Expert Interview with Craig Kilgore on Customer-Centric Marketing for Mint

The companies with the most exciting marketing concepts today aren't the ones focused solely on their brand, products, services, or employees, says Craig Kilgore, inbound marketing manager for Mainstreethost. They're the ones shedding some light on the people that keep them in business: their customers.

Craig cites Coca-Cola's "Share a Coke" campaign, which swaps out iconic logos to make room for the 250 most popular first names among American teens and Millennials and Starbucks' new "Meet me at Starbucks" campaign and short film, which was created using 220 hours of footage in 59 Starbucks stores in 28 countries. The Starbucks campaign follows people meeting up at Starbucks and promotes exploration, creative thinking, and experiences more than it does Starbucks as a brand.

"This type of personalization humanizes your brand," Craig says. "People like talking to and connecting with people - not computers, not bots, not machines, and not technology. Be human."

We recently picked Craig's brain for more advice on what type of marketing entrepreneurs and small businesses should be focusing on and what they can do to be heard above all the digital noise. Here's what he had to say:

Tell us the story behind Mainstreethost...

Mainstreethost is a digital marketing agency founded in 1999. We started with a handful of employees and currently staff close to 200 professionals made up of SEO specialists, web developers, designers, content marketers, social media marketing specialists, programmers, account managers, inbound marketers, and customer service representatives. We're headquartered just outside of Buffalo, N.Y., and have a second location in Las Vegas.

What sets Mainstreethost apart from other online marketing firms?

What I feel sets Mainstreethost apart from other digital marketing agencies is a combination of our experience, size, and the ability to work with most businesses regardless of size or industry. Whether we're approached by a family-owned bed and breakfast or an internationally recognized brand, there are rarely jobs too small or too large for us to handle. We've adapted and grown with the industry and its trends, and are constantly looking for ways to offer cutting-edge and customized services to each and every one of our clients.

Name the one thing every savvy business owner should be doing when it comes to...

...SEO: Build a solid foundation, and don't expect miracles.

...Web Design: Think users first, and don't ignore mobile.

...Content Marketing: Know who you're talking to by creating buyer personae for your business.

...Social Media Marketing: Be human and don't be overly promotional.

...Paid Search Advertising: Test, test, test!

What are the biggest trends right now in digital marketing?

Either individually, or a combination of real-time, personal, mobile, and inbound marketing.

What digital marketing practices seem to be losing steam or have fallen out of favor?

This is a tough one to answer. It depends on the business, their goals, and who they're targeting. If you're doing digital marketing but lack strategy and realistic goals, you're most likely falling behind your competition.

While it may seem obvious, stay away from questionable and/or black hat practices such as buying links or creating deceptive user experiences. Search engines are getting smarter, and it's becoming increasingly important to present yourself to them the same way you'd present yourself to an actual person walking into your brick and mortar.

What are the most cost-effective marketing methods for small business owners on a tight budget?

There are many things small businesses can tackle in-house with some spare time, a little bit of direction and access to resources such as content, free or cheap tools, online trainings, etc.

First, outline your marketing goals. If you have a staff, make sure they're aware of these goals. Next, evaluate what you have to work with (website, social media presence, blog, etc.) and what you think you might need (mobile/responsive website, content for your blog, a social media strategy, etc.). Once you've outlined your goals and have identified strengths and weaknesses, you should have a pretty good idea of what you're capable of tackling in-house and what you might need to outsource.

What about the most time-efficient marketing methods for small business owners who wear multiple hats and don't have a lot of extra help?

There's no shortage of awesome marketing tools out there. Much of the success that I've witnessed as Mainstreethost's Inbound Marketing Manager wouldn't have happened to the extent it has without the help of marketing automation software. I can automate emails, schedule social media posts, and analyze extensive contact data, which ultimately allows me to make our marketing efforts personalized in less time. To complete some of the same tasks we're able to execute through our marketing automation software, I'd need another two full-time employees. I'm able to use those man hours in other areas I feel are important to our business and achieving our marketing goals. In addition to leveraging tools and software, organization is key for small business owners wearing multiple hats.

What do you recommend business owners do to better understand their customers?

Listen to them. Allow them to share their experiences with you, and help them to do so. Customer retention is an often-overlooked aspect of business. As Jess Marranco pointed out in a recent Mainstreethost blog post, 63 percent of marketers felt that new customer acquisition is the most important advertising goal.

With that said, a business can (and should) make an effort to understand their customers in a variety of ways. Phone calls, emails, surveys, and social media are all means by which businesses can obtain valuable information from their number-one asset. Ask questions on your very first phone call or during your first face-to-face meeting, and survey customers on their experiences with your business. Figure out where they spend time online, what types of content they consume, and who they're connecting with. Through all of this, you'll learn who your customers are and that they're much more than just a number or dollar figure.

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