One of America's leading interactive agencies, Razorfish, publishes an annual digital outlook report. Feel free to read the 2009 Report (http://www.digitalbuzzblog.com/razorfish-digital-outlook-report-09/), but in case you don't have the time to rifle through almost 200 pages of marketer-speak, let me point out one key point that really has relevance to small and mid sized businesses: the use of social objects.
"Social Objects" is a way of describing a new way of bringing a connecting tool to your marketing campaigns. People tend to talk to one-another in reference to something else. Something they saw, heard or something yet to come. These conversations are exactly where any advertiser would love to be, however, the trick is creating something promoting your business worth talking about.
Building loyal customers is still the same as it ever was - delivering a great experience with your products or services. It's just that many of the tools we use today have changed. We may not pass product endorsements over a picket fence anymore, but we certainly have customers spreading the news via texting, Facebook and Twitter. You may think your firm is too old fashioned, too conservative or too local to be affected by these new global tools... to that I say for certain, "You will be, if you aren't already."
Razorfish gave an example of an event they helped one of their clients with regarding the sponsorship of an upcoming concert. Clues to who was invited, how tickets could be garnered via GPS coordinates, even to which mystery entertainers would perform, were all used to virally help generate a buzz factor worth the investment in the event.
You may not be putting on a rock concert, but what about your own open house or a trade show event? Most simply dump info out to customers and presume that they will show, only to find low turn-out and a lackluster day. Providing a "social object" -- understanding what you want your participants to take away from you -- now becomes hugely critical. Prior to your event, you might set up e-mail and direct mail teasers that hint of what's to come. Maybe it's a simple promotional handout (like iTunes cards, or lottery tickets or even specialized samples of your products) that leave your guests with more to share than when they first arrived. The point is, far too often we simply let marketing opportunities fall flat by not realizing that whenever we have a place where people gather, we have the right to interject that time with an experience worthy of our very best customer's time.
Seize that social opportunity by finding a "social object" and promoting it vigorously. Your brand will be better for the effort.