The Art of Adding Value Online

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Internet marketing is a booming industry, with all manner of businesses attempting to get a slice of the pie. In an ever increasingly competitive venue, how can small businesses set themselves apart, and succeed online? The key is to “Add Value”.

But what does that really mean? Not every business can add value in the same way, so how do you know what to do for your business? The keys to online success are actually the same as the keys to offline success: Know Your Competition and Understand Your Customers.

Know Your Competition

First and foremost, you need to know your competition. In an ideal situation, you are sitting in a niche occupied by yourself and nobody else. However, for most businesses, you are targeting an industry that has some competitors, be they direct or indirect. If there are competitors, familiarize yourself with their products. Buy them, handle them, read reviews about them. Know your enemy.

Once you know your competition’s products, it’s time for the next step. For this part of the equation, you need to be brutally honest. You need to compare what you offer to the competition’s offerings, and ask yourself, “Is my product or service the better product or service?”

If the honest answer is no, then you need to make some changes. In our competitive online world, if your product is not the best in its class, then online success will be difficult at best. You could rank well for a time, but conversions will likely be low. If your product is inferior, your returns will be high, repeat customers will be minimal, and online reviews will be damaging.

Be Better

There is, however, a solution. Make your product or service worthy of online success. If it genuinely adds value, you have something to work with. If it doesn’t, then you need to make improvements. Don’t be afraid to make changes, or even to scrap a project if needs be. This is often the most difficult part of being in business, but it is a necessary part. As author Seth Godin would say, “create a Purple Cow.”

Next, and equally important, you need to understand your customers. Who are they, where do they live, where do they work, how educated are they, how old are they, how much money do they make, etc. Understand your demographics and then determine where they can be found online and how best to reach them.

Know Your Customers

However, to really succeed online, you need more than the standard statistical data. You need to know your customers on a much more personal level. You need to learn what makes them laugh and what makes them cry. You need to know what their dreams are, and what will make their lives better.

How do you do that? You talk to them. Make use of Facebook, Twitter, Forums, and other social media platforms to reach out to and get to know potential customers. Ask them what they would like to see, and which of your products or services are their favorites. When you ask for their input, and follow it, you develop real loyalty. You add value by giving your customers what they want. Ideally, you should be your own customer as well, which will make the process that much easier.

Once you have their input, you are equipped to add real value. You can make changes to products and services as needed, and you can adapt to meet demand. Social media allows you to run surveys and focus groups, totally free, and that sort of crowdsourcing is incredibly valuable.

As you provide these current and potential future customers with the things they want and need, you are building an army of marketers who will gladly work on your behalf, sharing something they have come to love with their friends, families, and acquaintances, totally free. When you add value online, that value has a ripple effect that could potentially become viral.

Don’t be Afraid to Change!

You don’t have to do everything your customers say to do, but you should carefully evaluate all suggestions to determine if they are good ideas. Be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. Don’t ever settle for good enough.

To give an example, look at the music industry, or the newspaper and magazine industry. The music industry initially resisted the change to MP3s and digital music, which caused a major decline in profits. The newspaper and magazine industry is even now struggling to adapt to the digital landscape that now blankets our world. They may not be able to recover because they failed to adapt.

Failure to adapt and change as needed could mean the end of your business, especially in these tough economic times. Set pride aside, and evaluate all options. Only then will you be prepared to offer real value to your customers.

To summarize:

  • Know Your Competition
  • Understand Your Customers
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Change

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Adding Business Value. « The Company Line: BLOG

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