Tracking the Trends

While the convenience store industry is in a much better position to withstand the strains of the current economic recession, one thing is painfully clear. Customers are changing the way they buy goods and services and retailers must keep up with those changes to avoid becoming obsolete.

A new generation of Millennials, those born between 1980 and 1994 and representing the largest generation of convenience store customers since the 1960s, is your new target demographic. They may have traditional convenience needs, but how you communicate with them is anything but traditional. They are plugged into iPhones and Blackberries and share information over Twitter and Facebook. Newspaper ads and other print coupons or promotions are highly ineffective with this group.

Maurice A. Ramirez, founder of High Alert International, a consultancy focused on helping businesses connect with customers through social media, said there are three rules of social media marketing for retail chains large and small. These three rules are:
• Silence is not golden…it’s guilty.
• The first story told is the story most retold…and the story most believed.
• Buzz is the bomb…it can propel you to the top, or blow up in your face.

“Whether the brand is the iPhone, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Disney, Universal Studios, or an unknown convenience store on the corner of Smalltown, USA, if something happens, somebody must comment,” Ramirez said. “That is the nature of the Internet and the social media in the 21st century.”

The Whole World IS Watching
With the advent of Internet enabled cell phones, YouTube enabled smart phones, text messaging and Twitter, everybody is not just a news reporter; they are a video historian. Watch the evening news in any market, anywhere in the world, and you will see YouTube video broadcast about a news event that has happened that day. Nothing is more powerful than an eyewitness experience. The message is clear. If you provide a bad customer service experience, the whole world could find out about it in one click of a mouse. Is that fair? Absolutely not, but it is the new reality marketers are dealing with.

The great Vince Lombardi once said, “The best defense is a strong offense.”

In the social media, nothing could be more true. The only way to counter a negative message is to send your positive message, even before the first negative message can be transmitted.

“The goal of all marketing is to influence potential clients and potential customers to make a purchase,” Ramirez said. “In the social media, that means that they must be influenced to reach for the mouse, reach for the credit card, reach for their wallet and make the purchase.”

A positive buzz means that there is positive message activity around your brand. There is positive buzz when people are sending your message to their friends, their friends are sending yours to other friends and it all influences someone to make that positive buy decision.

To succeed in the social media remember silence is not golden. Businesses must be in the social media early, regularly and constantly.

“The first story told is the first story retold by customers,” Ramirez said. “To be the one telling your story, influencing others to retell your story, businesses must take ownership of that message, or someone else will fill the void and tell your story for you from their perspective.”

I encourage you to check out Twitter and Facebook to see how others are using this technology to communicate with customers. At the very least you have to visit these social media sites daily to see what customers are saying about your brand. Respond in kind, especially if you come across some criticism. And don’t be afraid to offer a free fountain beverage to an upset customer. By controlling the message and remaining positive you will not only regain the customer’s trust, but influence others in their online network.

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