Small Town Chamber of Commerce, Who is Your Customer?

by Joanne Steele on February 12, 2011

A perfect customer is like a diamond

A Perfect Customer is like a diamond.

I just finished an internet marketing workshop that included a nice mix of small town chambers of commerce staff and volunteers along with small business owners.

I talked extensively about speaking directly and intimately on your website with your Perfect Customer, the one who some internet marketing experts call your ideal customer. The one you wish you had 1000 of, that seems to be a perfect fit for the goods and services you provide.

We spent a lot of time talking about focusing on the benefits that customer is looking for, rather than showcasing the features of your business. You know, showing pictures of your customer using and appreciating your services rather than just posting pretty scenery or the inside of your store.

This represents a challenge for small town chambers because they have a number of very different Perfect Customers.

Their most important Perfect Customer is chamber of commerce members who are small town business owners.

These are the people whose membership and support is needed for the chamber to exist.

The benefits they’re looking for from the chamber include support that will make them more profitable, and meaningful connections with other community businesses. They want their needs represented to the greater community including town and regional governments. They want an organization that will do for them the things that one small business alone cannot afford to do – those group services and marketing every chamber has on their list of chamber benefits.

For many small towns another significant Perfect Customer is the visitor who looks first to the local chamber for visitor information.

Here’s the problem that having two such different Perfect Customer types causes:

Small town chambers of commerce are often miniscule operations, staffed by perhaps a part-time paid employee, keeping visitor center hours with the help of volunteers.

How can this organization effectively serve two Perfect Customers with such diverse needs?

Here are some ideas. If you have more, please share them in our comments:

1. Keep your two markets separate, both in your online marketing on your website and in everything else you do.  A separate section on the web for members and a clear visitor information site is necessary.

The benefits that attract visitors to your town are not the same as those that attract members to your chamber of commerce.

Before starting any project your chamber staff should ask themselves, is this project targeting our members or our visitors?

Any attempt to speak to both at the same time is doomed to failure. Visitors will never recognize themselves in the language and images designed to attract and satisfy member businesses and vice versa.

2. Have a clear profile of each Perfect Customer that all staff and volunteers have helped to create, that outlines what the traits and needs of each customer are, and what the benefits the chamber offers each customer.

If you know who you’re talking to, you have a better chance of actually connecting with them. If you try to market to both visitors and members at once, “spray and pray,” you will market to neither.

3. Realize that your responsibility to your members might conflict with your responsibility to your visitors. Set clear policy for handling these situations.

When a visitor calls, emails or steps into your visitors’ bureau and asks for a recommendation, they better get a satisfying answer or you’re likely to lose them to your whole town.

Do you only recommend chamber members? Fine, that needs to be an understood policy and a published benefit of membership.

Do you have a system for tailoring recommendations to the requests of the visitor?

Are your staff members trained to question visitors about their needs and wishes before making recommendations? Do you have a policy for how many businesses are recommended once the needs of the visitor is understood? How to you handle recommendations so that businesses get an equal chance to be on that short list each time a staff member issues a recommendation?

The internet has created tremendous opportunities for small town chambers of commerce. And at the same time, it has created marketing challenges and hardships.

Clarity about who your customers are can go a long way to helping you successfully market your chamber and your town on the internet .

Here are some additional posts about chamber of commerce effectiveness:

Rural Business… What’s Your Story?

Is Your Rural Tourism Business Website a Marketing Asset or Liability?

25 Ways You Can Support Your Small Town Chamber of Commerce So That They Can Support You

Is Your Town’s Online Visitor Information Easy to Find?

Rural Tourism Towns, Your Chamber of Commerce is your Welcome Mat to the World

1 Loretta Zortman February 19, 2011 at 8:36 am

You always leave me inspired and motivated to improve my marketing skills! I struggle with finding my Perfect Customer Profile, as our guests are very diverse. Keep posting, and thanks.
Loretta Z.
Mockingbird Bay Resort on Norfork Lake, Arkansas

2 Joanne Steele February 22, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Loretta, I hope we’ll see you at one of our 7 workshops this spring. We’ll give you some help uncovering that Perfect Customer and help you figure out how to reach himorher online.

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