Innovation is all about taking risks, trying new things, and building on your success. Every business reaches a point where old methods don’t work and demand begins to wane as new companies fill even the narrowest niche market. How can an established company reinvent itself to compete with brash newcomers without breaking the bank?
Blow Things Up
First, evaluate your product or service. Is it still relevant? Are your customers still responding favorably? Before you make the kind of epic decision Coca-Cola did by changing the formula of its flagship product, make sure you know whether product improvement will be welcomed, and evaluate the impact it will have on your business.
After fifteen years of slipping sales in an increasingly saturated market, the company felt it had to make a change to give their customers what they seemed to crave: something new and exciting. They did plenty of market research, testing the taste of New Coke® with nearly 200,000 consumers before launching the product. Then, for 79 days in 1985, Coca-Cola faced unprecedented customer wrath, a veritable firestorm of protest.
The decision to change the formula for Coke was heralded as the worst marketing decision in history.
The most interesting part of this story, however, is the effect on the market. Sales skyrocketed as customers panicked and hoarded Coke. Protest groups formed to bring back the Coke they knew and loved. And everybody everywhere was talking about it. Even in a pre-Facebook era without the lightning rod of social media, word spread faster than an internet meme. Faced with the loss of the world’s biggest soft drink, people remembered how deeply the brand was embedded into the culture.
Coca-Cola responded by reintroducing the original formula and sales soared. Coca-Cola regained its market share…and never lost it again. Was it all a brilliantly staged ploy to regain customers who had drifted away, or were company executives genuinely committed to the change? Maybe we’ll never know, but the most disastrous marketing blunder in the world certainly ended well.
Most businesses and products don’t have the kind of macro-scale marketing oomph to make a splash this big, but you can learn from the experience. Blow things up once in a while. Keep your customers interested by launching new products that speak directly to their wants and needs.
Be brave. Even the biggest disaster can end on a win.
Embrace the Tech
Going virtual may be a little intimidating for an old dog trying to learn new tricks, but it’s an exciting way to make big changes without a big investment. By taking your business to the cloud, you can save significant money with employees working from home and on the road, and increase customer satisfaction at the same time. One of the most widely used and useful business applications is customer relationship management (CRM) software.
You can use a CRM to enhance customer relationships by creating a more personal relationship. When you put detailed information such as preferences, purchases, and contact history in the hands of customer service representatives, you empower them to anticipate customer needs and communicate using more specifically targeted terms.
Small business CRM pricing is surprisingly affordable; Insightly, for example, offers free accounts and low-cost options. The innovative advantages of an online CRM don’t stop at cost and functionality. To get the most out of your CRM, you can integrate the program with other applications, including MailChimp, Google Apps, Outlook 2013, and Office 365.
Get a Personality
It’s not easy to stand out, but some companies have used social media in ways that feed the internet dweller’s ravenous hunger for quirk to great advantage. The best thing about using personality to gain attention online is that it’s cheap. It requires cleverness, humor, and personal interaction, but not necessarily a big budget. Oreo’s Twitter team regularly delights and surprises its 221k followers with a steady stream of humor, sillyness, and kooky item giveaways called #DunkSwag.
In 2010, formerly unhip company Old Spice rocked the internet when it hired former NFL player Isaiah Mustafa as its spokesperson, and cranked up the volume of the campaign by turning him loose on Twitter. He responded to random tweets with hilarious personal videos. In the aftermath of this intensive campaign, sales went up 107%. Using a sexy man to sell men’s products to the women who do most of the shopping was a risk well worth taking.
Hiring a celebrity may be outside your budget, but you may have all the resources you need in-house. A personable employee with a smartphone could deliver personal video answers to queries and comments on social media, along with helpful tips, company lore, and interesting tidbits about products and services. Check out how DiGiorno’s Pizza recently got major attention by live-tweeting during The Sound of Music. Cheap and effective!
While humor is an effective tool, developing your company voice is no joke. Your social presence will be most effective if it authentically reflects your corporate culture and resonates with your core customer base. If you understand your customers, you’ll know if your tweets should be the bees knees, groovy, rad, or fresh…whether you’re a startup seeking lean marketing strategy or an iconic brand reinventing your business.
Sherry Gray is a freelance content writer from Key West, FL, currently suffering the burbs of Orlando. She’s a science geek, a political junkie, and a regular contributor to ChamberofCommerce.com. She writes about business, marketing, technology, medicine…and everything else.