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Tweet and blog your way to your customers with 'faceted marketing'

[caption id="attachment_12476" align="alignleft" width="108" caption="Jeff Barnell"][/caption]

Social networking is one of the hottest topics in business today. Most everyone is familiar with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and weblog applications. Many of us have accounts, and tweet, paste, connect or blog at least occasionally.

Are these applications purely teenager entertainment or can they deliver real benefits to your business? When used to their potential, they can dramatically change the way you manage your brand, create demand and service your customers.

Social networking is fundamentally different from traditional marketing tools such as print and online advertising, outdoor, e-mail and direct mail.

First, communication with your target audience is fueled by an existing relationship with members of the target group. Customers, friends, business partners and suppliers plus others make up this group. The starting point is often your e-mail address book. Followers (Twitter), fans (Facebook) and connections (LinkedIn) all know of you are before they receive your first message. Impression rates are higher than unsolicited mail and advertising.

The second important difference is the ability for your audience to forward your message to their colleagues in real time, creating second level and greater relationships for you. The viral nature of social networking allows you to reach and retain hundreds or thousands of prospects that would otherwise remain unknown to you.

It is likely that one of your existing customers knows someone who is in the market for your product or service but today does not have the means to easily connect them to you. By watching their activity, you will quickly see which customers are your champions - another advantage of social networking.

The next factor is feedback. Social networking allows your connections to ask questions, make suggestions and show their appreciation or criticism. You can respond en masse with the specific messages that enhance your brand identity, demand creation effectiveness or address a customer concern. None of the traditional marketing techniques offer this powerful capability.

Finally, social networking tools allow you to maintain brand awareness over the long haul. Due to their cost, flexibility and value to the customer, you can maintain top-of-mind awareness until the critical moment when the prospect enters buying mode.

Let's examine a social networking example. Consider a metaphor where a glass sphere hanging in a sunny window represents your marketing budget and resources. A facet cut in the glass can represent each branding and demand-creation effort: telemarketing campaign - one facet; billboard - one facet; trade show - one facet.

As the sun shines though, the prospects will see a few spectrums, which represent a potential impression. Our relatively few campaigns consume our resources and produces spotty market coverage and low impression rates.

The message is often missed entirely by our target audience since they may not drive by our signage or click through our ad. What we really need are lots of facets generating a multitude of spectrums (impressions) over the long term without upping our budget or resources.

This effort is especially challenging for small businesses competing with big box advertising budgets and brand awareness, or where prospects enter the market infrequently, or are reluctant to switch vendors. Imagine your served geography covered with your logo, message and contact information.

Faceted marketing delivers this leverage by combining traditional media, Web and events with social networking. Social networking serves as the catalyst making your other programs far more effective. It leverages the existing relationships between you and your customers, and between your customers and their customers, business partners and friends.

When polled, people are more than four times as likely to believe someone they know versus an ad. Remember that the principal objective of traditional programs is to simply start a relationship - get an unknown prospect to engage with you. If you start with an existing relationship, however small, you are ahead.

Faceted marketing enables market saturation. You want your prospects to constantly see, hear and remember your message, maintaining top-of-mind awareness.

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Jeff Barnell lives in Santa Rosa and helps companies accelerate their sales through innovative business development and marketing programs. Jeff also volunteers as a business mentor at the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster. He can be reached at  jeff.barnell@ymail.com; 707-695-1275; at Twitter, jeffbarnell; LinkedIn, Jeff Barnell.