alternatives, you expand your customer base.
  2. Think through your marketing mix. Yes, social media and online advertising are important ways to reach most customers today. But clearly, these methods won’t attract all of them. Assess your target customer and do your best to spread your marketing budget over multiple methods. If a listing in the print Yellow Pages could bring in one customer who covers the cost of the ad, it’s worth it.
  3. Educate customers. Like the salesgirl at that department store—who was impressively polite and helpful to a woman who’d seemingly never heard of the Internet—never talk down to customers or make them feel stupid. Instead, work to educate them about new ways of doing things. Hopefully, you can help them feel comfortable and expand their purchasing options—ultimately increasing how much money they spend with your business.

We can all benefit from getting out of our little worlds from time to time and seeing our businesses from other people’s perspectives—especially if those people are prospective customers.