How To Use Both High Tech and High Touch to Build and Keep Your Customer Base
In the past five years or so most entrepreneurs embraced the Internet as the best way to find new prospects for the products and services they have to offer. Our websites changed from pretty but often-stale electronic brochures that sat, unchanging, out on the Internet to Web 2.0 sites that asked visitors for their contact information, offered free, rich content,and integrated our social media accounts and blogs into our websites.

In time, these same entrepreneurs found that reaching out to their customers and to their prospect lists with regularly published e-zines and autoresponders was one way to keep in touch and continue to build top of mind awareness. Simply put, Internet marketing came of age and is now a multi-faceted, constantly-evolving beast that, for many of us, has been the bulk of our marketing efforts. It's worked well to give us larger lists, and that gives us the opportunity to serve more people and boost our bottom lines. 

Within the past year, however, so many entrepreneurs have followed this client-building model that it has become increasingly difficult to gain that top of mind awareness we all crave. The "noise level" has increased, and both existing clients and prospects are weary of the constant marketing. Complaints about "too much e-mail" are common, and both clients and prospects are much quicker to either hit delete without opening our high-tech messages or registering their discontent by unsubscribing to our lists. Having well-craft marketing messages and an intention to use e-mail, e-zines, and broadcasts without resorting to almost-daily marketing no longer gives us enough distinction to be recognized and read. 

While no one would predict the death of Internet marketing, it's clear that high tech marketing is reaching the saturation point for many entrepreneurs. A few months ago I ran across an article by Ron Forrester in which he stated his belief that "people will leave a company but they won't leave a family." I've thought about that sentence a lot. It feeds into the now-common talk about "tribes" and how entrepreneurs build "tribes" instead of customers or prospect lists. And it is one basis for the steam that's gathered in the past year about "returning to high touch." Examples of high touch marketing include: 

• Going back to snail mail for delivery of personalized cards, newsletters, and products that have been previously available only in electronic format. 

• Sending small, unexpected gifts to clients (books, gourmet cookies, CD sets). 

• Hitting the road to speak in person in addition to speaking in teleseminars and webinars. 

• Using more videos that are not staged, but are in-the-moment and informal. 

• Attending live networking events (both local and long-distance) to meet clients and prospects you've known only virtually. 

The trick is to make sure that your high-touch efforts merge seamlessly with and support your Internet-based high-tech efforts. A well-thought out, strategic marketing plan is critical when we merge high-tech and high-touch so that each supports the other and both attract the kinds of clients we most want to do business with and can best serve. This is also critical to containing costs. We have to remember that one reason Internet-based marketing has grown so much is that it is extremely cost effective. High-touch marketing costs can add up quickly if you aren't watching. 

Here are some blended high-tech and high-touch strategies that work: 

• High-touch has to be interesting and valuable enough that recipients will see it, open it, and want to use it. Just like high-tech, offering fluff won't work. What does work is segmenting your clients and prospects by interests and sending a newsletter or gift that will serve them well.

• Include a call to action in any high-touch piece that drives the recipient to your website or your Facebook fan page where they can get a coupon for an add-on product or an extra service. Make it worth their while to go from the paper in their hands to their computer. 

• Select live events to attend that will also be attended by those you know virtually, and make sure you have a method to find and meet these people. I've seen some entrepreneurs go to live events and offer their own after-hour social hour or meet up, for example. 

• Avoid the buckshot approach to local networking events. Make sure that the event draws people who are your target market. It's still a total waste of time to join local groups whose makeup isn't a match for you. Try before you buy - most groups will let visitors come a few times before you have to commit to membership. 

* Evaluate groups (local and long-distance) once a year. Inevitably, groups change over time, and your business also evolves. An event that was a great one for you a year ago might not be a good fit now. Don't continue to attend out of habit or complacency. 

Changing your mix of marketing efforts to include both high-tech and high-touch both helps you continue to build your customer base and keeps customers and prospects from tuning out. You have a great opportunity to be as creative as you want to be. If you combine your creativity with a firm commitment to always offer value, you'll see the results in your bottom line.
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